Susan Arbetter has the best voice in Albany—but you need more than good vocal cords to succeed there.
Arbetter joined WCNY in 2009 and hosts the station’s popular public radio program The Capitol Pressroom, on which she has interviewed governors, lawmakers and seminal public figures. Before that she worked at WAMZ for 13 years as a news director and then joined WMHT, developing a statewide program about politics for public television. But she realized she’d rather be behind the microphone. “I found that hosting was my passion,” she said. “I really loved the conversation, talking to people, unpacking the public policy, making difficult complicated ideas real and relevant to listeners.”
It’s a lot of work. She gets in most weekday mornings at 7 a.m. and finishes up her research before her 11 a.m. show. Then she starts all over again preparing for the next day’s news cycle.
“This place is like an onion,” she said. “Every couple of months I feel like I get one layer into the onion. It’s slow and painful and there’s a lot of crying. Eventually I feel like I will get to know this place.”
Arbetter said that former Gov. David Paterson, who had his own radio show, is one of her favorite guests, because he’s “entertaining, very quick on his feet, articulate and can communicate nuances of complicated ideas—and hell, he’s funny.”
Her most difficult guest? Politicians running for re-election, because they tend to watch every word they say and read into questions.
“It’s very hard to get them to open up,” she said. “In order to do that, I really love to be face-to-face with people. They can see that I’m smiling.”
She believes young journalists must listen and do their homework before interviewing a subject, no matter who it is. “I even have a pre-interview: Let’s just get to know each other first, and then we’ll get on the air and do something for the public,” she said. “I don’t make someone out to be the good guy and the bad guy. Policy isn’t right or wrong.”
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