ALBANY – Wanda Fischer has spent just about every Saturday evening for the last four decades bringing folk music to listeners throughout the Capital Region and beyond with “The Hudson River Sampler” on WAMC.
She’ll celebrate those years on Saturday with a 40th-anniversary concert featuring some of the musicians she’s featured on the show, including Reggie Harris, Anne Hills, Sawyer Fredericks, Christine Lavin and John Kirk.
The longevity of Fischer’s radio career is fairly rare and it’s particularly noteworthy because, for many years, she worked full-time outside of the show.
“My family should get a lot of credit for supporting my efforts since it’s not always easy to have your mother gone pretty much every Saturday night,” Fischer said.
It was a juggling act to raise a family, work a daytime job in public relations and run the Sampler.
“I look back on it and I have no clue how I did it. I really don’t,” Fischer said. “I had to rely on some other people sometimes to do things like drive my kids to something.”
Her passion for folk, bluegrass and blues kept the show going, even during the busiest years. Fischer has been listening to folk music since her father introduced her to it as a child. The Massachusetts native also performed at coffeehouses in the Boston area in the 1960s and 1970s and recorded an album titled “Singing Along with the Radio.”
She initially got involved with a Worcester-based radio station simply because she was looking for places to volunteer.
“I found this little radio station that had just about everything on it. They had Latin music, jazz, folk music, world music, everything,” Fischer said.
They needed help editing their program guide so she did that for a time. When there was an opening after the DJ who ran the station’s folk music program left, Fischer stepped in.
Then, after she and her husband, Bill, relocated to the Capital Region in 1979, she reached out to WAMC about volunteering for the station. Her path followed the same trajectory there; she started helping with the program guide and before too long they asked her about hosting a show of her own. Not too long after that, The Hudson River Sampler debuted on Sept. 18, 1982.
The show’s format has remained consistent through the years, though the technology has changed quite a bit.
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“I would just put together sets of songs and play them on two turntables. And then I think it was right around 1989, we started to get CDs in and one of the performers who was playing on October 8, Christine Lavin, her CD ‘Future Fossils’ was the very first CD we ever got in a WAMC,” Fischer said.
Today, she plays a mix of traditional and contemporary folk.
“I try to mix the older music from the ’60s and ’70s, the stuff that I grew up with, with the newer material that’s coming out all the time,” Fischer said.
“She seems to me to be very savvy about what she picks to play and it seems to resonate with a pretty wide audience,” said George Ward, a board member of Old Songs, a local not-for-profit dedicated to keeping traditional music and dance alive.
Fischer also has guest musicians on the show. Michael Smith, Steve Key, Guy Davis and Sawyer Fredericks have all made appearances.
Throughout the years she’s had plenty of memorable calls into the show as well, including one from the late actor Christopher Reeve, who wanted to know the name of the singer in a song she’d played on the show.
Fischer has been recognized by the International Folk Alliance, which inducted her into the Folk DJ Hall of Fame. Locally, she’s served on the boards of Caffe Lena, the Eighth Step and Old Songs.
Since she retired from her day job in 2014, she’s also become a published author, with the novel “Empty Seats,” and several short stories. She’s continued to play tennis and volunteer with the Reading is Fun program in the Schenectady City Schools.
“Wanda does a lot and does it without a whole lot of fanfare, including on the radio. Her radio persona is a very modest one,” said Ward. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for what Wanda has done and continues to do. Long may she keep doing it, assuming she wants to.”
Fischer has remained dedicated to the show, keeping it going even during the pandemic, when she hosted from the nearly empty station on Central Avenue in Albany.
“During the pandemic, I went in every week and did the show and people would call me and say you’re one of the few things that we can count on. It’s just a piece of normalcy that we’ve got,” Fischer said.
“I do it because I love this music . . . and I really do it because the people who tell me all the time they need it,” Fischer said.
Saturday’s show at The Linda starts at 7:30 p.m. and will be broadcast live during The Hudson River Sampler’s normal time slot of 8-10 p.m. on WAMC’s network and streaming on wamc.org. Tickets are $25. For more information visit thelinda.org.