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Mulligan enjoys best seat in the house for classical music

June 06, 2006

Two nights a week, as the sun sets over Phoenix and the mountains, and the city lights begin to twinkle, Susan Mulligan has a bird's-eye view of this magical transformation.

Mulligan, manager of communications for Student Affairs, is the on-air announcer at KBAQ every Wednesday and Saturday evening, and the station's glass-walled broadcast booth has a million-dollar view. In her mind, she has the best of both worlds those two nights a week: breathtaking scenery and uninterrupted hours of classical music.

What's a marketing specialist doing talking about music?

Mulligan's journey to KBAQ began at Sun Sounds, a reading service for the blind and visually impaired, whose studios are across the hall from KBAQ in the new Rio Salado College building in Tempe.

“I was a volunteer at Sun Sounds for two years. For about four months, I read USA Today with another volunteer, Tim McDonnell,” Mulligan says. “Then Tim started working at KBAQ. When they had an opening, Tim called me and suggested I contact KBAQ's music director, Sterling Beeaff, to interview.”

Mulligan was hired as a part-timer at the station last August, and has been on the air ever since. She received training from other staff members at KBAQ, on the job.

“I'd sit with other people on their shifts,” she says.

Mulligan said the most difficult part of the job at first was learning to operate the equipment.

“Then of course, there is pronouncing composers' and conductors' names,” she says.

She immediately bought her own copy of “The Well-Tempered Announcer,” a thick book that contains pronunciation guides to music titles and composers' and orchestras' names.

When her shift begins, she slides into the chair in front of the console, with its seemingly vast array of control panel, computer monitors, keyboards and multiple CD players.

There is a schedule for each hour of her shifts – 7 – 11 p.m., Wednesdays, and 6 – 11 p.m., Saturdays – with some required promotional material written out for her to read. She keeps a close eye on the clock so she'll know when prerecorded programs or individual pieces are concluding and it's time for her to jump in.

Then, she ad-libs her descriptions of the music, or whatever else she has to say. The well-stocked KBAQ library offers a wealth of information about the music, composers, orchestras and conductors that are on Mulligan's schedule each evening.

Beeaff picks some of the music – and sometimes, when she has time to fill, she gets to sort through the enormous CD library and select her own program. Aaron Copland, Howard Hanson and Ottorino Respighi are among her favorites.

Mulligan says she has always loved classical music, but being at KBAQ has greatly broadened her scope.

“My understanding and knowledge of classical music was limited,” she says. “Working at KBAQ has really helped me develop a true love for the music, and a much deeper understanding of the different styles of music, the composers, and even the historical events that helped shape the music.”

She played the trombone when she was in fifth grade, and sang in school choirs, but does not now play an instrument.

Her daughters, Claire, 5, and Allison, 8, will be starting piano lessons soon, though. Claire and Allison have visited the studio a few times, but they didn't stay long because the girls got restless.

“They listen to me at home all the time,” she says. “They call it ‘beautiful music.' ”

Though she puts in long days on Wednesdays and Saturdays, her on-air job has enhanced her work at ASU, Mulligan says.

“It has helped me hone my presentation skills,” she says. “When I was speaking to parents at orientation when I worked for Residential Life, for example, I was much better prepared.”