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Classical Host Rolf Charlston Bids Adieu to Saturday Mornings on WRTI

Credit: Gary Horn
Rolf Charlston

We're toasting a WRTI stalwart who is winding down his time on the air after 16 years of Saturdays. Rolf Charlston presented his final Saturday morning show on August 13th with an array of his own favorite classical works.

Debra Lew Harder will be taking over Saturdays, and we’ll cheer her on with a WRTI welcome post very soon!

So, why is Rolf leaving? Well, he’s a busy man with lots of items still on his bucket list, including his continual travels around the globe. After 20(!) visits to France, and more than 16 other voyages, he's still at it. This year he’s already explored the Galapagos Islands and Machu Picchu, and then Holland and Belgium. Coming up, “Viking Rolf” (as he calls himself, with grandfathers born in Sweden and Norway) will sail the Baltic from Stockholm and Helsinki to St. Petersburg on a University of Chicago alumni study tour, and then will visit his hometown of Portland, Oregon. Next year he’s off to Oslo and Bergen and then Moscow. So you can see, there’s not much time for radio hosting. But somehow Rolf promises to clear his calendar now and then for WRTI—so you’ll still hear his familiar voice on occasion.

And speaking of traveling, remember the WRTI Travel Club? Rolf accompanied many WRTI members on eight trips with adventures including Turkey and Greece (2005), New Year's in Berlin (2006), South Africa (2006), Egypt (2008), Sicily (2008), France (2011), and yet another New Year's trip, this time to Salzburg and Vienna (2009).

We call him “Renaissance Rolf” because his interests and knowledge are so varied and so deep. He speaks French fluently and is conversant in too many languages to name here. His twin passions of architecture and history have led him to conduct walking tours through the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia, and history tours around Independence Hall through Historic Philadelphia, Inc. And beyond — from the suburb of Merion to a five-day bus tour of art and architecture of the Hudson River Valley from Tarrytown to Catskill.

Enjoying the scenery on a train ride in South Africa with the WRTI Travel Club in 2006.

A brilliant man, Rolf has five academic degrees: a PhD in English from the University of Illinois with a dissertation on Joseph Conrad, two master's degrees from the University of Chicago in Religion and the Arts, another MA in Divinity from Luther Theological Seminary in St. Paul, and first, but not least, a BA in History from St. Olaf College. Whew.

And his progeny? Rolf couldn’t be prouder of his son and daughter—both esteemed musicians, and Juilliard grads, living in New York and Connecticut.

Most of all, Rolf is a genuinely kind person who always offers a jolly “Heigh Ho!” and a peace sign when greeting friends at the station. His enthusiasm for life is infectious. His motto: Carpe Diem = Seize the Day! Live it up, Rolf. We love you.

Here's what his colleagues at the station want to share about their beloved friend:

Gregg Whiteside: Carpe diem quam minimum credula postero, as my good friend “Viking Rolf” would always say. One of the nicest, most decent, erudite, and prepared professionals I've ever known in this business. His love of family, friends, travel, and scholarship have enriched us all. Some of my fondest memories are of dropping into the station on Saturday mornings to do a bit of production work, and seeing Rolf—in his Carpe Diem sweatshirt—hard at work in the control room! Knowing Rolf, I can hear him thinking out loud, "Seize the moment; the future will fall nicely into place."


Jack Moore: Rolfie started here in 2000 and brought classical music to WRTI on Saturday mornings. We didn’t have classical music on Saturday mornings until him. He had worked at WFLN, which is where I met him in 1993. I ran a station in Avalon, N.J., WWOC, and hired him full-time there to do afternoons in 1996. Joe Patti did Saturday mornings there, also. Rolf can speak a zillion languages, and has always been a conscientious, knowledgeable announcer. He’s also fun to be around.

Bob Perkins: I'm sure WRTI colleagues and his many fans will miss the Viking (as Rolf sometimes called himself), at his regular Saturday port. But, from time to time, the Viking will sail in to pay a visit.

Kile Smith: When I was tapped to begin subbing, Rolfie was my friendly yet meticulous mentor. He showed me everything from pulling/reshelving CDs (and double- and triple-checking them!) to setting up the CD players and many faders on the board so as not to confuse yourself, to arranging live-read docs and recorded spots on the computer monitors. His attention to detail still inspires me, as does his way of turning a phrase. He goes out of his way—way out of his way—to help a fellow announcer, and every one of us here knows that. We also know what a cut-up “Viking Rolfo” can be! Heigh-ho!

Mark Pinto: Rolf and I have developed a very cordial relationship as announcer colleagues, and I like to think of him as a friend. He has a relaxed and warm on- and off-air presence, and it is comfortable working around him. Rolf takes the job and the music seriously but has a very sly and wry sense of humor that creeps in every now and then that catches you off-guard. He's down-to-earth and just a decent human being, and I will miss working with him.

Maureen Malloy: "Rolfie," for many years, would do a jazz shift on Thanksgiving in exchange for a plate of my mother's turkey dinner. We would talk standards, and his talented, musical children. He's an incredibly interesting man, and has truly been an asset to WRTI. He would sleep here and do jazz shifts when it snowed. We love Rolfie!

Jeff Duperon: Rolf, thank you for the countless times I leaned on you for help with the pronunciation of names and titles of classical artists and compositions that crossed over into jazz. Your knowledge and expertise will be missed.

Dave Conant: Of Scandinavian descent, Rolf refers to himself as “The Viking.” I think of this fluent French-speaking world traveler, chorister, former professor, and architectural guide as rather WRTI's Renaissance Man. A true professional, a gentleman, and a colleague of nearly 30 years, Rolf—I'm pleased to say—will still be with us to fill in as needed for many years to come.

Ross Amico: It's always bracing to come bleary-eyed off of an overnight shift and encounter Rolf's energy and his sense of humor, qualities that may not always be so apparent in the sober business of announcing music over the radio. Also, he is impressively well-rounded and very well-read. I don't know anyone who globe-trots as much as Rolf does, for pleasure, whether it be to the Netherlands, Belgium, the Galapagos or Peru (all in only the last few months). I will miss glancing up at the studios on my way out to the car and seeing Rolf send me off with flashing peace signs.

Bliss Michelson: Will miss Rolf's twin "victory" signs as he arrived at the station. But, we'll still have them when he subs...happily!

Debra Lew Harder: Rolf is a gentleman, and has been very generous in sharing with me his love of radio and his broadcasting techniques. One of my best friends, Ginny, who sadly passed away a few years ago, was also of Norwegian descent from the Midwest, and her cadence, accent, and charm in speaking was so much like Rolf's. Talking with him always reminds me of my dear friend. I look forward to continuing to work with him, and feel honored to take over the time slot of an esteemed and beloved radio presence in Philadelphia.

Do you have to a toast for Rolf? Raise a glass and share comments below.