Al Ross, a much-loved Wisconsin Public Radio host who promoted musicians, writers, and artists from the western part of the state, passed away late last month. He was 73 years old.
Ross served as the animated voice for WPR’s “Spectrum West” for 14 years, keeping residents from Eau Claire and River Falls company as they tuned in to his weekly arts and culture show.
“If you look at the arts as being essentially healing to the human soul and to society, then to promote them publicly is to do a great service to the world,” Thomas Smith, a poet and a regular show guest, said.
“He used his own wit to loosen up people, to get them to be spontaneous and to be more real with him and more real and honest with the audience,” Smith noted.
Ross was already a radio veteran by the time he became part of Eau Claire’s WPR station, but his energy and wit never dropped as he interviewed artists from the region.
“It’s not necessarily that he took art with a capital A seriously,” author Mike Perry, who knew Ross since the 1990s, said. “But he took the artists seriously. And so it didn’t matter if he was interviewing some bestseller person or if he was interviewing someone who had just written the first book or was just putting on their first pottery show. He was engaged. He was listening.”
Not just remembered for his witty lines and incredible sense of humor, Dean Kallenbach, a retired WPR senior regional manager, said Ross “was so technically sound, so artistically sound, so reliable, but also incredibly creative.”
“For the listener, it just added this culturally rich accent to their experience living in the Chippewa Valley,” Kallenbach continued.