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Bill Parker – Friend to the Indian Community

BY LAURA WATERMAN WITTSTOCK

Opera devotees tuned in to the Opera program one evening every week to hear Bill Parker play and comment on great music as probably no one has since on Minnesota Public Radio. When the traveling portion of the Metropolitan Opera came to Minneapolis, Bill would pull out all the stops to record interviews with visiting performers. He found one baritone who was interested in American Indians and he took him to the American Indian Center for a pow wow.

At the other end of the day, he also hosted the Morning Show with his well-known humor. He also wrote liner notes for records and CDs, and after his book Building A Classical Music Library in 1994 was published, Best Buy put up life-sized cut-out photos of Bill to greet customers. His collection of thousands of tapes and CDs gave him broad access to the classical world.

What is little known is that Bill Parker began volunteering for MIGIZI Communications in late 1978. He came to the Indian community looking for organizations to volunteer for and someone directed him to us. He plowed right in, doing things like carrying sacks of potatoes for a community feast or quietly standing in the back of the room, ready to help. When he found out we would be training college students from the Journalism school at the University of Minnesota in radio skills, Bill said he could teach voice for radio. Once our studios were built and we had a number of students enrolled in our classes, we began taking students from the general public, and the first student we had was David Larsen, who had a pronounced stutter. Bill said he could help him and teach microphone skills as well. Bill did as promised and for the rest of his life, David remembered his training, and he became a sought-after speaker in the Indian community. Another trainee, Ed Sando, came from the circus world where he grappled tents and loaded animals onto the circus railroad cars. He wanted to learn how to narrate live events. Gauging Ed’s gravelly voice from years of smoking cigarettes, Bill thought he had potential. The first assignment Bill gave him was live coverage of an American Indian boxing event. Thrilled with the assignment, Ed succeeded very well. It seemed like Bill was a miracle worker who could understand the voice abilities of his students and enough of their personalities to emphasize their strengths.

Bill volunteered for FIRST PERSON RADIO for about twelve years, bringing in other talent to help the growing organization. His voice can be heard on the weekly-distributed programs, now at the MN Historical Society. The programs were produced from nationally gathered stories sent by independent producers and then produced and narrated by Bill. A number of engineers worked for FIRST PERSON RADIO over those years, working with Bill as the weekly show was produced overnight. Then copies were made for subscribers and mailed in the morning. The master went to Minnesota Public Radio for uploading to the satellite system and distribution to those stations that could download. The mailed copies were for the majority of stations that had no satellite capacity.

Bill died on January 15, 2018. He will be missed by all in FIRST PERSON RADIO and many in the Indian community whom he personally helped with gifts and loans.

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