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Interview with Donn Ansell, October 12, 2006 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Title:
Interview with Donn Ansell, October 12, 2006
Date:
October 12, 2006
Description:
After graduating from Princeton University, Donn Ansell traveled to New York to start his career in radio. He began as an extra and "gofer" at CBS, but was soon working on multiple shows and learning the details of behind-the-scenes production.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Ansell, Donn Interviewer:  Jones, Carroll / Osinski, John Date of Interview:  10/12/2006 Series:  SENC Notables Length:  58 minutes

 

Q: Today is October 12, 2006. I'm Carroll Jones with John Osinski for the Randall Library Special Collection Oral History Program. Today we're with Donn Ansell in Wilmington, North Carolina. Good afternoon Donn.

Donn Ansell: Hello.

Q: How are you?

Donn Ansell: I'm well. Thank you.

Q: I'm so glad you came to see us.

Donn Ansell: Thanks for inviting me.

Q: I'd like to start the afternoon by asking you to tell us where you were born and raised, your family, their work, your remembrances of life at that time and any influences that may have had on you for today. If not, say that too.

Donn Ansell: Born in New Jersey in a coastal community, which I think had a great deal to do with where I finally settled in Wilmington because I always grew up by the water and, without realizing it, it was a very important part of my growing up here. The ocean was a great place for me to find peace and solace, and great fun in the summer and wonderful way to be alone in the winter at the ocean. So I grew up in Asbury Park, New Jersey. At one time it was the gem of the east coast. Its fallen in disrepute and now coming back again. I grew up in a Jewish culture although it was interesting I at an early age started considering myself more of a, I didn't know what it was I didn't have a label for it, but it was sort of a universalist. I kind of thought it was all kind of the same thing, everybody driving different cars to get to the same place, wherever that may be. But that had a strong influence on me. I always for some reason liked to perform, felt this need to express myself and didn't know how at the time.

Q: Was your family overly expressive or close-knit or nurturing in that way?

Donn Ansell: No. My mother perhaps. I think she kind of secretly, she actually was a singer before she married my dad and toured with Rose Marie from the Dick Van Dyke show at one time. But she was known as Baby Rose Marie at that time. I used to sing when she was doing the dishes; I would sing to my mother.

Q: Did you sing together sometimes?

Donn Ansell: Yeah, but that was growing up in the late '40s early '50s; that was not what you did. You went to college, you became a professional and you conducted your life like that. But I always felt sort of a little apart from the mainstream and this need to create.

Q: Did you go on to college?

Donn Ansell: Yes. I went to the University of Tennessee, then I went to Princeton. When I arrived at Princeton I was talking to someone and they said, "You have a really good voice, you ought to go to the radio station." What, there's a radio station? "Yeah." And so I found it and went down there and became absolutely enthralled with that little radio station at Princeton University.

Q: This was a local university radio station?

Donn Ansell: It was a university run and operated radio station.

Q: What were you majoring in at the time?

Donn Ansell: I was majoring in Psychology. It fed my, I'm a great, I love to watch people. As a matter of fact when I lived in New York I used to go to Port Authority and just sit there and watch. And I have to be careful in restaurants because people get very self conscious if you sit and stare at them. I love to watch people interact with each other. I'd much prefer to be a fly on the wall and watch, but, I can't do that. So I went down to the Princeton radio station and I just became enthralled with it and I started working there, volunteering there, whatever they needed. One day somebody didn't notice that the star doesn't show up and they said, "Here, you have to read the news." So I did and I didn't even think about it, I just liked the atmosphere there. So the station manager was listening and said, "Why don't you start doing the news?" So I started doing that and eventually I became part of the staff, and eventually I became the station manager.

Q: While you were still in school or did that continue afterwards.

Donn Ansell: While I was in school. It was totally student operated.

Q: So that was fun for you?

Donn Ansell: Yes. And that sort of prepared me, unknowingly, for the future. It's really interesting because I believe now in creative visualization, that you create your life through your hopes, your dreams, your wishes, what you think. I used to pretend as a kid that I owned and operated a radio station. Not only fantasized about it, I lived it in great detail. I had papers, schedules of each day and what was on the air like it was really happening. Because that eventually came to pass, I believe that I made it happen. Our choices make things happen.

