One of our most dedicated, interacting, and enthusiastic DJs, Cynthia Schuster, better known as ‘Grandma Cyd’ to our listeners and followers, is the PIO (public information officer) for Madison’s Fire Department! Our dj’s finesse on many levels in the radio world as well as Madison city professions.
She recently had the opportunity to interview with the Wisconsin State Journal. Check out the full interview below courtesy of WSJ.
Cynthia Schuster, the Madison Fire Department’s newest public information officer, has been a trailblazer on at least two fronts since her hiring in mid-May.
She is the department’s first full-time PIO, fielding media calls and assisting displaced residents at fire scenes mainly Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Her predecessors handled those tasks on a rotating basis in between their “real” jobs for the department as fire inspectors or outreach personnel.
Schuster, 32, also may be the only fire department employee with a stage name — going by the DJ moniker “Grandma Cyd” every Saturday night as host of her own radio show featuring big-band and jazz standards on WSUM, the student-run radio station at UW-Madison. Broadcast on 91.7 FM, the show Schuster created 10 years ago is titled “The Heavy Petting Zoo,” with the tagline, “Make-out Music & More from the 1930s-1950s.”
Working both jobs is a way for Schuster, a De Pere native, to blend her interest in public safety with her passion for broadcasting, a field in which she spent most of her first 10 years working — as a show producer and sometimes host at Wisconsin Public Radio — after graduating in communication arts from UW-Madison in 2005.
Throughout her WPR tenure, though, Schuster maintained and grew her popular WSUM radio show, which she had started as a one-hour show right out of college as one of the station’s handful of non-student community hosts, after learning the radio game at WSUM as a student. The program was expanded to two hours a few years later, and now runs in the prime 7 to 9 p.m. slot on Saturdays.
Where did the name Grandma Cyd come from?
Basically, I have the soul of an old lady.
In college my roommates would call me “Grandma” because I would go to bed at a reasonable hour and I listened to the live (New York) Metropolitan Opera broadcasts on public radio on Saturday afternoons and I enjoyed watching “The Dick Van Dyke Show” at night.
So I earned the name Grandma. As to Cyd, in college, people used to misspell my name, and one day as a joke (WSUM) general manager David Black called me Cyd, and it stuck. So that became my nickname, combined with Grandma. It seemed like a decent DJ name.
How did you get interested in big band and jazz?
I spent a lot of time with my own grandma growing up, and I credit her with my love of classical music. We also would watch old movies … with Bing Crosby (and others). I think that’s where the seed was planted for an appreciation, and from there it’s branched into the three eras (the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s) represented in my show. Each step I took down that road, the more and more I fell in love with the music and the people from those eras.
And what’s with the off-color name for the show?
I was looking for a way to highlight this music that seemed to have been forgotten. Certainly it wasn’t on the radio in Madison in 2005. But I thought, “How am I going to get college-age people to want to sit down and listen to big-band music on a Saturday night? So I thought, I’ll call it (“Heavy Petting Zoo”). And I’ll put the subtitle in there about “Make-out Music & More from the 1930s-1950s.”
The rest of the show, it’s just music. It’s not a shtick or about making jokes. It was just to get people’s attention.
But then people started tuning in to the show, and they loved it, and it was people of all ages. I’m hearing from college-age kids to people in their 40s to older people, too. It’s really garnered quite a diverse following.
But over the years I’ve thought, “I’m getting too old for this show title. It’s embarrassing.” What I say now is it’s really a big-band show and we do a little bit of jazz, and then I will bashfully say the name.
Why did you leave WPR for the fire department job?
I was just doing some exploration of my own values and priorities, and I decided I wanted to do something that’s more directly involved with public service.
I’ve also had an interest in public safety in Madison since my college days. So far (the PIO job) is just what I’ve been looking for.
But you haven’t been able to give up radio altogether, by holding onto the WSUM radio show. How long do you think you’ll keep doing the show?
I’ll do this for as long as they’ll let me. Every week I hear from callers who will tell me stories of what a song has meant to them. Even though I’ve left (radio) as a full-time career, I still have the opportunity to affect people, just by dusting off these records and putting them on the air for people to remember and appreciate. That’s the fuel.