Listening to Shari Hutchinson
Columbia native leads SCETV into the future
South Carolina ETV has been a staple on many televisions and radios for more than 40 years. The Palmetto State’s public educational broadcasting network boasts 11 television and eight radio transmitters, as well as a multi-media educational system used in approximately 2,500 schools, colleges, businesses and government agencies across the state. From the arts and history to children’s programming and classical music, there is something for everyone on the ETV and ETV Radio dials.
An essential element in ETV’s success has been the significant contributions and excellent leadership of Shari Hutchinson, general manager of ETV Radio. Shari’s love for radio began after a stint at Clemson University’s student-run non-commercial radio station. She was bitten by the broadcasting bug, but Clemson didn’t offer production classes at the time, so she transferred to the University of South Carolina, where she was one of the first students in its new media arts program.
While in college, Shari began looking for work in her field and landed at ETV as a part-time board operator in 1976. She was later hired as a full-time production assistant, and it wasn’t long before Shari was gaining extensive experience on well-known programs. Her first national production credit came in 1978 while working on Toscanini: the Man Behind the Legend with producer Don Gillis, who also happened to have started U.S.C.’s media arts program. By 1981, Shari was producing The Spoleto Chamber Music Series, one of the longest-running chamber-music series on public radio today. In 1989, she was named executive producer of the show and still holds that title.
Shari’s advancement at ETV was due in part to the opportunities given to her by producers Dick Phipps and Bill Hay. Dick and Bill partnered with jazz pianist Marian McPartland to develop Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz, a program that showcases piano duets with some rather unusual pairings. Shari was named engineer and assistant producer for the show and later, after Dick’s death in 1986, she took the reins of the program, cementing her role as a true leader at ETV.
Shari admits she first took the position with a bit of trepidation. “I sat down with Marian and said, ‘I know classical music pretty well, but I don’t know that much about jazz.’ And she said, ‘Don’t worry about that, Shari. I know enough about jazz for both of us,’” she remembers.
Die-hard jazz fans may have balked at some of Marian’s ideas – including inviting such nontraditional guests as Steely Dan, Bruce Hornsby, Dizzy Gillespie and Diana Krall – but Shari welcomed them with open arms. Today, Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz is the longest-running cultural program on NPR, and it received the Peabody Award in 1983.
Shari also produces Piano Jazz Rising Stars, which highlights the jazz legends of the future, and her newest project, Song Travels with Michael Feinstein, is already garnering national buzz. In his show, Michael talks with musical guests like Bette Midler, Liza Minnelli and David Hyde Pierce about the intimate journeys singers and songs take with one another. “Working with an incredible talent like Michael Feinstein is wonderful,” Shari says. “He brings an energy, knowledge and passion for presenting an ever-evolving aspect of American Popular Song, an ETV show from the 1970s. He has reimagined it for a new generation.”
It’s not a dull life that Shari leads. In addition to the bookings and pre- and post-production, all of which are managed from Columbia, Shari also is on location at all of the tapings of Song Travels, which generally take place in New York or Los Angeles. But Shari is sure to fit in as much as she can in a few days so that she isn’t away from home for too long. “We line up between four and five, even seven, artists at a time, sometimes taping several a day,” says Shari.
For sure, ETV listeners appreciate the time and effort that she puts into these productions. “I am really proud of our national radio reputation, but I am also just so amazed at how many listeners love ETV radio in its entirety,” says Shari. “This is a testament to the team choosing the best programming that we think works for South Carolina.”
What’s even more exciting for Shari and her team is their new radio facility, which opened in 2011. The facility was made possible solely through private funds rasied as a part of the ETV Endowment’s capital campaign, which began in 2009. “After being notified of getting the lead gift, our radio facility was built and opened 18 months later,” says Shari. “People here really love their public radio network and are willing to support it.”
Recently, Shari was named head of TV programming in an effort to look at more cross-platform opportunities. “ETV and ETV Radio are becoming more integrated across radio, television and web, and we have to make sure everyone is talking to each other,” says Shari. “It’s working well because we have a great internal team that makes sure things are done well, from John Gasque, program and operations manager, to Cheryl Nunnley, program manager for television. They do a phenomenal job coming up with creative, inventive ways to present national products, while being sure not to lose the South Carolina feel.”
To be sure, Shari didn’t get to this leadership position at ETV by sitting on her laurels. Her eagerness and willingness to help in any way obviously did not go unnoticed. This is advice she believes young people should heed today. “Show initiative and don’t wait for someone to ask you to do something. Identify a need and fill that need,” she advises. The industry has noticed, as well. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting named her Outstanding Arts and Performance Producer in 1989, and she also received the Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Award for the Arts in 2001, which recognizes outstanding achievements and contributions to the arts.
Shari’s success couldn’t have been possible without the support of Tim Carrier, her husband, who is also in the business and understands what it takes to get the job done. “I am lucky to be married to a very, very patient man,” laughs Shari. “He is a television producer and appreciates what I do, and, as in all good marriages, we support each other fully.”
And while there are long days and time away from home, the rewards outweigh the challenges. “It’s a delight for me to turn on the radio on my way to work and hear some of the smart, well-articulated thoughts that are coming from our network,” says Shari. “We stretch ourselves, and that creates a new energy and excitement. We’re pushing the envelope and keeping it fresh.”