Jack Walker Published

WVPB’s First Eastern Panhandle Reporter Reflects On Decades In Public Radio

A woman stands in front of radio equipment, smiling for the camera.
Cecelia Mason served as West Virginia Public Broadcasting's Eastern Panhandle Reporter for 23 years, helping establish the Eastern Panhandle Bureau on Shepherd University's campus.
Jack Walker/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Cecelia Mason spent 23 years as a reporter for West Virginia Public Radio, even helping establish the Eastern Panhandle Bureau in Shepherdstown.

She moved onto a role with Shepherd University’s Office of Communications in 2014 but said her time in journalism shaped the course of her career and her life.

Mason retired from Shepherd earlier this month. But she returned to campus and sat down with our current Eastern Panhandle Reporter, Jack Walker, to reflect on her time in public radio and how the industry has changed since she left.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Walker: To begin, could you tell me how you got started in public radio, and the origins of our Eastern Panhandle Bureau?

Mason: Well, [in the] late 1980s, there was a president here named Dr. Michael Riccards, and he wanted to have an association with West Virginia Public Radio at the time. There was someone else here named Bill Lucht who I think ran the counseling center at the time. He was a psychologist. It seems to me they maybe approached West Virginia Public Radio about airing some kind of panel discussion or something like that.

I was not working for West Virginia Public Radio at the time, however I was freelancing for them. So Beth Vorhees was the news director and Chuck Anziulewicz was in news at the time, and they would hire me or have me cover things and pay me to do stories because I worked for a local radio station. So basically, talks were underway to have a bureau here.

Walker: Do you have a sense of why they wanted to have an office in the Eastern Panhandle?

Mason: They really wanted to make sure the Eastern Panhandle, which seems — I mean, you work here — there’s a sort of sense that we’re really far away from Charleston. The coverage wasn’t great up here, except for what freelance [stories] could be done. So basically, it was embedded into the university.

Walker: Obviously 23 years is a long time to work anywhere, but I’m wondering if there are any particular moments from your time in public radio that stick out to you as especially meaningful or salient today?

Mason: Well, one of the things that happened when the bureau opened is I was able to join the Senate radio TV gallery in Washington and, in essence, become the person who could go into D.C. and cover Congress for West Virginia Public Broadcasting because I could hop on a train, right?

Walker: What did covering Congress look like back then?

Mason: During the State of the Union, you would go in and stand in Statuary Hall and then all the members would be in the House chamber and they would come out after the speech. But first you got to watch the Supreme Court walk through and all members of Congress, people you recognized. And then you afterwards they would come out.

Walker: Aside from the type of reporting you did, does anything stand out to you as especially different about radio journalism back then?

Mason: I mean technologically it’s taken great leaps. When I first started the job, they gave me a reel-to-reel recorder, and I had a Marantz cassette tape recorder that probably weighed 20 pounds. Basically, I was cutting tape with a razor blade, and I had a cart machine, which, for people not in the business, [is] an eight-track machine, only it stopped.

Walker: That does sound very different from the type of technology I now use as a reporter.

Mason: And now you’re recording on this tiny machine Zoom recorder, and you’re going to bring it up into Adobe Audition and cut it up and edit it and fix it if it has background noise. So it went from cutting things with razor blades to me being able to do this with that kind of recorder. So I think things have changed technologically in radio.

Walker: Back in 2014, you moved to a position with Shepherd in University Communications, but even before that, you began teaching courses on journalism for the university. What has your time with Shepherd been like?

Mason: About 20 years ago — a little more than 20 years ago — the Communication Department asked me to teach a class. Initially, it was sort of a broad radio class. In fact, the person who just became executive director of University Communications was one of the first students in that class, which is why I know it was about 20 years or more ago. Basically, I started teaching the class, and then they redid the curriculum in the [Communications] Department and they turned it into a class called “News Practicum.” Basically, it was teaching what I did all those years for a living. So that has been one of the most enjoyable things here at Shepherd, being on campus and working with students.

Walker: And now that you’re moving on from Shepherd and even seeing some of your past students take senior positions on campus — what does it feel like to pass that on?

Mason: So that’s been really a great thing that I’ve enjoyed. And that goes back to my years as a journalism student at Western Kentucky University. When I went to Western Kentucky University, I had teachers who had worked for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the Courier Journal in Louisville, the Associated Press — they were working journalists who wanted to teach and pass their craft along to younger people. So I feel like I’ve gotten to do that by teaching this class and carrying on what my professors gave me. So that’s been very fulfilling.