Radio Lover, revisited!
WSG 39 Edited Maven of the Week Margery Eagan and women in Journalism, Radio and TV
I originally published this interview with Margery Eagan on Jul. 17, 2022. I know her from the MANY hours of listening to her show while I paint. I loved speaking with her because she is so easy to speak with and insanely down to earth. I'm republishing it now because it’s a little ray of sunshine (between the summertime publishing date and Margery) in this gloomy New England time of year. Plus, you’ll enjoy her recipe!
I am from Boston and in Boston everyone is Irish Catholic,
even if they are not. It’s a big part of our culture. You’ve seen the movies based on Boston? Super upbeat.
Friends of Eddie Coyle, Southie, Black Mass, The Departed, The Town, Monument Ave., Mystic River, The Boondock Saints, Gone Baby Gone, Live By Night, What Doesn’t Kill You, Good Will Hunting, Ted, The Fighter, The Verdict, Spotlight, The Heat…to name a few…
One can liken it to New York where everyone is Jewish even if they aren’t. It seems everyone knows some Yiddish (“schlepping” “schvitzing” “klutz” “kvetch” “chutzpah”), enjoys some matzo ball soup or a knish, a bagel with lox.
But, back to Boston and our culture.
Who cares, right? But as much as I am writing about a woman from Boston today, I am writing about how the culture here informed her life. Keep reading to see why…
Do you need a little fun? A moment of “why the hell not?”
Look no further, my friend. WSG is here to motivate you and make you smile. Subscribe. Submit. Come, be seen and heard.
Maven of the Week: Margery Eagan!
For those of you who read WSG, you know I put the “Stock Questions” at the end of my interviews.
But for Margery Eagan, radio host and journalist for nearly two decades at WGBH and journalist at The Boston Herald and The Boston Globe for much longer, I am going to put them at the beginning of her interview.
The stock questions say more about her than an intro and help round out the rest of the interview. I added two questions: What was her favorite interview? Least favorite? So, here we go:
What did you want to be when you grew up?
A fiction author. She wrote tons of “little girl stories” (her words) for herself starting at age seven until she was about twelve. She kept them secret and says she has no plans of writing fiction at this point.
What are you excited about now?
Summer! She was on her way to her place on the Cape when I asked her and she is looking forward to her favorite cocktail with friends later (see Recipe). She grew up going to Cape Cod and goes every weekend. One of the women she sees down there was her first friend. They met at aged 2. She loves the Cape with all her heart but worries about how crowded it has become and the changes in the environment.
What books are on your bedside table?
She has some great ones! She said she’s on a Mary Karr tear these days. She wrote The Liars' Club, Cherry, Lit, and this The Art of Memoir.
Caroline Knapp who wrote a poignant tale about her alcoholism, Drinking: A Love Story recounted her 20-year battle with alcoholism and Pack of Two about her relationship with her dog. She died young of lung cancer and two books were published posthumously, Appetites: Why Women Want, which described Knapp's experience with anorexia and other women's struggles with addictions, and The Merry Recluse, a collection of essays. Margery noted that because of what she does for a living (reads for work) it’s hard to fit in reading for fun.
What do you do to relax?
Meditate. She also does Baptiste hot yoga, walks and was a big runner. In the end she says, the Planter’s Punch (see Recipe You Won’t Hate) at her home on the Cape with her crew of buddies she grew up with may be her favorite way to relax.
What category/subject would you add to the Guide?
I was explaining the concept of what the Guide would be and she suggested a movie guide for women our age. Then I asked her what she would suggest for women who are struggling for purpose in their current “middle age.”
Volunteer! A great suggestion: Her favorites are kid oriented. There are programs that are like a Big Brother/Sister but as a sort of foster grandparent. Another area in need help is politics. There are always the local favorites she says like Women’s Lunch Place and Rosie’s place.
Another idea, she suggested to write down your stories about your family for your kids. How many of us don’t know much about our parents and grandparents?
Crime oriented. Her answer was not what I expected, but it makes sense. Her favorite articles weren’t about the big-name people, but the opposite. The unseen people who are surviving despite it all. In particular she interviewed Natasha Steele the mother of Cedric Steele, murdered senselessly at age 18. Margery’s visit to their home left a lasting impression as she told me in our conversation 12 years after the article was published in The Herald LINK.
She interviewed a number of mothers and fathers who lost kids to violence. These parents, mothers in particular, bore their tragedy with grace and raw emotion. https://www.bostonherald.com/2010/04/01/mom-reels-after-2nd-mistrial-in-sons-slay/
Least favorite interview:
This was less an interview than a reporter seeing an opportunity to ask an uncomfortable question of someone while reporting about something totally different. The person she asked was Billy Bulger, then head of the Massachusetts Senate. This was before he took the fifth to avoid answering questions about his criminal brother, Whitey Bulger.