Q: Had you ever been on a radio station before Princeton?

Donn Ansell: Yes. A local radio station. I was absolutely enthralled with it.

Q: Had you ever seen a radio script, how they would do shows or serials?

Donn Ansell: No. I never had a clue about that. But, the goal that I thought I had was to get into "TV production." When I graduated Princeton I went to New York, where you went. I didn't know how to break into it and I just started going around to employment agencies and finally I got to one and he said, "You can't get a job in television through employment agencies." He was kind enough to help me. And he said, "Every once in a while I hear sometime, give me your number and I'll call you if I ever hear of anything."

Q: Now was this a theatrical employment agency?

Donn Ansell: No. And the next day he called me and he said, "You won't believe this, but a friend of mine works at CBS and they're doing elections and they need some temporary help, some pages to help them just temporarily. Would you want to do that?" I said, "Well yeah!" He said, "Now it's not a job, it's just temporary just for..." six weeks I think it was. I said, "Yeah," so they hired me to do that and that was, "Oh my God."

Q: The ultimate people-watching thing?

Donn Ansell: Not only that, but I dreamed about stuff like this. You know, Cronkite, all the big - I was in the same room with them. Then I was assigned during this temporary job to a man who had an office, they had a big studio, it was called CBS Production Center, 58th street in New York, and they had built, it looked like a small city in the studio for election coverage. Roger Mud, Walter Cronkite, all the legendary names. And they had built a whole suite of offices overlooking the floor where the coverage was happening for the executives. I didn't know anyone was but I was assigned to go to one of the executives and stand outside his door if he wanted anything, coffee. And so they introduced me to him and his name was William Paley. I was his page. But I didn't know who he was at the time, but I knew he was important. So I said, if he wants coffee, I'm going to get him the best coffee, the hottest, the greatest. They showed me where this machine was that printed out stuff, it was the AP wire, and there was UPI wire, and if he asked for something I would get it so quick and it worked because he told the head of the page staff, "You need to hire that kid permanently." And they did, and so that was my entrée, that's how I started working for CBS and worked my way up in the organization.

Q: So what went on from there; what was the succession of events?

Donn Ansell: Well I like to say, I started as a page and I became a book. I worked my way up and I was there when 60 Minutes started. I worked the Ed Sullivan show. I met all the amazing people that were on the Sullivan show. What's My Line, To Tell The Truth, I've got a Secret, Face the Nation, all these great pieces of television that are the real beginning. I worked my way up as what they called a production supervisor which was a go-between, between the production company and the network. So I worked the Sullivan show, worked the Sullivan production company and worked for CBS and was the go-between. I had always done theater, as a kid I had gone to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York and I had studied acting and I always dabbled in it even when I was working at CBS. I got married and was doing summer stock, working at CBS, directing, I was busy. Then I started getting into the situation of a divorce. I was doing an off Broadway show and working at CBS and I was really burnt out. A friend of mine had moved to a place called Holly Ridge, North Carolina. She used to work for Columbia Records and that's how we got to know each other. I was telling her I was so burnt out and she said, "Why don't you come down here and visit?" I said, "Where are you?" She said, "North Carolina." I said, "North Carolina, what in the world?" She said, "Yeah, just come down and visit, it's beautiful here, I live right near the ocean." So I came down. This was in August 72. I was absolutely charmed. I was just charmed.

Q: And this was during sort of the downtime for the area too?

Donn Ansell: Oh yeah. But I mean, it was this sleepy little southern town that nobody in my realm had ever heard of. Just driving from the airport to Holly Ridge it was beautiful and I spent the weekend. I drove into Wilmington and just was charmed by it.

Q: Expand on that a little bit, tell us about your impressions; what did you see in Wilmington in 1972? Your first visit that you were so charmed. What was it?

Donn Ansell: The people, first of all. They were so different from what I had experienced in New York City. In some ways the simplicity was so appealing. It was beautiful. There was actually land. Of course there was in Jersey where I grew up, but it was still very urban. It was August, the flora was beautiful. The ocean was just - it was people to people where I was. This was you could look for miles and there was nothing. A few people with a dog. And it was this place was amazing. And I was burnt out and I was tired of it all and I don't know what possessed me, I said, "I'm moving." Just like that.

