Kathleen Russo knows a little something about telling stories.
With a degree in communications from SUNY-Plattsburgh and another in photography from the Rochester Institute of Technology, the 1978 Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake grad is well equipped to handle all the options available to storytellers in the 21st century.
And, with her work in radio as a producer and her 10-year marriage to actor/writer/monologist Spalding Gray, Russo’s life experiences have helped her carve out quite a niche for herself in the field of producing podcasts.
“I love storytelling, and that is the essence of a good podcast or a radio show,” said Russo earlier this month from her home in Sag Harbor on Long Island. “And today, there are so many streaming outlets like Netflix and Hulu for your entertainment, and it’s the same with podcasts. There’s iHeart, Wondery, Sirius, Spotify. All you need is a good ear for audio and like Mark Twain said, you have to know a good story when you hear one.”
Russo is currently producing a number of podcasts, her most notable right now being former First Lady Hillary Clinton and her show, “You and Me Both,” on iHeart Podcast Nework. That partnership has been going on for more than a year now, and just last week Russo added another big name to her client list, Chelsea Clinton, whose podcast is titled “In Fact, with Chelsea Clinton.”
“She is so smart and I am learning so much from her doing the podcast,” Russo said of Chelsea Clinton, who earned a doctorate in philosophy at Oxford. “She can rattle off data on public health like no one else. I didn’t really know if I would be the right person to produce the show, but it’s been a great experience.”
Russo’s gig as a producer of podcasts was preceded by nearly a decade-long experience working as a freelancer for WNYC, Public Radio in New York City. She produced radio interviews with some of the biggest names in entertainment and politics, and one of them was Alec Baldwin. She also introduced him at the Hampton Film Festival, and that meeting led to another conversation between the two.
“I was telling him how he should do a radio show because he’s a natural, and he said, ‘Oh my God, I’ve been thinking about doing just that.’ Then he told me to make sure I got his number, and then he said, ‘No, wait. Give me your number. I’ll call you.’ ”
Baldwin’s show, “Here’s the Thing,” was a success, and that led to another collaboration with Tina Brown, a journalist and author of “The Diana Chronicles,” a biography of Diana, Princess of Wales. Her work with Brown, “TBD with Tina Brown,” was named one of the best podcasts of 2019 by Cosmopolitan, and that led to her teaming up with Hillary Clinton, who was a guest on Brown’s show.
A couple of months after Clinton and Russo began collaborating on “You and Me Both,” the COVID-19 Pandemic hit.
“We were all coming in the studio for the first couple of shows, and then the pandemic hit and everything shutdown,” said Russo. “We’re all like, ‘Well, I guess we’ll just put things on hold for a while?’ We weren’t thinking about doing it remotely. We gave it another month and we started talking about doing it remotely. Now, it’s so much easier. The First Lady doesn’t have to go anywhere, I can sit at my kitchen table and do everything, and my engineer sits in his kitchen. And it’s so much easier to get guests. Now we don’t know if we’ll ever get anyone back in the studio.”
When Russo isn’t prepping her hosts for the show, she’s teaching at SUNY-Stony Brook, which two years ago decided to offer a program called Audio Podcast Fellows. The course prepares students for all phases of podcast production, whether it be technical or the storytelling itself. Russo is the director, and also serves as the university’s special projects coordinator.
Russo has three adult children, two with Gray, and all of them are in the entertainment business in some capacity. She met Gray when he was performing at RIT and the two married in 1994. Following a June, 2001 automobile accident in which he was severely injured, Gray struggled with depression and committed suicide on Jan. 11. Russo has lived with a close male friend for the past 15 years.
“Since COVID, I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard in my life,” said Russo, whose parents still live in Glenville. “Right now my life is Zooming and teaching three classes a week. I love doing what I’m doing, but I may start to slow down a bit.
“I may get my real estate license and sell houses like a lot of my friends do,” continued Russo, laughing. “While it does sound nice to think to myself, ‘I could retire,’ I really do love what I do and I’m happy. Maybe I’ll slow down and just do one podcast, and never really retire.”
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