If you’re a fan of classical music station 105.9 WQXR-FM, you’re familiar with Elliott Forrest’s voice.
The radio broadcaster speaks with a hint of Midland, Texas, roots, and an authoritative air that comes with 30 years in the radio business. Hear for yourself on his show every Saturday (7 a.m. to noon) and Sunday (8 a.m. to noon).
But even if you’re not into classical music, you probably know Forrest.
After all, he’s a champion of local arts, a driving force behind Nyack’s Riverspace who — after that venue’s demise — shifted gears seamlessly to create ArtsRock, a group that presents cultural events all over Rockland.
That the next guest in its Conversations series will be actor Alec Baldwin, who will talk with Forrest on stage at Nyack High School on March 19, a benefit for ArtsRock and Nyack High’s Arts Angels.
Forrest lives in Nyack with his wife, Kara Sheridan, and their son, Michael. (Daughter, Tyler, is away at college in Virginia, but still considers Nyack home.)
Here are 10 things you might not know about Elliott Forrest.
1. Alec Baldwin envies him. Last year, Baldwin, an avowed fan of classical music, told the L.A. Times “I envy Elliott Forrest.”
“I was touched,” Forrest says. “I was honored. Right after that, we were on stage together for the first time in Nyack and we joked about it. I said, ‘So, you want my job.’ Then the entire classical music world gravitated to him and he became the voice of the New York Philharmonic’s regular radio broadcasts.”
2. He played tuba in seventh-grade marching band.
“Then I moved on to the string bass in the orchestra and the electric bass in a jazz band in junior high and high school. By the time I stood in front of a microphone and introduced ‘Scheherazade’ by Rimsky-Korsakov, it was one of those pieces where it was like ‘Oh! This is the piece I played for six months in high school.’ ”
3. If theater paid better, he might never have turned to radio.
“I was at a theater job in Kansas City and the pay wasn’t great. They sent me to a classical station to record a public-service announcement for a kids’ show they had coming up. While I was there, I asked if the station needed anybody and they were auditioning announcers for an afternoon-drive position. I auditioned and I got it. If they hadn’t sent me to record that PSA, I wouldn’t be here today.”
4. He won radio’s highest honor, the George Foster Peabody Award, in 1992.
“It was for ‘Music Box,’ an educational and fun show for young people about all different kinds of music on WNCN.”
5. In the middle of the Peabody ceremony, he stumbled into a bit of TV history.
“After I got my Peabody, I had to use the restroom, so I walked into this small room on the way to the restroom and saw David Letterman talking with (CBS President) Howard Stringer. I congratulated Letterman on his Peabody. He congratulated me on mine. And I went on to the restroom.
Years later, I read in Bill Carter’s book, ‘The Late Shift,’ that that meeting was when Stringer approached Letterman about moving from NBC?to CBS.”
6. He co-hosted a radio show with another king of late night, Tom Snyder.
“He made me a better interviewer. Watching him night after night, you could tell he was a really good listener and he would follow up on things, yet he also had an opinion and he wasn’t shy about telling it to you. He’s a legend in my mind.”
7. He still has pinch-me moments.
“I grew up in a relatively small West Texas town. I hosted the final concert of the New York Philharmonic last season, because Alec Baldwin was doing a play. So the full package: A) I’m filling in for Alec Baldwin; B) I’m hosting the final concert of the season at the oldest and one of the best orchestras in America; C) I’m on all over the country; D)?I’m at Lincoln Center. Any one of those aspects is enough, but put them all together and I’m still pinching myself.”
8. He has “played” Carnegie Hall plenty.
“It never escapes me that Tchaikovsky stood there, The Beatles stood there, Lenny Bruce stood there, Judy Garland stood there. And I gotta tell you: When you stand center stage at Carnegie Hall and look up, it’s a great view. You see the parquet and the people on the floor and then the two, three or four balconies they have. It’s just incredible.”
9. When he first tried to pronounce the name of Russian conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky, he said, “Oh, my lord! What is that?”
“The new names in music tend to be difficult at first. Sitting in that chair, we’re expected to be fluent and conversant in Czech and German and Russian and French and Italian.”
10. Forrest, a classical voice, has a soft spot for “the last great decade dedicated to having a good time.”
“I have Sirius satellite radio in my car and I turn on the ’70s channel and it’s just like one memory hemorrhage after another.”
Photo by Carucha L. Meuse/The Journal News: Elliott Forrest, at Nyack’s O’Donoghue’s Pub.