"Christmas carols have a lot to do with why I'm here," says Mindy Ratner, sitting in a radio studio while Bizet plays over the air on a December afternoon.
One winter night when Mindy was a student at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, some of her friends decided to go Christmas caroling. Despite the fact that Mindy's Jewish, she was happy to go along. "I'm game for anything — and I'm an alto, so I can harmonize with anyone."
The carolers somehow ended up in the studio of the school's student-run radio station, and a sympathetic DJ put them in front of a microphone. When the station director heard unscheduled caroling going out over the air (or, more precisely, over the carrier current), he stormed into the studio to put an end to it.
While he was there, though, he recruited from among the carolers a replacement for a classical DJ who had just quit. "He handed me a list of classical music terms and said, try reading this," remembers Mindy. "When I was finished, he said, great, your first shift will be right after Christmas break!"
The next night Mindy went back and stayed up all night playing rock music with that same DJ, and "I fell in love with radio," she remembers. The rest, as they say, is history.
After working in radio in Madison, Cincinnati, and Philadelphia, Mindy came to Classical Minnesota Public Radio in 1983, and that Christmas morning 30 years ago was the first time Minnesota audiences heard her warm voice introducing their holiday favorites.
"I've always worked Christmas," says Mindy. "I think I should! It's not my holiday, but I know it's so important to so many people." After 30 years, she says, "I hope a have a few more Christmases in me. I'm not ready to hang up my headphones quite yet."
In those early years, Mindy would work both Christmas Eve and the following morning. "I'd come in on Christmas Eve and I would be on the air until we carried the midnight Mass from St. John's Abbey. That would last until 1:30 or 1:45, and then I'd curl up and take a nap before going back on the air at 6:00 a.m. It would be Christmas carols until 7:00, then The Nutcracker would go on and I'd make coffee and have a little breakfast."
Mindy often hears from appreciative listeners. "When I meet people for the first time, they say two things. They say, it wouldn't be Christmas without you; and they say, I'm glad you came back from China!"
China is where Mindy was on one of only two Christmases she hasn't been heard in Minnesota since 1983. In 1998, she had taken a leave of absence from MPR to host classical music in English on China Radio International. "It was truly the adventure of my life," Mindy says, "and as it turned out, I did work on Christmas Day that year!"
The other year Mindy missed was 2000, when she traveled to Israel with a group from her synagogue. "We left Minnesota on Christmas Eve, and we landed in Israel just as the sun was setting on Christmas Day."
This year, Mindy will be on the air on Christmas Eve from 7:00 p.m. to midnight, and Christmas Day from 2:00 until 7:00 p.m. "There's a special atmosphere that goes along with Christmas," Mindy says, "and my part of it is to be companionable. I play the music and I don't say too much — I just get out of the way, and let the music add warmth and brightness to the holiday."