The Voice of Mornings in Maine
Maine Public’s Irwin Gratz on how he became the most recognizable voice in the state.
As the voice of Maine Public’s Morning Edition, Irwin Gratz is an early riser. His alarm is set for 3:30 a.m., and he’s at his desk by 4. “For the first two hours, I’m the only guy in the building,” Gratz says. He starts his day by figuring out what local stories to include on the morning broadcast and writing what he’ll read on air (ad-libbing is “not a good idea when you’re in news,” Gratz says). From 6 a.m. to 9 a.m., when most others are just arriving at the station, he’s on air every 10 minutes. It’s been Gratz’s schedule since he first took on the role on a contract in 1992. After a couple months of filling in, Gratz was hired by Maine Public permanently. “I think I probably really got the job in part too because nobody else really wanted to do it,” Gratz says. “Who wants to get up that early in the morning?”
When did you know you wanted to be on the radio?
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I do now realize that what I’m doing is what I’ve wanted to do ever since I was a child. I used to sit there at the breakfast table in the morning with the radio on the shelf overhead. And we would turn it on every morning and listen to the news during breakfast. I always did think that it would be really cool to be one of those guys on the radio. It sounded like they were having a good time. I just thought radio was a cool medium. Nothing has ever really dissuaded me from it. I mean, I’ve done just enough with television to think that I’d still rather do radio, where I don’t have to have a makeup artist. It’s just for me. It’s always been more fun.
How does it feel to be the one person deciding what news in Maine is most important every morning?
Because I’ve done it for so long, it’s a question I don’t really dwell on much anymore. I don’t even think about it. It’s just the thing that I do. When you do this business for any period of time, especially in the confines of the way I work, in a studio with no windows on the outside or anything, after a while the audience almost becomes a fiction. You don’t know that they’re out there because there’s no feedback whatsoever. It’s just me in a room, making sure that I go from step A to step B. Sometimes I have to remind myself of the real importance of what it is I’m doing. I get reminded of it sometimes when I’m outside, when people run into me and talk about how much they listen. And it’s like, oh right, there are people out there. But you’d be amazed at how much it doesn’t feel like it when you’re in a studio in the morning.
How often are you recognized in public from your voice?
Now it’s quite often. My wife tells a really good story. When I used to work at WPOR, the radio station had an interesting demographic, at least back in the 1980s. It was very well known outside the city of Portland because it was a country music radio station. Most of the time when I was in Portland, not much would happen. However, I would wander into stores in Gorham and Standish, and as soon as I opened my mouth, people knew exactly who I was because they all listened like crazy. I had just met [my now wife]. We were going out to dinner at Sapporo’s down on the waterfront one evening. She was asking me that same question, and I’m like, “Doesn’t happen very often.” By then I had been at Maine Public for the first couple years, and as soon as I said that a guy turned right around and said, “Are you Irwin Gratz?” My credibility on that was just shot.
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