MT. PLEASANT — Mt. Pleasant resident Caroline Herr Kilbourn loves learning about people’s stories. It’s part of the reason why she’s still involved with radio at 85 years old.
Her journey as a host began nearly five decades ago in 1973, when she took on her first show, “Coffee With Caroline,” at a station in Fairfield. But Kilbourn said she never anticipated getting into radio to begin with.
“I never really thought about it. When I was in high school, I was in music and theater, but it never entered my mind about being on the radio, especially not every week,” she explained.
In fact, Kilbourn sort of stumbled into her first hosting job. After guesting on a friend’s show, Kilbourn was offered the position after her friend decided to move away.
“The manager asked if I wanted to take it over, and I said ‘sure,’” she added.
It was a smooth transition into the role as host. Kilbourn’s steady voice and ability to navigate conversation served her well, but that didn’t mean the new gig didn’t come with its own set of challenges. The one instance Kilbourn felt nervous about being on-air was in the lead-up to an interview with a Fairfield local who used “bad language.”
“It was just the way he talked, but in radio, we have the FCC regulations — you don’t use swear words on the air. He didn’t show up for the program, and I went, ‘Oh, thank you, God,’” she said.
Kilbourn made her show a place for residents to discuss local issues and hosted a myriad guests, including the mayor of the town as well as business owners. When The Maharishi International University began integrating with the community, Kilbourn invited locals to share their perspective.
“[The show] was pretty ordinary, but when MIU came, it was a big deal. People were kind of skeptical … but they incorporated into the community and everything is fine,” Kilbourn said.
The host eventually left the station in 1979 after a change in ownership and taught English at local schools for several years before getting back on the radio wagon in 2001 after being approached by a station manager in Burlington to run an interview program. The program ended in 2010 when the station closed.
For Kilbourn, hosting radio shows allowed her to meet and chat with people of all walks of life. In particular, she enjoyed speaking to historians and learning about how places like Snake Alley in Burlington came to be. She’s also spoken to writers for PBS as well as voice actors.
“There’s a lot of interesting people out there. Everybody has a story — sometimes you have to try to figure out what it is, but everybody does have their story,” she said.
For now, Kilbourn plans to continue hosting her weekly show with her daughter, Monica, for “as long as [she] can hold it together.”
For the last 14 years, the duo have read a book each week and taken the time to chat with published authors for their program, “Writers’ Voices,” which broadcasts out of Fairfield and Iowa City and is available as a podcast.
“I read a book each week and we get to talk to all these different people,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun.”