Joni Deutsch

Joni Deutsch

Current Role: Assistant Producer/Guest Host of NPR’s Mountain Stage
Graduate Year: 2017


An online MA in Strategic Communication student highlights her speaking opportunity at an industry conference and expands on how her experience in the degree program influenced her successes/opportunities within her role in public media.

Joni’s Professional Experience

Tell me about the recent conference you attended.

The conference is titled P. M. D. M. C. -- it's Public Media Development and Marketing Conference. They do it once a year and around the states.

Last year, it was in Boston, and I was able to speak about my millennial event engagement work. This year, it was in San Francisco, and I was invited to speak about my work in promoting local music at my NPR member station, which is West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

When you think of music scenes, you don't think of West Virginia; you think of East coast and West coast, L.A. and New York. So I thought this conference would be a great way to show how smaller states and stations can cultivate local music scenes through public radio.

At my station, I've been able to do a number of local music initiatives. Some of them have been listening parties that encourage engagement with millennials through intimate gatherings, craft beer and brand new music releases (both local and national). Another is a 30 for 30 interview series called "30 Days of #WBMusic."

So, I was able to talk about these initiatives with people from across public media, as well as host a panel featuring three really cool women working in public media music. It was an inspiring experience, especially since music panels sometimes aren't all women. So, for all four of us to be accomplished, really go-getting women in public media music -- I was grateful to be a part of it.

Can you expand on your involvement with NPR and some history behind the program?

Getting Started
So, a short story after college-- I came back to my hometown of Charleston, West Virginia. I did college radio in undergrad and I wanted to continue doing something like that, but I didn't know what to do.

A friend of mine suggested I interned with a program produced by West Virginia Public Broadcasting, and the program's called Mountain Stage. It's been on the air since 1983, and it's one of the legacy public radio programs. It's distributed by NPR Music, and it's produced here by the station, West Virginia Public Broadcasting. So I did the internship with them, and that was in April 2013; when I started. I've been with them now for a little over four years.

Involvement with NPR/NPR’s History
Throughout the process, I've done so many different things, from data entry to listening to CDs for music submission to the show. Like I said, it's a live performance radio program, so we do 26 of them a year, recorded live with an audience around the nation. Sometimes they’re recorded in West Virginia, other times in Ohio, or Alaska or Georgia -- really, anywhere.

Each show ranges in artists. So, one show could have four to five artists that range from Americana to African to jazz. It just depends, and it ranges per show with a mix of new and emerging talent, as well as legacy talent. I listen to CDs to figure out what could work well in the show. In addition to that, I've edited the podcast, which is usually a Top 25 music podcast on iTunes. I've edited NPR broadcasts. And in the last year, I've been able to host the program itself twice, which is unique because Larry Groce is the host of the program -- no relation to Terry Gross of NPR’s Fresh Air. He has hosted the program for 33 years consistently. We recently celebrated our 900th episode, and of those 900 episodes, he has hosted all of them except for five.

Last year, when I debuted as a guest host, it marked the second time anyone had guest hosted except for him. It also marked the first time that a woman guest hosted the show, let alone someone under the age of 40. At the time I had guest hosted last year, I was 24. No one actually knew in the audience that I would be hosting the show. It was a total surprise. So Larry was there, and he got up on stage to do his normal opening routine. But then he said, “Well, this is a different show. Tonight, we're actually going to have a guest host, and it's Joni Deutsch.” Typically, I'm the person that introduces the show, and I do the radio announcement, so it was a total surprise, but the audience was receptive.

I guest-hosted again this past summer, as well. It's just been really fun, evolving experience throughout the full four years I've been at the show.

Was radio your first career aspiration? Or did you find interest in the industry once you landed the internship in college?

It was a mix of both. When I was an undergrad, I actually was pre-med biology. I was doing college radio on the side as just something for fun. I always loved music, and when I saw a campus notice saying, "Submit a mixtape and become a college radio DJ," I thought, wow, that's really fun. I could mix the science and music.

Then, after a bit of time working there, I realized this is actually what I really want to do -- work in radio and work in music. I love communication; I actually was minoring in Communication and English. So, really, it was just making that the priority in my life and my career, and that's what I did.

I never had the aspiration four years ago as an intern thinking, “I'm going to be the host of ‘blank’” -- or, my voice is going to be heard on over 200 NPR stations. It was really just learning as much as I can, and having fun in the process; just growing all my skills and trying to figure out what are the most innovative and cool ways to do things.

I think that's what I've been able to do, and it's brought me to this point where I've been able to guest host a program, work in music, meet musicians, and emphasize the importance of local music. So, I don't really know where the career is going. I don't think I have an absolute goal in mind, but I know that I'm to the point right now where I'm very happy with how it's flowed so far. 

For other students to have an opportunity like this, whether in radio or public media, what would you recommend they do?

Don't be afraid to ask questions, ask for help, or see if you can be involved in something, even if you don't have that much experience, or you don't know the person that you're asking this about. I didn't really have that much experience. I had a few years of college radio experience, but I didn't have a public radio experience to this degree.

