2490 Kalakaua Ave
Honolulu, HI 96815
Michael Titterton-Hawaii Symphony
The Accidental Broadcaster
Michael Titterton was born shortly after World War II in a heavily-damaged industrial area of East London. He left school at 15 to work for the BBC…not, oddly, the famous broadcasting enterprise, but the Barking Brassware Company, a manufacturer of plumbing supplies. There he served an apprenticeship as a tool-and-die maker before starting his own small company, Mattspeed Engineering, a fabricator of special equipment for racing-car engines. This woefully undercapitalized endeavor folded after a couple of fun-filled years, so a disappointed Titterton converted the company minivan to left-hand drive, packed some tools and a sleeping-bag, and spent the next couple of years as an itinerant automotive tinker, traveling between casual jobs in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. Other opportunities presented themselves – catfish farming in Israel, typesetting in Barcelona, truck-driving in Morocco – but nothing that really held much promise as a career.
Then, a series of unlikely accidents led him to the New World, and to an unexpected opportunity to continue his education in Canada. After an unfulfilling romance with Social Work, he focused his attention on mass media. At this point he figured the New World looked a lot more promising than the Old one, and that the most direct route to understanding it would be to study the bottleneck through which all events and ideas passed: radio, television, newspapers. And it was the very early seventies: Vietnam, Watergate, Men On The Moon, Youth On The March, all important stories and developments being squeezed through the eye of the media needle. Heady stuff.
Sheer momentum, coupled with an ambition to teach, led to graduate work at Wayne State University in Detroit, and another accident: In an effort to supplement his academic book-learning with something more hands-on, Titterton volunteered his services to the campus radio station, WDET-FM. He read the morning news, and began to learn to speak American. (He never got very good at it).
What he didn’t realize at the time was that WDET was one of a fairly small number of “educational” radio stations that were forming the basis of a new, national network of non-commercial stations, collectively becoming known as Public Radio. A totally new non-profit organization, National Public Radio, had recently been created as a cost-sharing device to provide these stations with a national news service. Another happy coincidence was that one of the major players in Detroit at that time, the Chrysler Corporation, was embarking on the first of its major financial meltdowns. This became a national story, long before NPR had such a thing as a Detroit correspondent. Titterton knew his way around an auto plant from his years in Dagenham, and so he began spending a lot of time with his tape recorder in the Chrysler plant, speaking with union officials, line bosses, engineers and such, producing short pieces for WDET. Soon, these began to be picked up by NPR, and some sort of foundation for a career in public radio was laid.
From Wayne State T went on to teach broadcasting courses at Virginia Polytechnic & State University (VPI). As a sideline, he began laying the groundwork for the campus radio station’s evolution into an NPR affiliate. From there he went to Penn State University, and did the same trick. Then, after accepting a position at Florida State University, he realized his heart lay much more in the radio business than it did in academia, and he called from Europe to say he’d changed his mind, and to decline the position. He moved to Tallahassee anyway, and worked at various jobs (factory work, cab-driving) until a position opened up as a classical announcer for WFSU-FM. (This took several months, and to this day T believes that driving cab in a city, especially overnight, gives an indispensible advantage to anyone planning to later work as a reporter in that city. You get to learn a lot about a place and its people, very quickly, behind the wheel. At night.
The gig as a classical announcer led to a spot in the news department, which led to a job as a reporter/producer for the Florida Public Radio News Network.
Then an opportunity arose to build a station from scratch in Wilmington, North Carolina, and T snatched it. WHQR (Wilmington’s High Quality Radio) went on the air from a semi-abandoned shopping center in 1984. T built it over again, in a much larger space on the third floor of a 19th-century downtown warehouse, winning a number of architectural and preservation awards in the process. The new station began broadcasting ten years to the day from its inaugural broadcast, and continues to flourish from the same spot. Its motto, since 1984: “Radio With Vision… Listen, and See .
During his years in Wilmington T took a leave to consult with a group of folks in Asheville, North Carolina, who were desirous to have their local (university) station, then 10 watts, converted to a community-licensed public radio station. We worked together, and the happy result was/is WCQS, Asheville.
T also developed another interest in theatre at this time – Wilmington is a very artistic community, particularly in the field of theatre. The very first theatrical work originated in America was produced in Wilmington, and at the time T arrived there it was home to a couple of dozen very active theatrical organizations. On top of that, Dino de Laurentiis built a large studio there in the late eighties to take advantage of the scenery, the architecture, and the state’s right-to-work laws, so acting professionals were thick on the ground.. T got very involved with theatre (favorite roles: Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady, and George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) and, inevitably, with film and TV, where the money was much better, though the work much less satisfying. Another favorite role was that of Sir in The Dresser , which brought T into contact with Shakespeare for the first time in many years (through the scene in which Sir is required to deliver an over-the-top performance of the “storm” scene from King Lear). T got the Bard-bug but, sadly, there were no companies in town devoting themselves to Shakespeare, and so T and a couple of friends founded Cape Fear Shakespeare to give annual performances in an amphitheatre in a city park. Problem solved, and the company runs to this day.
After Wilmington Honolulu came next, where T moved in December of 1998 to take over management of Hawaii Public Radio. Except for a brief appearance in Lost, and a few narrating gigs with the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra, acting had to give way to more-than-full-time work with HPR which, between 1999 and 2016, was brought from a Honolulu operation to two statewide networks which, in recent years, have become regular recipients of national awards for journalism, innovative programming, and business practices.
T, who “likes building things but doesn’t care much for running them”, declared his intention to retire at the end of the 2016 fiscal year, and did so. For a few happy months he devoted time to traveling, catching up on correspondence, and tinkering in his midtown machine shop where he builds experimental engines of various types. More recently, he joined the board of the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra; and, in June of 2017, he was made President of the organization and is currently working to ensure its future.