Last week, a familiar voice to VPR listeners passed away. Peter Fox Smith, who hosted weekly opera programs on VPR for 40 years, died on Oct. 5 at the age of 85 at his home in North Pomfret, Vt.
Fox Smith was a presence on VPR from its very beginning in 1977, up until 2017. And for those 40 years, he worked closely with former VPR engineer Sam Sanders.
VPR’s Henry Epp spoke with Sam Sanders. Their conversation below has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Henry Epp: So how did Peter Fox Smith's opera program begin and how did the two of you begin working together?
Sam Sanders: Well, it began about a year before I came to VPR. So all that I can tell you for sure is that it was, I do believe, the second program to appear on Vermont Public Radio, the day that Vermont Public Radio signed on the air in August 1977. I think the first program was The Goon Show, and right after that was Saturday Afternoon at the Opera.
What did you learn from him? About opera? About radio? From working with him over the years?
I would say that I learned a great deal about opera from Peter, in that Peter probably learned a lot about radio from me. My knowledge of opera was spotty. There were certain operas that I knew very well, but mainly it was a blank for me. Peter had an encyclopedic knowledge of opera and introduced me through his program to lots of stuff, as he did to thousands of listeners. There were certain things that we discovered together. I remember we would pore through shelves of 78s and sometimes come upon prizes that we both cherished.
Did you get a sense of what drew him to opera? What was it about the art form that he was so passionate about and wanted to share with listeners?
Well, his dad was a kind of amateur opera singer, and they knew a lot of musicians back in Cleveland. And I think Peter was steeped in opera and classical music since he was a kid. He kind of was awash in opera most of his life.
Is there something in particular that you'll remember most about him, about the way he approached his work or your relationship over the many years you worked together?
Well, we worked together truly weekly for decades. So we became good friends. So mostly my memories about Peter are that sense of comradeship, of working on something together and of being completely focused on what we were doing so that the external world was outside, you know, while we were both making the program.
Was your working relationship fairly smooth over the years? Did you ever have any friction with him?
I would say that we had virtually no friction at all. Peter would point that out from time to time, that we never exchanged a cross word, in all of the time that we worked together. And I think, well, why would we? We had a lot of adventures together, and we had a really, really good working relationship. Couldn't have been smoother.
The only thing that I think that we argued about, what I remember we argued about, was each of us claimed that he was the greater hermit.
But for two hermits, you worked pretty well together.
Yeah, well, we had that in common.
We've closed our comments. Read about ways to get in touch here.