Q: And you didn't know anybody but this one lady?

Donn Ansell: No. That weekend I met some friends of hers but I didn't have any. I had never done anything like that. This was August, and in January 73 I moved. It was amazing. I started a new life and it was a totally different road than I had been on.

Q: How did you get started, what did you do?

Donn Ansell: I painted houses.

Q: Did you have an independent income or were you just...?

Donn Ansell: I had a little money set aside.

Q: Did you live in Wilmington?

Donn Ansell: No, I lived in Holly Ridge. You know Holly Ridge? It was a documentary to me. My eyes a camera, and I'm just watching these people interact and it was not anything I'd seen up close. I'd seen it in movies, this country, southern, everything was different, from what they ate to how they spoke to how they related.

Q: "Hey, Hey Donn." Isn't that what they said, they said, hello or they said, hey?

Donn Ansell: Yes. Well at the time I had long hair and they said, more than hey. It was hippie come to Wilmington.

Q: So you made a mark, too?

Donn Ansell: Well I got noticed. It wasn't on purpose. In New York nobody thought about it, you know. I can tell you one experience that was just bizarre. I was with some people that I had met in Holly Ridge and they said, "I'm gonna go over to my friends house, come on with me," and I went. I had long hair. I got out of the car, this fellow drove. I walked into the lawn and this woman comes out on the porch with a shotgun and said, "Hippie, you need to go back where you came from," and I said, "Yes ma'am," and I got back in the car. I didn't know. I assumed she was serious, might be dangerous to assume otherwise.

Q: And you stayed anyway?

Donn Ansell: Well, yeah. Eventually I moved into town. Into Wilmington and got a little house, rented a little house. I don't know what it is but I got involved with volunteering at a place called Open House. Which was a, its now part of Coastal Horizons, at the time it was a start up for youngsters that were homeless and had drug problems and needed a place. Psychology was my major, I had done some counseling. I thought maybe I could help.

Q: This was in the early '70s; were these primarily white or black kids?

Donn Ansell: It was mixed. But it was more white.

Q: Because that was a different time.

Donn Ansell: That was the whole other thing. The racial aspect, I wasn't as aware of, there was some of that in my family. I hadn't come in contact with racism the way it was at the time. I had experienced it in the north but it wasn't the same, it was a lot more subtle. Which could be more insidious, but anyway. So I volunteered there and I finally got a job. I was buying clothes for a small department store.

Q: Which one?

Donn Ansell: It was called Friendly's Store on Castle Street. I had long hair at the time. It was a high concentration of African Americans and I got to know everybody, and they used to call me Rabbi because I had long hair. I worked there for about seven years. A moment came where a friend of mine said, "You know, they're doing a show down at Thalian Hall." I said, "What's Thalian Hall?" He said, "You haven't seen Thalian Hall?" I said, "No." He said, "It's a theater, it's right next to city hall, it's part of city hall. They're doing a show, 1776." Well this was 1975 and they were getting ready to celebrate the bicentennial to do 1776. He said, "Why don't you go down and audition?" I said, "I don't know." I did go down. I walked into Thalian Hall and I was, "Oh my God, this is in Wilmington, North Carolina?" I couldn't believe it. Then I heard it was the same architect that designed Fords Theater and I was absolutely enthralled, and I auditioned and got a part. I started doing theater in Wilmington 30-some years ago.

Q: So keep going, what happened after that?

Donn Ansell: Well you know, I learned it's not where you are but who you are. Wilmington, as I later found out, has a very interesting history when it comes to theater, because many say when the Thalian Association started in 1788 that it was the very first community theater in the country. So community theater started in America in Wilmington, North Carolina. Maybe. I had done theater in New York, and when they asked me what I had done I told them and that impressed them. I did a part in 1776.

Q: At that time was there a regular company that you joined and became a part of?

Donn Ansell: Fame Association. There wasn't much else at the time. But I got into it quickly because I had New York experience and I spoke the same language as these folks.

Q: How did you feel about the producers, directors, the stage people. Did you feel that they were on par with little more professional productions or was there place where you felt that you could have some input, or...?

