John Platt: Folk Music Steward

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Sheila (left) and John Platt (right) with Linda Ronstadt at the Tilles Center (Photo by Steven Sandick)

This year marks John Platt’s golden anniversary of being on the radio. The year 1969 was when his dulcet voice debuted on the airwaves, subbing for the storied Dave Herman, who was on vacation from the shift he hosted at Philadelphia’s WMMR. While it’s quite the milestone for Platt, the last year has been a trying one as the Pennsylvania native suffered a stroke over the summer. While he was planning to retire from working full-time at 90.7, WFUV, a place he’s called home for the past 22 years, this unexpected medical situation altered his plans quite a bit.

“I had a stroke in the middle of the summer. I was on vacation in Wyoming and they airlifted me to a hospital in Idaho Falls, where they had a good neurology department. I was in the hospital for three weeks. I was really lucky that I had great medical care there. And then I had really great out-patient therapy at Glen Cove Hospital,” he recalled over coffee at Manhasset’s Landmark Diner. “I was really lucky, it was a major stroke, but it could have been worse. The combination of doctors, nurses, therapists and the wishes of people was wonderful. I was so blown away, and I still am—from the kinds of responses I got from people. The stroke was a life-changing and life-affirming kind of event. I understood what I mean to people. Not just me, but what I stand for within the folk community. How important it is to have somebody involved with what the folk community is doing. It really validated what I wanted to do in life.”

While he wound up segueing from medical leave to retirement, Platt wasn’t quite ready to go back and do his Sunday Supper show yet. As a result, he was put on hiatus before returning early last month. With help from Sheila, his wife of nearly 47 years, Platt has made a remarkable recovery. He walks with the slightest hitch in his gait and his speech is seemingly unaffected. Aside from admitting he’s not as fluid in ad-libbing as quickly as he once was, Platt seems a man reborn. His recovery and rehabilitation gave him time to think about retirement. What he came up with is the nonprofit New Folk Initiative. Part of what he’s done is launch www.newfolk.org, a website he has high hopes for.

John Platt with Emmylou Harris (Photo courtesy of John Platt)

“I want to make [www.newfolk.org] a hub for information, he said. “I don’t know if I’m going to try and make it a big organization so much as a hub for information—being able to list some concerts every week and know that people can find it easily. And archives they might not be able to find otherwise. And personally be able to put in blog posts about stuff that I think people might be interested in, like the Joni 75 concert. I’m hoping that it’ll be a destination for people interested in the music in a general way.”

Platt has already hit the ground running in celebrating a life as a professional broadcaster that’s seen him go from Philadelphia, to Chicago for a decade, before coming to New York in 1979. He’s edited together three shows (two of which aired on April 7 and 14 and another slated for April 21—all will be archived on his website) of his favorite interviews including Steve Goodman, John Prine, John Lennon, Randy Newman, Lowell George, Tom Waits, Bonnie Raitt, Leon Russell, Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris and more. And being the folk music steward that he is, Platt also has a two-part rebroadcast centered on the upcoming May 3 centennial of the late Pete Seeger’s birth slated to air on April 28 and May 5.

“The first time I actually interviewed Pete Seeger was around ’99 for Where Have All the Flowers Gone: The Songs of Pete Seeger. I had Pete and Jim Musselman, who was the owner of Appleseed Records, come in together to WFUV and talk,” Platt recalled. “Pete was always most interested in talking about the songs rather than talking about him. He’d talk about Woody Guthrie and what he learned from him. He said Woody had the gift of simplicity. Any genius could make it hard, but Woody could make it easy. He confessed that the first time he heard, ‘This Land Is Your Land,’ he didn’t think it was one of Woody’s better efforts because it was so simple. But the schoolchildren got it.”

Platt shows no signs of slowing down. In addition to his weekly radio show and the website, he hosts On Your Radar, a monthly showcase for three emerging artists at Manhattan’s Rockwood Music Hall. He is also heavily involved with being called upon to interview artists at a series that recently launched at the Port Washington Library called Inside the Musician’s Mind, that’s already found him querying the likes of Nellie McKay and set to interview longtime friend Susan Werner on June 1.

Going on the air to connect people continues to be a major muse for Platt and is reflected on a pair of Spotify playlists he’s dubbed Compassion and Commitment.

“Radio can be that kind of tribal thing in a positive way. Of course, anybody who was listening to WNEW in 1980 and Vin Scelsa got on the air—that was how people got through [John Lennon’s death] then. After 9/11, the whole staff at WFUV got on board with that,” Platt pointed out. “That’s why I’ve made a vow, after 2017, to play a few songs of passion and commitment every program—just a couple. It could be something like ‘Get Together, ‘This Land Is Your Land’ or ‘If I Had a Hammer.’ But it could be a newer song that somebody had written for this moment. Not to trash what’s happening politically, but to make a case for what we can be and to appeal to our better angels.”

John Platt hosts Sunday Supper on Sundays from 5 to 6 p.m. on 90.7, WFUV. Visit www.newfolk.org to find out more about his nonprofit, The New Folk Initiative.

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