Life On the Air: An Interview With Larry Meiller

In 1967, Larry Meiller was in his final semester of college to graduate as a meat and animal sciences major when he decided to take a radio class in the Department of Agricultural Journalism, now known as the Department of Life Sciences Communication (LSC). That class would set him on a path to becoming one of the most well-known voices on Wisconsin Public Radio and a distinguished professor in LSC.

Photo courtesy of Wisconsin Public Radio.
Photo courtesy of Wisconsin Public Radio.

Meiller’s radio career has spanned nearly five decades, and he continues to host a 90-minute morning talk show called The Larry Meiller Showevery weekday, bringing environmental, agricultural and human interest stories to his many listeners. When not hosting his show, he can be found performing numerous faculty duties in LSC, including teaching LSC 360: Information Radio. The class helps students learn how to become masters of audio themselves. “The cool thing with the radio class is I think I can do a better job teaching since I do the radio show every day, and I can share that with my students,” Meiller said.

Meiller teaches his students audio techniques from the ground up: from the unchanging fundamentals of writing for radio, podcasts, and other audio endeavors, to the constantly changing techniques of sound editing. When he first started, Meiller said he had to literally cut and paste tape when editing audio; today it’s all digital.

“We are fortunate to have Larry teach audio techniques to our students, which are essential for things like radio and podcasts,” said LSC chair Dominique Brossard. “According to the Pew Research Center, the use of podcasts has doubled since 2008 and will continue to rise, especially among young people. It’s great to have our own expert with his own radio show.”

Meiller often has other faculty from LSC as guests on his show. Pictured here are professor Patty Loew and faculty associate Don Stanley with Meiller. He also often requires his students to attend one of his radio shows.

The Larry Meiller Show has been airing for almost 30 years, and was one of the first call-in talk shows on public radio. Meiller covers a wide range of topics on his show, chatting with experts and offering advice on everything from agriculture and the environment to technology and how to fix a leaky roof. Through his work advising and teaching students, as well as hosting his show, he has earned several awards, such as the Joyce Kilmer Award from the University of Wisconsin–Madison Foundation’s Tree Legacy Fund, the Leadership in Nutrition Awareness Award from the Wisconsin Dietetics Association, and the Friends of Conservation Media Award from the Soil and Water Conservation Society, among many others.

Although he leans toward discussing outdoor topics, Meiller said no matter what the subject matter is, he and his guests always have a lot of fun and a lot of laughs on the air. So much so that he said he’s often recognized by his laugh alone.

“I was at the carwash one day,” Meiller said, “and I laughed at something and this lady says, ‘Anybody ever tell you you sound just like Larry Meiller?’ ”

For their final project, LSC 360 students write, produce, and edit a half-hour radio show, complete with guest interviews, commercials, and PSA’s. Those with exceptional projects may even be lucky enough to be featured on WSUM radio. Meiller adds that the majority of his students take his class because they are genuinely interested and want to have fun. He said he looks forward to teaching every semester.

“The students are great and it’s just a lot of fun,” he said of his class. “Every semester is a blast.”

When asked if he’s ever thought about doing something else or going elsewhere, Meiller said, not really, and not for lack of other opportunities. A number of chances to leave Wisconsin for other work have floated across his desk over the years, but Meiller said he hated the idea of leaving the comradery and friendliness of the LSC department. He acknowledged that there will come a time when he has to step down from his role in LSC, but not for a while yet, because he’s still having too much fun.

“You’re on sort of a first name basis with your students here,” he reflected. “It’s a professional department, but a very friendly one also. That’s what drew me here in the first place.”

Story by Gina Lehner, Department of Life Sciences Communication 2015-16 Lenore Landry Scholar