Donn Ansell: I felt there was opportunity. I had directed. I really felt I could explore a lot of performing because I felt that I could do on the par of what's happening here without much objection to it. So I really dove in. I realized, because I had burned myself out in New York, that it wasn't where you are but who you are. I eventually found myself back in the same kind of high power high profile situation.

Q: So from then you became more a part of it?

Donn Ansell: Yeah and I dove in. I did lots and lots of theater. I loved it, I loved all of it.

Q: Were you living in Wilmington at the time?

Donn Ansell: Yes. Working during the day, theater at night. Same thing.

Q: So from that point on things sort of evolved?

Donn Ansell: Yes. They wanted to start a dinner theater company. I was friendly with all these people. They wanted to start a touring dinner theater company out of the arts council that would tour three states. We used to sit and talk about it, chat about it. Bob Davis at the time was director of the arts council. I said, "I want to direct something for the arts council." He said, "What do you want to direct?" I said, "I want to direct Streetcar Named Desire." He said, "Well, let me propose it to the board and see if I can get you some money to fund it." So, the board went for it and I directed it. That was the first show I directed in Wilmington and it was very successful and they wanted me to do one a year. So the next one I did was Miracle Worker, and then they started talking about this touring dinner theater company that they wanted to do which was called Curtain Call Company. And they said, "The only thing is, we don't know how to book it - we've got to get some kind of..." I said, "I can book it." And I don't know what, I had not done anything like that before. But, I figured I could. I don't know why I figured I could. And so they mounted a show called Plaza Suite, a Neil Simon show. It was four or five people. And they bought a truck and they built platforms and they had lights that travelled on these iron poles and were ready to go they just needed somewhere to go. And I got a list of all the country clubs, all the bases, large restaurants, and I started calling these people and we printed out material and made it look pretty professional. I called and I said, "We're a touring theater company, we do venues of your size, I want to send you some information. It would be a great fundraiser for you or just a great entertainment for your audience." And I started booking this company and we used to book thirty dates a show which was pretty good.

Q: And this was doing, did you say one show a year or...?

Donn Ansell: No. That was separate. That's how they kind of - if I said, something they believed me because I said, I wanted to direct the show and it will be good and I directed it and it did all right. So, then when I said, I can book your company, they believed me. And I did.

Q: Where did the actors come from, were they local?

Donn Ansell: Oh yeah.

Q: Did you see much talent?

Donn Ansell: Yeah.

Q: Anybody go on to do - we've had people come here, from somewhere else.

Donn Ansell: Oh, there's been a lot of talent.

Q: There is now.

Donn Ansell: There was. Of course I did a Godspell. I directed it. It was the second time it was done in Wilmington. I did it in a church. St. Paul's Lutheran. Because I just knew it needed to be in that type of venue and I used all kids from New Hanover High school. Don Payne. Name sound familiar to you? Todd Weeks. Todd has done much Broadway. His dad was the publisher of Star News at one time, Jim Weeks. And he's now doing Broadway and does television. Don Payne of course. Screenwriter, producer, writer for the Simpsons. All these kids were in Godspell and they went on to do...

Q: Do you still have contact with them?

Donn Ansell: Yes. In fact, I was out at the west coast about a month ago and I saw Don Payne and his family out there.

Q: How do you like the west coast?

Donn Ansell: I like it.

Q: Where were you? San Francisco?

Donn Ansell: San Francisco.

Q: You weren't in L.A.?

Donn Ansell: No.

Q: Everybody likes San Francisco.

Donn Ansell: Yeah except, what's not to like unless you have to walk everywhere. That can be a problem.

Q: Easterners all love San Francisco.

Donn Ansell: Yeah. I like the weather. The crisp nights and mild days.

Q: So, all right, now you really put Thalian back on the map and expanded. I imagine you had a lot of people going to you to ask for other projects?

