Q&A: WXPN’s New Radio Host Kristen Kurtis

Bob Bumbera’s co-anchor shares her experiences and what it’s like to return home.

Downingtown native Kristen Kurtis has returned home as WXPN’s newest radio host, joining newsman Bob Bumbera on weekday mornings from 5 to 10 a.m. Over the past 10 years, Kurtis has worked in Boston and Spokane, Wash. Most recently, she was assistant program director and music director for Austin, Texas’ KGSR. Here, she reflects on her career, her future, and what it feels like to come home. 

MLT: What made you want to do radio?

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KK: I decided I wanted to work in radio when I was 13, and it was largely because of Y100. I’d been emailing [Y100’s] Leanne Curtis a lot. It was a major inspiration for me to hear a woman doing a shift. I fell in love with this band she featured on the Cage Match. I just emailed her and asked, “Can I come to that session?” She called my mom and asked her if it was all right. I ended up going to this recording studio in Center City Philadelphia.

MLT: What’s your favorite style of music? 

KK: I would say interesting, unique folk singer/songwriters. Some of my most recent loves are Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats. I’m really obsessed with his new album. I really love Odessa’s new album. There’s this Irish singer/songwriter, Fionn Regan. His album, The End of History, is one I put on repeat for hours. It’s just so beautiful. 

MLT: What’s the best part about being on the radio? 

KK: Connecting with people—whether that’s listeners or meeting artists I adore. There’s real joy in using music to connect with fellow human beings. 

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MLT: If you could, what’s something you’d change about radio today? 

KK: This doesn’t apply to stations like XPN—because they’re member supported—but, generally, the ratings system is so messed up. Commercial radio stations are programming their playlists on how the ratings system works instead of really serving their listeners.  

MLT: How do you decide what you’re going to play?

KK: You kind of want to make a playlist for a friend who’s really into music and keep in mind a good mix of genre, tempo and mood. It’s a matter of sharing stuff you think is cool and contextualizing it for people. 

MLT: What’s it like coming home as a real DJ?

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KK: It’s actually really serendipitous. I remember telling my dad that I wanted to work in radio, and he told me there were more jobs for school bus drivers—which my mom was—and cops—which he was—than radio DJs. I remember kind of being like, “Watch me.” 

The goal was always to come back to Philadelphia. It really feels like I’ve come full circle, and I’m amazed that it happened for me this early in my career. It feels right.

MLT: Are there other radio personalities you look up to?

KK: Really, everybody on Y100. Preston and Steve were huge influences. Matt Cord. I really love Pierre Robert, John DeBella. They were the ones I grew up listening to. When I got older, [NPR’s] Terry Gross became an influence for me. I’ve come to really admire Howard Stern, too.

MLT: How do you connect with your audience?

KK: I love Twitter. I’ve made friends on Twitter. I really like the fact that people can reach out to me directly on there, and I can get back to them immediately.

MLT: What’s an experience that’s stuck with you?

KK: One of the highlights of my life was the first time I met Tori Amos. She’s a strong favorite for me, after No Doubt. She was doing a music lounge for us in Austin. I asked her tour manager if I could have five minutes alone with her before I met her in front of 75 people, and she was so kind. She ended up talking to me for 20 minutes. I think she ended up viewing me as another female in an industry that can be patriarchal. The next time she saw me, she remembered me.

MLT: What do you see as major differences between Texas, Washington and Pennsylvania, musically and culturally?

KK: People here are very blunt, in a good way. I missed the non-sugarcoated aspect of Philadelphia. Every section of this country kind of has its own flavor. Austin and Texas were very much into country, alternative country, electric blues. Austin was a little more of a melting pot. The Northwest is much more into really smart indie rock. Here in Philadelphia, I think we’re very much into the soul vibe, anything that moves you physically or emotionally.

MLT: When you’re not working, what do you do for fun?

KK: I’ve been studying improv comedy for the last couple years. I’m thinking maybe it will be my New Year’s resolution to join the PHIT Theater. I was in a troupe in Austin. I’d love to form another troupe here, get back into standup comedy, sketch comedy. I also really like eating. I’m excited to go to as many different restaurants in Philadelphia as possible.

Photo by Tessa Marie Images

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