Throughout the process, I've just been interested in learning about everything from marketing, to digital media, to podcasts, to radio. I think having that passion and being able to ask questions of people has really shown them that I'm interested. I'm passionate. I want to be involved. I want to help out.

So, I definitely think that's a lesson to learn. It's just being open to things and not being afraid to put yourself out there. Beyond that – again -- you don't have to have a set path. You can do a lot of different things, and being open to that process really gives you the ability to be flexible and for others to see that in you.

Joni’s Program Experience

Why did you choose American University for your MA in Strategic Communication?

I was itching for stimulation and wanted to get back into writing. It was nice to have a year to relax after undergrad, but I was looking for something that could really get me thinking again -- help me learn more about communication.

I also was looking for an opportunity to progress my skills while being able to stay and continue my career in Charleston, West Virginia. So, looking for an accredited program that could teach me so many different parts and facets of communication and allow me to be both a student and a career professional -- American University knocked those three elements out of the park.

I also had some experience with American University. I had friends that went there for undergrad, and I knew it was a good choice for them.

And in the case of public media, American University works with Current, which is the organization that covers public media news. I'm a supporter of them and their work in highlighting the communications strengths and updates in the world of public radio.

Also, just the fact that American is really a school for communication professionals, by communication professionals. So I think between all those reasons, especially the public media one, I just knew this would work out with what I'm wanting to get out of a degree, but also what I'm wanting to do for my career.

Describe the program and your experience as a student thus far.

Current, Relevant Courses
The program's been great. The professors keep the program current by using case studies that remain quite relevant, like in our social media course, where we had to use social media on a weekly basis while keeping an eye on trending topics and current events.

Be a Participant and Self-Starter
The program also lets me be both a participant in class as well as a self-starter. It's allowed me to become a stronger writer through consistent assignments and feedback from professors. Mind you, these courses aren’t about simple grammar, style, and structure. They’re really showing you how to think differently -- how to write as a crisis communicator, as a public relations professional, as a manager of an agency.

Which is great because you're fitting into these roles that may help you further along in your career. And if not, it gives you that perspective to know how to work with those individuals or what it takes to make a diverse communications agency come to life.

Has the program assisted in your current role? If so, what courses did you find most helpful? What are the most valuable skills you learned?

The courses lined up very well with certain things happening in my professional career. 

Implementing New Skills
When my work began transitioning more into digital media, I started taking the social media class. More recently, I took the leadership course, which was also great because it occurred around the time I was returning as guest host of Mountain Stage.

Helpful Courses
One of my favorite moments thus far has been the feedback and one-on-one attention given by the strategic communication management course. The reading materials were excellent, and the professor was on point. It also got me in a project group that was a dynamic, diverse, well-oiled machine. It really gave proof to the management styles that we were learning about in the course. It also made me realize what kind of manager I am.

This past year, public media has been concerned with potential state and/or federal funding. The crisis communications course was one of the courses that had excellent teachings for situations like these. The course really spurred me to think about how my station (or the larger scope of public media) could educate the public on what's going on with funding or how to encourage support.

What’s the program's biggest strength? How has the program exceeded your expectations?

One of the perks is this being an accredited program with real professors who are living, breathing communication professionals. More than that, you can contact them and easily talk to them about your student or career work.

The students in the class have all been just as wonderful to work with. I've had a number of group projects, and they have put as much heart and effort into their work as I would hope that I put into it as their teammate. So, that's been really wonderful too; to meet these different people around the nation who also care about communication.

I enjoyed learning different styles of writing just by seeing my classmates’ work. Sure, I think I'm a good writer, but seeing other students and their writing styles (particularly how they structure their paragraphs, their thoughts, and their opinions), it really encourages me to think differently and to write differently, to incorporate some of their elements into what I do. You think, “Wow, they're great. I need to elevate myself so I can match that.” Because I think the tide rises when you have that kind of talent. It makes everyone want to do better.

I’ve also thoroughly enjoyed the flexibility in being able to do this program. I've traveled so many places in the last year or so during this course and been able to work on these assignments along the way. Having that flexibility of traveling, working, and not needing to spend hours commuting to the school to get this degree -- it's been great.

Pace of Finishing Program
As for expectations, I didn't realize how quickly the program would go by! I only have two classes left in this year, and that's it. Then I'm graduated. I'm amazed by the fact that it goes by so quickly and in a way that you actually do retain the information.

Joni’s Closing Advice

The “nail in the coffin” for my going to grad school was the fact that my public radio station encourages higher education and further learning opportunities for employees. It really helped that I had the support of my station in pursuing this degree.

So, anyone out there questioning whether you should go to grad school -- don't be afraid to put yourself out there. If you feel like this is a time to hone your skills as communicator, ask your managers and organization to support you in the process. It doesn't hurt to ask.

To learn more about American University's online Master of Arts in Strategic Communication, request more information or call us toll free at 855-725-7614.