Donn Ansell: Yeah. As a matter of fact, there was a knock on my door one night at the house I was living in and this fellow said, "Hi." I said, "Hello." He said, "My name is Thomas Wright and somebody said I needed to talk to you." I said, "Really? Well come in." And he said, "I want to do a winter festival called the St. Thomas Celebration of the Arts. We want to save the St. Thomas Church." It was under threat of being demolished as all the great buildings have been in this town, even Thalian Hall at one time. Maybe they can use that property for something else, you know. And he said, "I want your help." I didn't know who Thomas Wright was; this is Thomas Wright III. Wright Chemical, and great preservationists, and his dad was really one of the people that saved downtown from total oblivion. The Wright family. So, we formed a committee and we did a festival called the St. Thomas Celebration of the Arts. Brought in Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Goodman, brought in all these top greats. The first one was in 1980 and I did the first two years with Thomas. Then he wanted me to chair it and I didn't want to chair it. I was still working at this department store during the day. I said, you know I need to do what I do full time. So, I did a proposal - a very gutsy thing - I did a proposal and brought it to the Thalian Association because they were floundering at the time. And I said, "I want you to hire me; I will run your organization as the managing director. You don't have to pay me a lot of money. I'll make it happen."

Q: You were passionate.

Donn Ansell: I was. It probably sounds pretty egocentric and I don't mean it to sound that way. I just felt that I had the energy and passion and I wanted to do it. I didn't know any other way to say I could do it. I was sure I could. Amazingly enough they voted to do it, and I became the first managing director of the Thalian Association. I totally revamped the season and I got the media behind it. We had a fully sold out season. We opened with West Side Story which I directed. Then we brought other directors in to do the middle shows and the last show we did that first season was Hair. It was scandalous because we really did it the way it was done. There was so much dry ice smoke during that famous scene you couldn't see anything including the person sitting next to you in the audience. There was just smoke everywhere. Word got out that we were going to do Hair the way they did it on Broadway and it was great. It was received very well artistically. We had a fully sold out season. It was the first time in years the Thalian had sold out.

Q: Do you suspect that people came from more than just Wilmington, they came from all over?

Donn Ansell: Oh yeah. At that time there was not much happening at Thalian Hall. The Thalian Associates sort of had the run of the hall. We had to extend the runs on every show because the band was so good. It was nice.

Q: With the proceeds you were helping the fundraising obviously, and refurbishing Thalian.

Donn Ansell: That was a whole other part of history in Wilmington. Which was how the Thalian Association eventually lost control of Thalian Hall. The process needed to be opened up to the community for more than just theater and the Thalian Association was just theater. So the Thalian Hall commission was established and ran Thalian Hall for a period of time.

Q: You did well, and all those people I'm sure. I hope you kept good records of all of this. I hear you talk about your daughter-in-law. You just have the one?

Donn Ansell: I do. One daughter, two grandkids.

Q: So she's probably going to get all these things.

Donn Ansell: Whether she wants them or not.

Q: But so much of this really belongs to the archives so they can retain the history of them, too. But anyway, getting on from there, I'm dying to find out - I've checked around and I've talked to him and I've talked to a number of other people about your career in radio. Did you at one time own what is now WAAV Radio?

Donn Ansell: I did.

Q: Was that from Dan Cameron?

Donn Ansell: No, it was after Dan. Burnout seems to be a good thing for me because I find new careers. I had been doing the Thalian Association theater and I was burnt out. I had done it and I had given everything I had and at one point I had more promised than I had. I had promised myself to help more than I had the energy to do or give out. And so I resigned. A friend of mine said, a friend of hers had just bought two radio stations in Wilmington, WGNI and WAAV and she was looking to change one of the formats to a new very innovative format. I said, "Really?" and she said, "Yeah, it's called talk radio - it's a new innovative format." This is in 1983.

Q: It wasn't Hanna Gage?

Donn Ansell: Yes it was. Well it was Hannah Dawson at the time. That was my friends friend. I was dating this young lady as a matter of fact and her friend was Hanna Gage. She said, "Hanna's looking for someone to help start up this new format. Her family bought these two stations here, she's heading them up and she's changing them around. I told her about you. She wants to see you." I said, "Well, I just resigned this other thing so I'm certainly looking." So I went in and I met Hanna. I did an audition for her and she hired me to do this morning show. It didn't have a name, she just told me what they were looking for to anchor that morning slot. She said, "As a matter of fact, they do it in Fayetteville, it's called Top of the Morning. I want you to do your version of it in Wilmington. I'll send you up to Fayetteville, you stay up there a few days, watch what they do and come back and see what you think." So I went up there and I watched and I was all enthused again and raring to go on this new path.

