Binnie Klein

Talk to You Soon

Deejay Binnie Klein is a thoughtful speaker with a soothing alto voice. She’s also a thoughtful listener—no doubt in part because she’s a psychotherapist, which may also explain her knack for wandering down compelling avenues others would pass right by.

Volunteering since 1976 with Bridgeport’s independent community radio station WPKN (89.5 FM), the Hamdenite began her on-air career playing her favorite music juxtaposed with poetry she read aloud. It was “intense and… a lot of fun, and I got hooked.”

“Over the years, I’ve had almost every time slot,” Klein says. “I used to do Tuesday and Thursday nights from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m.” Often during those late-night shows, she was alone in the studio and the larger surroundings. At three o’clock she’d shut down the transmitter, then stop at a diner for an egg salad sandwich and a 7UP “and go home and try to wind down.”

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More than 40 years later, Klein is still behind the microphone, while adapting to the changing forms of audio. Her newest venture is a six-episode audio memoir, Ten Days in Newark, a retelling of first love and heartbreak set against the backdrop of the late 1960s. She and her co-producer, husband Scott Shapleigh, plan to release the podcast later this fall.

The subject is inherently personal, but Klein also hopes it will resonate more universally. “I think most people have a first love, and somebody that they kind of are, maybe, haunted by,” Klein says.

Her own haunting led her to track down the man who was once the 17-year-old boy she fell in love with in 1967. He responded and agreed to let her interview him for Ten Days. “We’re not looking to blow up our lives,” Klein says. Both are married with rich existences of their own. “But that 10 days we spent as children, really, unchaperoned together… I think it changed our lives forever.” A black and white photograph of the teenaged couple is stuck above the microphone in Klein’s home studio, surrounded by acoustic foam as if to protect the memory of the straight-haired girl gazing beyond the frame and the boy with his head in her lap.

This isn’t the first time Klein has done something unconventional—something others might think of but never dare to try. In 2004, while rehabbing a broken ankle, she was introduced to boxing and, in her mid-50s, began taking lessons. Eventually, she documented the story of that midlife escapade in the book Blows to the Head: How Boxing Changed My Mind (Excelsior, SUNY Press, 2010). Not surprisingly, she also took her fighting passion to the airwaves.

“Up until then, I was primarily a deejay,” Klein says. What changed her was her boxing coach, the late John Spehar, a middleweight state champion who was also “very intellectual” and “a natural on the radio.” They sparred in the gym, he taught her about the literary history of boxing and for awhile they shared a WPKN radio feature called In Your Corner. “We started contacting famous boxers and famous boxing writers,” Klein recalls. “I mean, it was thrilling!”

Klein’s twice-monthly show today is called A Miniature World. The program of music, spoken word and long-form interviews airs every first and third Thursday from 10 a.m. to noon. Since the publication of Blows to the Head and the networking with other writers that followed, Klein has interviewed a roster of well-known authors, comedians and other personalities including Dick Cavett, Ophira Eisenberg, Daphne Merkin, David Denby, Claire Messud and Samantha Irby.

“My forte and my raison d’être and my joy is making a connection with each person,” Klein says. Almost always, over the course of half an hour or more, Klein says she can draw people out and engage them in lively conversation. But she admits the comedians “make me the most nervous because make me feel like I should be funny.” Just before an interview with comedian Tig Notaro, “I said to her right away, ‘I’m completely intimidated, and I so want you to like me.’ And that just put her at ease…”

The title A Miniature World refers in part to Klein’s attraction to miniatures. She shows off a small collection in a curio box in her Hamden home: a diminutive guitar, a pair of shoes, a nest cradling three eggs, a basket of knitting, a telephone. “I just love tiny things. I’m fascinated by them,” Klein says. “I think they pull us in and focus us down into something like a different state of consciousness that recalls childhood, control over objects…” These little replicas also serve as a metaphor for the show, representing, Klein says, “my notion of what I would call curating my own small world of passions, interests, things that I hope inspire and transcend.”

Beyond Ten Days in Newark, Klein says she doesn’t have a plan for what’s next. Maybe she’ll turn the story into a book. More likely, she’ll notice an untrammeled path that everyone else is missing. When I note she seems to have a knack for what’s different, she tells me I’m channeling her mother-in-law, “who once said, ‘Gee, Binnie, you always pick the hardest thing.’”

Though Klein isn’t sure what to think of this characterization, it seems high praise for a woman who doesn’t mind an adventure—and who will happily tell the rest of us about it.

Binnie Klein
Website | SoundCloud | WPKN

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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