October 3, 2002

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'Book Nook' celebrates milestone
DJ Vick Mickunas
DJ Vick Mickunas

When David McCullough, the author of the acclaimed biography of John Adams, set out to promote the publication of his book in paperback recently, he didn’t expect that one of his best conversations would take place with a DJ from a tiny town in Ohio.

But that’s what happened when McCullough appeared on WYSO’s “Book Nook,” which is hosted by Vick Mickunas, and airs weekdays at 2 p.m. as part of Mickunas’s segment of the music program “Excursions,” which he hosts with Niki Dakota.

“That was wonderful,” a clearly surprised McCullough said following his hour-long talk with Mickunas. “It’s such a pleasure to be in conversation with someone who actually thought about the book.”

When asked by Mickunas if such a situation is unusual, McCullough said, “very unusual.”
The interview, which took place on Friday, Sept. 20, was significant for Mickunas as well, since it marked the one-thousandth interview to appear on the “Book Nook” since Mickunas started the program eight years ago. Over that time, he has become accustomed to comments such as McCullough’s.

“There’s a moment about 10 minutes into the interview when a light bulb goes on in the author and they realize you’ve actually read their book,” Mickunas said in an interview last week. “It’s a wonderful feeling.”

On the “Book Nook” Mickunas has interviewed bestselling writers such as Pat Conroy, Sue Grafton and Anne Lamont, celebrities such as Charlton Heston, Ted Nugent and Buzz Aldrin and local writers such as Bob Fogarty and Katrina Kittle. To both fiction and nonfiction, local writers and national celebrities, Mickunas brings the same curiosity and thoughtfulness.

“I love my job,” he said. “I like people. I love books. I like making connections.”
The most gratifying part of his work, Mickunas said, is “when I make that connection with someone, a feeling of really connecting and relating. There’s a sense of magic.”

Mickunas believes that those listening to his show can feel that magic, as well. “Everyone loves to eavesdrop on a good conversation,” he said. “I believe that the art of conversation is in decline, and I’m trying in my own way to reverse that trend.”

To ensure a good conversation, Mickunas first does his homework, which means reading each and every book he discusses.

“I couldn’t talk for an hour and fake it,” he said. “Not reading the book would be a disservice to the author. Fortunately, I love to read.”

Mickunas goes into each interview with no notes or plans. Rather, he trusts his instincts and serendipity.
“I just go where the conversation takes me,” he said. “You never know what to expect.”

Over the past eight years — each week Mickunas runs a balance of new interviews and old ones — Mickunas has encountered many surprises, such as the down-to-earth nature of mystery writer Sue Grafton and the initial humbleness of current bestselling writer Nicholas Sparks. He was less surprised by the arrogance of Donald Trump, whose office Mickunas called every day for a month to set up a show.

“It was terrible,” he said of the Trump interview. “The whole time he just talked about how wonderful he is.”
While Mickunas estimates that there are 30 to 40 book shows on public radio stations across the country, it’s unusual for a show to be both an hour long and to focus on just one book, he said.

He receives considerable positive feedback from his audience regarding the “Book Nook,” Mickunas said, which doesn’t surprise him since surveys identify reading as public radio listeners’ favorite leisure activity.

“I get e-mails about the show all the time,” he said. “I’ve gotten a great response.”
Mickunas didn’t anticipate starting a book show when he began hosting a music program on WYSO in 1994. As a volunteer host at the station, Mickunas kept getting calls from people who wanted him to interview authors who happened to be in town.

“I said ‘no’ about 10 times,” he said. “Then I finally said, ‘Why not? I love books.’ ”

Mickunas began loving books as a child in Des Moines, Iowa, where his book-loving father taught him, at age 4, to read by drawing letters on icy windows. Mickunas’s mother, an artist, loved nothing more than a good conversation, and in his book show Mickunas seems to have blended qualities of both parents.

As well as being an avid reader, Mickunas loves music, and he began managing a record store of “diverse and eclectic music” in the late 1970s. When a friend asked him to host a morning show at a newly created jazz station, Mickunas got involved in radio. He then moved on to an evening show at a commercial station while he worked days as a market researcher.

In 1993, Mickunas moved to Yellow Springs after beginning a relationship with an old high school acquaintance, Amy Achor, who lived here. (The couple is now married.) He didn’t even know the village had a radio station, Mickunas said.When he learned of WYSO, he promptly volunteered.

The following year, he was offered a paying job and his own show and began his eight-year association with the local public radio station, where he has been most influenced by the community-mindedness of former staff member Ruth Yellowhawk and by the sense of ethics of the station’s current news director, Aileen LeBlanc, he said.

After Mickunas began the “Book Nook” in 1994, it gradually evolved into a regular feature of his program, one that seemed to mesh well with his musical offerings. Mickunas said he prefers both music and books to be intellectually stimulating and emotionally evocative.

“Music and books go hand in hand,” he said. “There’s a very literary aspect to music and a musical aspect to literature.”
Mickunas plans to keep offering his blend of music and books to his listeners, who, he believes, are “very smart, fairly sophisticated. They’re smarter than I am. They like to be stimulated.”

He especially enjoys providing his listeners with experiences they would not have without public radio.
“There are so many great books and great albums out there that nobody hears about,” he said. “It’s wonderful to be able to expose people to these art forms.”

—Diane Chiddister