Q: Were you kind of given carte blanche as to format?

Donn Ansell: I have to say that Hanna Dawson Gage is one of the great people that I've ever known in my life. She is so special. She has blessed my life with so many gifts and so much opportunity. She's one of the people I most admire in the world. So I came back and I started putting the show together. I had a vision. I was going to get a lot of folks in the community to contribute to the show so that it would really reflect what the community was about. I started calling people in various areas of expertise, Dr. Claude Farrell, Henry Reader, all these people in different areas and asked them if they would be a regular contributor to the program.

Q: Did you start at 6 in the morning like you do now?

Donn Ansell: I did. It wasn't as easy then. Especially to get people to do political interviews or whatever. Eventually we got a little bit of a reputation and people started listening and then it got easier to get people on the air.

Q: So you didn't own the station?

Donn Ansell: Oh no. I produced and hosted that show starting in January 1984 and we are still on the air. I never dreamed it would.

Q: To book all the people and to plan five days of several hours, and I know sometimes it runs over, how do you go about doing this? How do you plan from day to day? I know there's topical news so that's going to take precedence. But you've got some people who are repeats. You call on them because of their expertise. But you always bring in a few others.

Donn Ansell: Oh, every day there's someone.

Q: So how long in advance do you do this? Is it by the seat of your pants?

Donn Ansell: It's always by the seat of your pants, but there is a format and I have regular contributors. But there's about twenty five people a week that come in. It takes way longer to organize and produce it than it does to do it.

Q: And you do the whole thing yourself?

Donn Ansell: Yes. Its like the Wizard of Oz. It's all this noise and racket but there's only one person behind the screen. Not really. There's a newsanchor and...

Q: You're very good with people who are definitely opinionated about anything. I notice you don't take sides, which is good. Its not your place to do it. How do you keep your mouth shut?

Donn Ansell: You know, somebody asked me that the other night at the election coverage. I have opinions and I have strong beliefs but for some reason when I'm interviewing somebody they go away. Because I'm more interested in getting them.

Q: So you're really good; you're involving the other person.

Donn Ansell: Yes. And I didn't even think about it. This was just the other night at elections. She said, "How do you do that?" and I just realized when she asked me, it just goes away.

Q: 'Cause no one spanked you one way or another, you are an entertainer, you are a talk show host. You are an actor. You're a person involved in the community. I think that takes a lot of skill. I don't know too many people that could do all that. Five days a week and then some. Tell us about the show, how you got going with it. Did you decide to have any particular flavor to it or has it just evolved?

Donn Ansell: We got going. Originally I had a female co-host. That went on. I had many co-hosts over the years. Eventually when Cumulus bought the station from me, and I'll tell you how that went. My guests are my co-hosts now. So I really like that. I like the flavor of it. I like the challenge. I like the difference of having different people all the time. Its very stimulating to me. Someone said, why don't you just have them call up on the phone and I said, "It's not the same." The chemistry is so different when your like this rather than on the phone with someone. Their body language, everything is fascinating to me.

Q: You use this as a stepping stone for your community involvement too, right? As far as I know that you have other things to do like go to bed at night, for instance, since you're up at 3 in the morning or something.

Donn Ansell: I get up at 2, I do.

Q: What a life.

Donn Ansell: It's the same thing as getting up at any other time, you just switch things around.

Q: But you're missing so much. It's a good thing you're not a night owl.

Donn Ansell: Well. I don't need a lot of sleep. The older I get the less sleep I need. Four hours, five hours.

Q: What projects as far as lending your name, your expertise and so forth are you particularly fond of in this area of Wilmington. I know you get asked to do a lot of things, you can't do them all.

Donn Ansell: I took great pride in, I felt really good about helping to start Hospital Hospitality House. A group of us got together, and it was based on the Ronald McDonald concept. People need a place if their loved ones are seriously ill. So we started that and I felt really good about that. It was so worthwhile. People say there's nothing more selfish than giving because you get so much out of it. I mean, really. And it's not being aww shucks, it's just, when you do that you walk away and you say, "Boy, I just get a lot out of it," you just get so much out of it. The community, I don't know what it is, I have a love affair with this community.

