He's an author, historian and public servant, but Stu Levitan is also one of Madison's hardest-working radio hosts.
Books and Beats with Stu Levitan airs 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 92.1 FM, the Mic. It's an eclectic mix of what he terms "long form" interviews with performers and especially authors. Recent guests have included writers Rebecca Skloot, Deborah Blum and Harlow Giles Unger.
"I don't interview authors whose books I don't want to read," he says. "I'm the first line of critical evaluation. I read all the books I interview on. And the authors can tell. They are very appreciative, and you can tell they raise their game to adjust. That's a good feeling."
Levitan is a native of Long Island, N.Y. He began writing for The Capital Times in 1975, serving as a correspondent in Washington, D.C. He came to Madison in 1977 and worked for the Madison Press Connection, a strike newspaper. Since then, he's served on the Dane County Board of Supervisors and various city boards, notably the Madison Landmarks Commission. In 2006 the first volume of his Madison: An Illustrated Sesquicentennial History was published.
In 2004 he became the first local host at the Mic, a progressive talk station.
"I'm actually following in the footsteps of both my parents," he says. "My mother had a show on Voice of America, and my father had an interview program that he was the producer and occasional host of on ABC television from 1948 to 1952."
Levitan estimates that producing his show takes 15 to 20 hours a week, but the personal rewards are rich.
"Talking to the authors is great, but also I'm talking with Patti Smith and Joan Baez and Robert Redford," he says. "These are icons. I've got like half a dozen members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on the guest list. It's really exciting to talk to people who have shaped the culture, and try and get a little insight into what makes them and their art."
With so much content appropriate to a national audience, is there a possibility that the program could be syndicated to other stations?
"I think so," says Levitan. "Certainly the station thinks so. It's a hard economy to try and generate any kind of revenue stream, but we're making some forays. We're putting some packages together."
There's also been talk this year that he may run against Mayor Dave Cieslewicz. Levitan is noncommittal.
"It being the holiday season, let's just say I'm toying with the idea," he says, laughing. "It's the season for toys."