A slew of bodies had just been dug up beside the South East Expressway in Boston thanks to a Whitey Bulger informant. While at a political event, she can’t remember what it was for, the Democratic convention, or something like that, she walks up to Billy Bulger and asks him about the bodies. She said he was visibly “pissed.” It sounds like it was a chilling moment. I know I wouldn’t want to upset Whitey Bulger’s brother (see movie Black Mass).
Are ye thinking’ o’ sharin’ this bit o’ magic? Well, do i’ then.
On with the interview!
I just got off the phone with Margery Eagan. It was my fourth conversation with her. I didn’t look at how long we were on for, but it was a while. Margery did not know me before I reached out to her. It took some doing, but after a number of calls to WGBH (Boston’s public TV and radio station along with a few others), where she is a beloved radio journalist host, and a few emails, I got her attention and she has been nothing but generous with her time. She amazes me.
If you don’t know who Margery Eagan is you’ll want to because she is uplifting, hardworking and fair, with a wicked sense of humor even when reporting on the most depressing of topics.
If you don’t know who Margery Eagan is you’ll want to because she is uplifting, hardworking and fair, with a wicked sense of humor even when reporting on the most depressing of topics. I have listened to her radio program with Jim Braude for a number of years, Boston Public Radio. The two, working together for 18 years and knowing each other for 25, are like a married couple but they take each other's ribbing too well to actually be married. Here is a quote from a Boston Magazine article from 2018 LINK https://www.bostonmagazine.com/news/2018/02/06/margery-eagan-jim-braude-wgbh/ :
“ They’re genius broadcasters who have located a sweet spot between highbrow commentary and blue-collar banter, and combined it with dynamite on-air chemistry of the Joe-Mika/Natalie-Chet variety…”
In the same article, they go back to describe how in 1990 when Margery was a big deal reporter at The Herald and Jim was running the Tax Equity Alliance for Massachusetts (TEAM) she did an article on him. Though they are both quite liberal, they differ in their views on taxation and big government. She wrote:
“There’s Gentleman Jim,” Eagan wrote. “So smooth, so eloquent, exuding noblesse oblige in his rumpled blazers, like the heartthrob of freshmen girls in Econ 101. He’s already the heartthrob of the pro-Sandinista left. Can’t you just imagine him in a battered ‘Save the Whales’ Volvo, sneaking off to Crate & Barrel at The Mall at Chestnut Hill.”
I love that quote because it displays Margery’s ability to respect her subject and poke fun at them at the same time. It’s not as easy as it sounds. They are on five days a week for three hours a day. Just think of that for a minute. They interview everyone!
On the show, Boston Public Radio, they have a team of regulars who come on weekly or monthly and commentate on the latest buzz in local politics, religion, national news, medicine, food, culture. The Mayor of Boston has a regular spot and the governor does as well. The regulars all have a tie to Boston even if they live somewhere else now. The ‘hometown boy/girl does good’ characters who are impressive and make a listener feel proud to be a Bostonian. The show becomes a family to listeners. In fact it's a lot like a family where you want to strangle someone (usually Jim, never Margery and I love listening to both) and then you get over it.
The show becomes a family to listeners. In fact it's a lot like a family where you want to strangle someone (usually Jim, never Margery and I love listening to both) and then you get over it.
Back to Margery. On the radio, she comes across as incredibly kind and approachable. In fact, she is incredibly kind and approachable. I could have talked to her for hours (which I guess I have) and she was happy to chat (pretty sure). We talked about Fall River (her long-suffering hometown), her path to journalism (clear), her different jobs, motherhood, Catholicism, politics, the latest on the Supreme court (dire), leisure time (Cape Cod). The ease with which we chatted was exactly how anyone who listens to her show would think it would go. She’s like the family you want without the responsibility or guilt.
“She’s like the family you want without the responsibility or guilt.”
Last night, she needed to get off the phone so she could enjoy dinner (she was cooking) with her significant other and then do a few hours of prep for her radio show. Margery loves to work and has from the start. For much of her adult life she has had three kids and two full-time jobs (a column for The Boston Herald, and her radio show with Jim). She has a wee more time now, due to dropping her column, to enjoy life on the Cape, a new grandchild (beloved), and some projects she has wanted to do but never had the time (not telling).
In The Beginning:
Margery Eagan grew up in Fall River, MA with her parents and older sister. Her mom was a pianist who performed around the region and her dad a traveling salesman for Firestone tires. I joked with her about the Lizzie Borden house in Fall River (Lizzie Borden took an axe, and gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one.) and she said in fact, her aunt lived in a famous house that belonged to the family, Maple Croft. Go figure. She told me she loved radio as a kid and still does. One of her favorite shows as a young reporter was Marjorie Clapprood on AM radio. Little did she know how much time she’d eventually spend on air.