Q: What changes have you seen that are positive, of course you're so enthusiastic you probably can't narrow it down. Since you first came here and were entranced by this sleepy little southern town, to a thriving almost 100,000 mark now, which is a huge influx over a fairly short span. What changes that are good or bad, what do you see, what would you like to see happen from now on? Those things that are always being discussed by the city council. Always being discussed by the commissioners. Always being discussed whether to have a convention or building or not. But what has Donn Ansell, who has seen growth, who has been a part of it, what do you think is good?

Donn Ansell: Well, let me just start by saying when I first decided to move in 1972, I said, "I'm moving," and folks said, "Where are you moving?" and I said, "Wilmington;" they said, "Why are you going to Delaware?" You know. Now people don't say that anymore so that's a comment onto itself. I'm very worried about historic preservation and I'm not against development. But I worry about us crossing that line to a point where we start to lose what really makes us wonderful and unique. There's condos, there's mixed-use developments, there's shopping centers, there's you-name-it everywhere. There's only one Thalian Hall. There's precious few historic USL buildings. There's precious few of these great buildings that we have and I worry about not valuing them for what history they have and what they make our community. So I worry about losing that, it's a fine line, I worry that we're gonna fall off the wrong side. That's one thing.

Q: Do you think its possible for the downtown area, at least Water Street, Front Street, for a revitalization to have people down there using it for something besides eating and drinking? Bars and such? For shopping? It's a great thing for arts.

Donn Ansell: Yeah. What does worry me is losing access to the river. That's a worry. You know, the riverwalk is... the good news is they built it, the bad news is they had to because everything else is all shut off. And I worry about that. Can it be more? Will it be more? I think its going to really become a shopping hub as they start to develop the north end of the river. I think it'll find a new life and a new resilience. Hopefully we can make sure that what it becomes reflects a variety of who we are.

Q: You live in Leland?

Donn Ansell: I live in Brunswick County. Because I'm in an unincorporated area. I love it over there, too.

Q: How about the advance of the new bridge?

Donn Ansell: If that happens, the state's kind of pressed for transportation money, so. I don't know if that's... what do I think of that idea?

Q: The rapid growth. Some statistics say that Brunswick County is the fastest growing country in the country. Schools.

Donn Ansell: You know, I think we all, as soon as we get there we want to say, "Close that gate behind me." You know, I'm here now. And I feel almost hypocritical saying well we're growing... I moved here. How do you stop it. What do you do? Just hopefully we can plan it in a way that ... that's what worries me. Not really taking the time, money blinding us, to good planning. Well, and good growth.

Q: Do you think its possible with the people that we have here now whether they're elected officials or behind the scenes or just people like you who can talk about it.

Donn Ansell: Is it possible?

Q: To control it, to curtail it, or to keep it a certain flavor? The things that drew you and others.

Donn Ansell: Its going to take a great deal of effort and it'll take some real doing. I hope its possible. I hate to see us loose what makes us special.

Q: What are you proudest of in your life so far? You've got a long time to go yet. You've got...

Donn Ansell: I'm proudest of my daughter.

Q: She must be the love of your life.

Donn Ansell: What a gift to have in your life. She's just great.

Q: And she has a great husband and great kids.

Donn Ansell: She does. She made a great choice. I worried a couple of times. I watched her date. But I never - I've been very blessed with having a really terrified relationship with her and watching her has been a real joy to me. She's turned out to be this miraculous person and this great mom and that's been the most fun. Watching her become a mother.

Q: Do you see any of you in her?

Donn Ansell: Yes. I call my ex-wife my T.E.W. My terrific ex wife. She emails me every day. I call her husband my husband in-law. We're good friends. She always says, "Your daughter," it's always my daughter because she's so much like me.

Q: Does she live in the Philadelphia area too?

Donn Ansell: No she and her husband live in Las Vegas.

Q: That's a fast growing place. Huge.

Donn Ansell: Yes. Extremely.

Q: Well Donn, what for you personally, I can't imagine that your really satisfied with the status quo. What have you got lined up for the future that's interesting? What kind of projects and ... that you can talk about. We're not on the radio today, this is for the future.

Donn Ansell: Nobody knows this except very few people. I'm going to retire from the radio in December.

Q: This December?

Donn Ansell: Nobody knows that. The company knows it.

Q: What are you going to do?

