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Radio | AROUND THE DIAL

Linda Othenin-Girard Steps From Behind the Scenes to 'Talk'

September 10, 1998|JUDITH MICHAELSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Hers is a nice, normal voice on the phone. But hear Linda Othenin-Girard as she hosts "Talk of the City" on KPCC-FM (89.3), and the sound is different. Mellower, more resonant, slower paced but still peppy, a made-for-FM-talk voice.

At 48, she has spent a dozen years in Los Angeles public radio, but not until three weeks ago has she had a regular show on it.

"But I had done some on-air begging for money in fund drives," Othenin-Girard (pronounced Oth-enin) notes lightly, "which one has to do in working for public radio, and a few fill-ins."

On the air Monday through Thursday from 9 to 11 a.m., she replaces Larry Marino, who moved to a spruced-up KIEV-AM (870) as host of morning drive. Kitty Felde continues as the Friday host.

As a volunteer at KPFK-FM (90.7) and later at KPCC, Othenin-Girard aspired to an on-air position. Then in 1992, Larry Mantle appointed her his producer on "AirTalk," and she was more than happy in the background. In 1996, when "Talk of the City" was added to KPCC's lineup, she became a producer on that show as well.

Married and the mother of two teenage sons, the low-key host says her assignment came as a shock.

But Mantle, KPCC's program director, who made the appointment along with outgoing general manager Rod Foster, says she's "such a logical choice, given her in-depth knowledge of topical issues and her overall intellect. She is a generalist, which is best suited to a program like this, but she has a particular interest in national and international politics, and also a great interest in science."

Othenin-Girard, who grew up in Palo Alto and Fullerton, graduated from UC Irvine in 1969 with a degree in history, then went abroad to study French at the University of Geneva. She lived in Switzerland for about a dozen years.

There she got a diploma in French studies, met her husband, Alain Othenin-Girard, taught English to scientists and businesspeople, was a partner in a furniture import and retail business, and was active in a movement to support political refugees from Argentina and Chile who had escaped to Europe.

She also discovered the joy of radio. "I was not hearing enough French, so alone in my apartment, I used to turn on the radio. After six months, I started to hear words that I understood, to make sense of the language. They talk all the time on the radio--and I just became obsessed."

It is that sort of intensity that she brings to "Talk of the City." "There's nothing worse than getting on the air and not knowing a thing," the host says. "I really admire these people who can look at a subject and can talk about it for an hour. But when you have 'intelligent talk' "--KPCC's signature description of its programming fare, "it's a standard I have to live up to."

In the three weeks hosting the show, she's dealt with subjects ranging from Los Angeles' housing market to Russia's economic crisis, from infertility to a morning-after contraceptive pill to how much parental nurturing really matters.

Though Othenin-Girard identifies herself as "probably tending toward the liberal," she tends to avoid expressing her own point of view on air.

"I'm not one of those people who has a political ax to grind for every single subject. And part of that comes out of my producing for both Larrys, Marino and Mantle. It's crucial to find different sides of a subject, and so informing myself about different sides has made me more ambivalent."

Still, Othenin-Girard says she found herself one day last week saying that she was "disappointed" in President Clinton on the matter of Monica Lewinsky, that she "didn't like the lying. His personal life is none of our business, but on the other hand I feel he made errors in judgment, not only in his behavior but in the way he handled it."

While she wants her audience to "hear different voices," she is that rare host who hates it when talk gets really heated. That happened in a debate between Robert Pugsley, professor at Southwestern University School of Law, and author and KPFK talk host Earl Ofari Hutchinson, who were arguing why David Cash, though he had witnessed a struggle, was not being prosecuted for not doing anything to prevent the murder of 7-year-old Sherrice Iverson by his friend Jeremy Strohmeyer.

"Things got a little bit excited," Othenin-Girard notes. "I have reservations about a show like that really serving the listener." So she took control, she says, calmly admonishing, "Gentlemen, gentlemen."

*

More Talk: After more than a month of tryouts, KABC-AM (790) will announce a new host in its lineup by Sept. 24. That's the deadline Program Director Drew Hayes has set to replace Ronn Owens, who was terminated in August. His show, simulcast with KGO-AM in San Francisco, had lasted a year in the 9 a.m. to noon slot. Why the 24th? Because that's the start of the Arbitron ratings service's fall quarter. . . .

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