Her English teacher at Durfee High, Fall River, MA, named Delores Burns was a stickler for grammar and really taught her to write. She made her classes write their essays over and over. We need more Miss Burns’ today in our classrooms. She followed her older sister to Smith in part because of the graduation speaker, Gloria Steinem. Ms. Steinem told her audience of women they can do anything and should. So, Margery applied to Smith, got in and went.
She soon discovered that she wasn’t at the right school and needed an adventure. She applied to Stanford, got in and went. She said she wasn’t exactly “focused” on her school work (beach, surfing) and still wasn’t sure what she was going to do once she graduated. Senior year she took an exam and filled the ol’ blue books up despite not having read the source material. Her advisor told her it was obvious that she hadn’t prepared for the exam but that was the best-written baloney she'd seen and she should think about being a journalist.
She graduated from Stanford, went home to Fall River and got a job at the local paper as a “stringer” (paid by the story). She was sent to cover the Westport, MA Septic Lagoon Commission meeting. She was there all night listening to the town and the farmers. She delivered her story by 7 AM and was hooked. Within a year she was working as a stringer for the Globe. She married a fellow reporter but there was a rule that only one of a couple could work at the company. Margery left for The Boston Herald. She says she had a blast there. While The Globe was fancier it was more suburban and The Herald was the “urban” paper that reported the juicer stuff. Time marched on and she had three kids and was still working between Boston Magazine, The Herald and went back to Stanford with her husband for a fellowship for a year. She returned to Boston and got her own column which was great because it allowed her to plan her own schedule.
Margery Eagan started covering big crime trials all over the country:
She started covering big crime trials all over the country; OJ Simpson was her first. She had a baby that was still breastfeeding, but had to stop because duty called. Work inserted itself into her life frequently. She had to leave family vacations to cover Princess Diana’s death, Jackie Kennedy’s death, and the JFK Jr. plane crash. She says she found going to the high profile crime hearings fascinating. She reported on Susan Smith, the Ziti killer, the Tufts professor murder, Bulger, the Wellesley doctor who killed his wife. She says she did love the trials, they were electric and unpredictable. There were so many reporters, all young and eager. It sounds like they had fun.
As exciting as her big crime reporting days were, she says what got her hooked on journalism was being a “stringer.”
She says the minute reporters stop going to zoning board of appeals meetings, or similar local hearings is the minute bad things happen to taxpayers. She says that is where we are now. The loss of printed papers has meant a loss of reporters getting paid to cover these meetings. The point: whether in print or not, the local press needs to be stronger. We taxpayers need to be engaged politically at a local level to protect our communities and our interests and for that we need journalists. They have always been the unsung whistle blowers.
The point: whether in print or not, the local press needs to be stronger. We taxpayers need to be engaged politically at a local level to protect our communities and our interests and for that we need journalists. They have always been the unsung whistle blowers.
Margery had a column at The Boston Globe called Crux that covered the Catholic Church. For her, the Church represents a spiritual safe place. She is a liberal (though not a fiscal liberal) and prefers the Jesuit institutions. She knows that young people are not keen to support an institution that won’t allow gays, women or married men to be priests, won’t support birth control or Choice. So the Church will shrink which means the good it has been able to do will also shrink (schools, hospitals, colleges, social justice). We know about the bad…
She says It’s hard to believe that the 6 Catholic Supreme Court justices are the same religion as she is. That both the Church and our country are having a low moment, both are split. We talked about the recent Supreme Court rulings link and about what they have planned for the next term. If you are a moderate you will be miserable. If you are a liberal….you may need to go on a decades long vacation.
Whatcha thinkin’? I and the rest of the readers would love to know! Leave a note and let us know…
In the Boston Magazine article I quoted above they refer to Margery as a “dual threat.” She is a great writer, sure. Lots of people are. But she is a relentless digger and journalist who thrives on seeking, learning and discovery. And honestly, she’s super funny. So, make that a triple threat!
If there is anything I would like to give WSG readers it is the energy to keep seeking and learning and discovering. I look forward to seeing what Margery does as she takes up some personal projects, a book?
A Recipe You Won’t Hate: Margery’s Planter’s Punch!
A key to weekend relaxation and a decades long tradition for Margery.
The recipe is for a group of friends. This version has “kick” as she says. Add more juice to mellow it.
⅔ cup of Myers's Rum
⅓ cup of White Rum
2 ½ cups of Orange Juice
½ cup of Cranberry Juice
Put it in your favorite festive glass, invite friends and enjoy!
That was a big interview. I hope you have enjoyed it. If you’re looking for something to do or to give yourself a schedule, volunteer! Or, at least try Margery’s recipe. Cheers!
PS. A plug for one of my kids who just released her first song: https://ffm.to/lovemeback Go, Bebe :) Update: and now a second song and a holiday song…see her Spotify! Soon and EP…
Anyone read any of Pel’s Picks? I have started Treacle Walker! It’s adorable and super confusing. Crazy British writers!
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And just for kicks….my web site for art…