Donn Ansell: I don't know.

Q: Why are you retiring?

Donn Ansell: I love what I do. And I've been so blessed. Something told me its time to do that and I've always listened to my inner voice. It told me a year ago but I didn't want to act hastily. So I contemplated it for a year.

Q: But you'll be active in other things?

Donn Ansell: Oh yeah. And I don't know what. Someone said, "What are you gonna do?" I said, "I'm not going to do anything until I do something." I left a gap though because at one time five or six years into working for the Dawsons. One day Hanna comes to me and she said, "You want to buy WAAV? I'm buying an FM station and the current FCC rules don't allow you to own three stations." You could own two FMs or an FM and an AM or two AMs but you couldn't own an AM and two FMs. So she had to divest herself of the AM station. And for some reason she came and she asked me if I wanted to buy it. I called my family and I said, "I've been offered the radio station I work at." My father said, "Buy it." I said, "Well, I don't have any money," and my father said, "I'll help you." So we negotiated a deal and I bought WAAV, and during the period that I owned WAAV I built an FM station and one day a business broker called me, this is after owning the station for eight years. I had two stations at that time. I had one in Whiteville. Still do as a matter of fact; I don't run it I just lease it. And, this business broker said, "I've got a buyer for your station." I said, "Well, I'm not interested in selling." And he said, "That's not true, price is the issue, give me a price." So I called my brother who was partner of mine and I said, "Tthis business broker called me and he said somebody wants to buy my two stations and I said, 'I don't really want to sell,'" so he said, "Just give them a price." So I gave them a price. They never even negotiated, they just said, "Ok." So I had to sell my stations.

Q: You have had a charmed life.

Donn Ansell: Isn't that amazing?

Q: Yes it is. But you're a good person, so why not?

Donn Ansell: I've been very blessed, it amazes me when I think about it.

Q: So you feel now that you're not encumbered by the ownership and your free to explore and do other things that you want. You're not leaving town are you?

Donn Ansell: No.

Q: So maybe more theater?

Donn Ansell: Yeah. Doing theater in this current situation is very difficult. I'd do it, but you rehearse till 10, 11 at night. If you get up at 2 in the morning and you do that over a six week period, it takes its toll.

Q: Have you ever thought, I heard this from someone, I can't remember where. Excuse me if it sounds off the wall but I wanted to ask you. Do you ever consider forming some kind of regular company, we've had so many people from L.A. and New York who have made this a part time home or who own property around the area. And who come here for R&R. They're kind of left alone. You know you see them on the side walk at Café Pheonix or wherever and they're left alone which is good. But a company that you can call on to give productions and would keep them active and involved and not being put out to pasture so to speak or somewhere that they could feel a little more relaxed. I know that Annie McDowell one time said, that she loved coming here, she could job at 6 in the morning and everybody left her alone. They'd wave as they went by. Things like that. Anything like that?

Donn Ansell: That's a great idea.

Q: Oh you didn't think of the same thing? I was told that this was something that you might be interested in but I wasn't told that you were retiring. I just figured it was another Donn thing.

Donn Ansell: I'm not retiring, I'm going to stop doing this and I'm going to do something else. I don't know what. You know. I just assume the right thing will come by way.

Q: Can you name some of your favorite people?

Donn Ansell: My favorite people? Oh goodness, its twenty-three years of interviews. Abby Hoffman was really interesting. Chris Sizemore, who was the real three faces of Eve, was really interesting to me. Gary Hart was interesting. The day after Robert Gallow who was the man who identified what HIV was. I had him the day after it was announced and that was fascinating. And, Velma Barfield. She was the first woman executed and she killed her mother and her boyfriend, poisoned them. I went up to where she was and I got an interview. Hanna Dawson knew the attorney, Wade, who represented her and I got the last interview before she was executed. I went up there and interviewed her. The people thing, to me, is so fascinating. That was one of my favorite interviews.

Q: Donn I wish we could talk more, its been wonderful talking to you. Insight that I think our audience will find very interesting.

Donn Ansell: I'm honored that you asked me.

Q: And I wish I could say we'd do it again, but I guess we'll have to find something else. In your next life we'll come back, ok?

Donn Ansell: It's a deal.

Q: Thank you.

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