An Interview with Peter Hughes, GM of The Linda WAMC Performing Arts Studio

Peter Hughes is a man of many talents, serving as both General Manager and Programmer for The Linda, WAMCs Performing Arts Studio, as well as on-air host of “Live at the Linda” on WAMC Northeast public radio. A former market manager for Talmi Entertainment, Peter has overseen the he growth, development and operations of the Park Theater in Glens Falls, and before that spent two decades at Proctors Theater in Schenectady.

Rob Smittix of RadioRadioX spoke to Hughes about The Linda, the history of the building, and the best lunch options in Albany.

RadioRadioX: I’m actually here at The Linda in the green room, which is behind a bank vault.

Peter Hughes: It’s in the bank vault, it is actually the bank vault.

RRX: In the bank vault, sitting with Peter Hughes. Peter what is your official title?

PH: I am the… it’s not that exciting, I am the General Manager and Programmer of The Linda which is WAMC’s performing arts studio here on beautiful Central Avenue in Albany, New York.

RRX: This really is really prime Albany, this is right in the center of everything.

PH: This is the heart of Albany. This is the Central Avenue business district, there are at least 17 different languages spoken just within two blocks of this building. It is a cultural milieu and it’s got the absolute best restaurants, most authentic and wonderful places to eat from all around the world just within walking distance. Lunch is a gorgeous buffet of options, it’s pretty remarkable. 

RRX: Yeah, there is a… I forget the name of the place, there’s a Jamaican spot a few blocks down on Quail and on Wednesday’s they have mannish water soup. 

PH: We’re addicted here to Afghan kabob, the number 12 beef and lamb over rice is the staple of my diet at this point.

RRX: That’s why I came here really to talk about food because we all love food!

PH: Let’s talk about food!

(Both laugh)

RRX: Well, the Linda. I love this place. I played a show here myself; it was one of my absolute favorite shows my band has ever played and we’ve played hundreds of shows. 

PH: Thank you.

RRX: This room right here in the vault, this is where all the magic happens. 

PH: Just to describe in case people that are reading this don’t know what the Linda is. The Linda is short for The Linda Norris Auditorium, and it is WAMC Northeast Public Radio 90.3FM, I think 17 other stations and 28 other broadcasters that is available in seven states. WAMC’s performing arts studio, with emphasis on the word studio. It is a live recording studio for the performing arts for Northeast public radio. This is not something that’s been happening recently strictly because of the shutdowns of Covid, we were closed for a year and a half to live audiences, so that filters out everything that we do. But traditionally and we will again…this is a place where live interviews happen, the roundtable with happen occasionally from here with a live audience and fund drives and occasionally Live at The Linda which is my radio show eight o’clock on Wednesdays and Sundays. Which for four hours every week on local radio you can hear concerts either recorded or sometimes live done right here and broadcasted from this building. So, when you are here for a music concert (which is not everything we do) you’re not just here for the music, like a club or a bar or other venues, the uniqueness of The Linda is that you are part of the show. There are microphones recording you as part of the broadcast audience and that is completely unique in the Capital Region. Completely unique for an NPR station and that is a one of a kind, one in the world type situation we have here. 

And if we keep saying things about the vault. This building is 100 years old (which was converted 20 years ago), it was originally one of the gorgeous giant, huge, hard lock, concrete, art deco banks. The vault which is (bangs on wall) 30 inches of American steel and concrete is where the green room is. There’s no safer guest/green room in the State of New York with the sketchiest Wi-Fi signal ever. 

So, if you come here and you can get back stage (there’s some public access here), you can spy the incredible, heavy, meticulous bank door which is something straight out of an old time gangster film. You expect to see someone with a tommy gun and a bag with a dollar sign on it. It’s very cool and that’s one of the unique things about this place.

RRX: Now how long have you been with The Linda? 

PH: I’ve been here just over a year. My personal history, you know straight out of the womb (laughs) out of college. I worked for Proctors in Schenectady, and I was there for almost 23 years. I started out making five bucks an hour at the box office and eventually made my way up to heading the marketing team. I was in programming and producing of events. Producing of a film series, Broadway marketing, entertainment marketing, producing, all of that. You do everything over that amount of time. That was a long time, so I moved on to other ventures, bounced around a little bit and then Covid hit. I was working for a wonderful organization in Massachusetts The Talmis who produce the great Nutcracker around the country. We were working on that, and everyone was just devasted, everyone was laid off, everyone was unemployed. Every job I ever had was gone. You know this as a musician, we’re all just on the sidelines. The sitting on the bench part was too difficult.

One day last April, a year ago, I get an email from a really good friend of mine who said “Hey, WAMC is looking for a new guy to run The Linda and you should go for that.” I’m so depressed at that point, I’m thinking I’m never going to get it because I’ve been let down so many times. So, I apply on a Friday, I get a call on Monday, I get interviewed, hired on Wednesday and start on Thursday. Boom I was back in the game! 

They told me my first day that I had a radio show. I thought great! Immediately started working on virtual concerts at that point which was what everyone was doing at that moment. We made a transition into winding those down because we had to look towards re-opening for live humans. There were a mountain of restrictions and social distancing rules, so we needed a very detailed plan in order to do that. We did that last June.

RRX: I am so glad you did. 

PH: So back to music, cinema events, speakers, authors, scientists and political debates (again we are an NPR affiliate). All of that is part of what The Linda is. It was built to be a community asset and a room dedicated to the concept of free speech. 

RRX: I don’t remember exactly when The Linda became The Linda.

PH: I think 20 years ago. From what I hear, and this may not be the total story so don’t quote me as this being fact, it’s just the story that I’ve heard. Dr. Alan Chartock, who is our Executive Director, would walk by this bank building on his way to get lunch (likely Ichiban) and would say one day we’re going to turn that into a performing arts center. 

RRX: Well, I hope that is the story because I can just envision Alan Chartock and his dream coming into fruition. That’s pretty neat. 

For more on The Linda WAMC’s Performing Arts Studio visit thelinda.org

Originally published in The Xperience Monthly