Lyons Filmer, voice of KWMR, retires this winter

David Briggs
Radio host Lyons Filmer pulls weeds under the stairs leading to KWMR's offices. She will retire at the end of the year, and spend her newfound free time doing the same in her home garden.  

Something in the tone of her voice—soothing, fireside, full-bodied—made radio the obvious fit for Lyons Filmer, KWMR’s program director who will retire in December after 19 years at the station. In her role, Ms. Filmer works with over 90 volunteer programmers, facilitates the broadcast of several outside shows and steps in as the host on several others, including Epicenter—which focuses on local news—the Celtic Universe—a music feature—and “At Nature’s Pace,” in which she has read aloud nonfiction that looks at the relationship with the natural world for the past 20 years. “What we have at KWMR is unique to the character of West Marin, and the kinds of topics people are interested in: environment, music, arts, politics—particularly local and regional politics,” she said. “A small station is a struggle to keep going, even on our very small budget. Most small stations are all volunteer, but whether you are paid or not, it’s always a labor of love.” A San Franciscan, Ms. Filmer studied sociology, performed theater and contributed to the student radio station at Middlebury College in Vermont before returning home to the Bay Area. Her first radio job was for KPFA in 1990, where she had a show called “Sense & sensuality: eating for pleasure,” in the drama and literature department. Muriel Murch worked in the same KPFA department and was a founder of KWMR. She asked Ms. Filmer to start reading aloud for the station in the late ‘90s; shortly after, Ms. Filmer and her husband relocated from Fairfax. The station now has six employees, though just one full-time position. Mia Johnson, the station’s underwriting and development coordinator, described Ms. Filmer as an exceptionally good listener who always takes time to hear concerns, praises and ideas for new programs. “Everyone gets a chance, everyone participates in the forum with Lyons,” she said. “She’s receptive, open-hearted, and she’s interested in so many things.” Ms. Filmer said the station has changed her over the years, showing her the importance of respecting every opinion volunteered on and off the air. People feel strongly, she said, and “they talk back to the radio—as they should.” Her work at the station has also taught her to be bolder, to care less what people think of her. Being on air is hustle, she described. She does her research ahead of time, and once she’s live, there’s a lot to think about: hosting the guest, watching the clock, orchestrating the technology. It’s an endeavor she calls “controlled chaos.” “Unlike painting or pottery say, radio moves,” she explained. “It’s precise, it’s intimate, there’s deep listening and hopefully you are asking interesting questions, and the energy just keeps moving. It doesn’t end, it’s not about a fixed end product.” Talking on the air still gives her a rush that isn’t entirely pleasant, she added. One fear she’s held for 19 years is shared by all radio hosts: the program has ended but her mic is still on, and without knowing it, she’s talking on air. It has happened a few times, she said, and that was enough. The shift away from radio will be a transition, she said. “Who would I be if I didn’t have this voice? It’s where my ego is most invested,” she said. “Sure, I think about how I look—my haircut, if my nails are clean, my clothes—but my voice is really the key to who I think of myself as being. Ultimately it is just a medium, one way for me to express what I observe, what I process, what I want to put back out into the world again.”