2016-05-13 / Your City

‘Barbara & You’ still rolling after 40 years on TV

By Christine Smith


Host Barbara Foster goes over specifics of the show with the regular volunteer crew and staff members in the Production Control Room just prior to start of the “Barbara & You” 40th anniversary show, which aired live on May 3. From left are volunteer audio technician John Gaudet, volunteer floor manager Michael Smith, FATV’s Public Access Assistant Dave Oster, host Barbara Foster, FATV’s Production Assistant Tighe Dorcey, and camera operator and general volunteer Tara Burke. Sitting in the background is regular camera volunteer operator Peter Hanley. 
Christine Smith photo Host Barbara Foster goes over specifics of the show with the regular volunteer crew and staff members in the Production Control Room just prior to start of the “Barbara & You” 40th anniversary show, which aired live on May 3. From left are volunteer audio technician John Gaudet, volunteer floor manager Michael Smith, FATV’s Public Access Assistant Dave Oster, host Barbara Foster, FATV’s Production Assistant Tighe Dorcey, and camera operator and general volunteer Tara Burke. Sitting in the background is regular camera volunteer operator Peter Hanley. Christine Smith photo FITCHBURG — It’s a show that has transcended people, space, and — not just time — eras.

After 40 years, the “Barbara & You” show might be a bit of a “slicker operation” than it used to be, but it is still the same Barbara Foster, both longtime Leominster realtor and Sterling resident, who has been gracing the host’s seat since the show began around 1976.

But, whether that seat was a folding chair, a stool, or maybe sometimes a plush couch has never mattered. Personalities of all backgrounds have continued to sit opposite this local television star whatever the changing sets have looked like — and the list is long.

One of Foster’s favorite guests was Johnny Cash, whose songs reached the tops of charts numerous times and who was eventually inducted into both the Country Music and Rock and Roll Halls of Fame. She has also interviewed famous vocal siblings Karen and Richard Carpenter of The Carpenters, talk show host and newspaper columnist Howie Carr, and multiple gold record album singer-songwriter

Fats Domino.

Others that have appeared on Foster’s studio set included longtime Boston Pops conductor Arthur Fiedler, well-known musician, pianist and singer-songwriter Jerry Lee Lewis, Pulitzer Prize winning author Edward Albee, and famous hairstylist Vidal Sassoon. Sports figures such as Olympian figure skater Rosalyn Summers, triple gold medal Olympian gymnast Nadia Comaneci and former Boston Bruin Derek Sanderson, as well as political figures including current Gov. Charlie Baker, past governors Michael Dukakis, Edward King and Jane Swift, and copious numbers of local public figures have all served as guests.

And, the list continues on.

Foster’s 40th anniversary show was taped and aired live on Tuesday, May 3 at the show’s current studio location at Fitchburg Access Television (FATV) with many of her family, friends, and recent and former guests sitting in as audience members and sharing spots in front of the camera for the special event. Always the “Barbara & You” segments replay numerous times in Fitchburg following the live show and is re-broadcast on local access stations in a number of surrounding towns, including Leominster and Sterling.

Joan Joseph was former office manager for Montachusett Cable Television, a part of a division of the then Adams-Russell Corporation on Main Street in North Leominster, where the first and many following “Barbara & You” shows were taped and aired. Joseph, who became good friends with Foster, described her as a “lovely lady” who gave everyone friendly attention from the first day she walked through the studio’s doors as host of the new show “Barbara & You.”

FATV’s current executive director, Scott May, said he has known Foster almost as long as she has been hosting her show. Being on-air talents for the former WFGL radio station in Fitchburg before FATV was created in 1987 and while “Barbara & You” was in its earlier years, both May and Dave Svens, who also became an FATV executive director prior to May, had been repeat guests from time to time.

Bob McDermott, former FATV treasurer and longtime volunteer at the studio, including some of the 14 years when it was housed on the third and fourth floors of the South Street School building, attended the 40th anniversary show. In recent years, McDermott was a regular fixture on Tuesday nights when the FATV studio was transformed into the set for the “Barbara & You” program, helping the young volunteers become more familiar each week with the equipment as they learned the intricacies of a television studio production.

Foster recalls some differences in today’s productions, laughing at the memory of the large clip-on microphones that they once used that she said resembled thick Sharpie pens, as well as the fact that modern lighting on set is now much less oppressively hot than it used to be. She noted how over the years backdrops came and went, or sometimes were not even there, and old tapes reveal an often simple gathering of a couple chairs and a dark black back wall behind Foster and her guests.

For her 40th anniversary show, the set was a rose-colored hue created with lighting and backdrop curtains that echoed the color of the impressive rose display in the center. The roses had been sent in by coworkers from her real estate office, as were the other flower bouquets from former guests, to mark the special milestone. It is a similar set on other Tuesdays at FATV, too, and normally includes warm lighting from table lamps that give the set a relaxed and comfortable feel.

Education Coordinator Tim Daoust noted that throughout his six years at FATV, Foster has been a true asset to the station, has been able to easily handle technical difficulties that often come with live productions, and is great with staff and volunteers. He said she is aware of the time aspects of a live show and knows how to end programs on time, mindful of cues from the control room, and a “fantastic example” of how a host should behave with her guests.

“She has always been constant,” Daoust remarked. “Barbara is a professional. She is the epitome of the community access talk show host.”

Current Operations Coordinator Anne Bisbee started out as an intern at the Adams Russell studios in the 1980s, assisting productions in a variety of ways including such things as working cameras and helping with set operations. Bisbee also noted the consistency of not only the “Barbara & You” show’s format, which she said has changed very little since then, but also that it is still produced with the help of high school volunteers and college interns.

A guest for the 40th anniversary show, Sen. Jennifer Flanagan (D-Leominster) presented Foster with a citation from the Massachusetts State Senate congratulating her on her years in television and wishing her continued success.

Guest Bruce McDonald, who had been Wachusett Mountain’s former director of skiing for more than 40 years, said, “To talk the way you do with people every week, for hundreds and hundreds of people you always make them feel — whether a celebrity, important, or someone from town that you’re giving that 15 minutes of fame to, for some reason you come across as a common denominator to all of us and just make us all feel so comfortable and happy to be here. And your face says it — it just sparkles.”

As has been done weekly for the past 40 years, next Tuesday the control room will darken, the lights will be lowered off set, and “Three minutes — three minutes!” will be called out as Foster and her next guests on set will prepare for the cameras to come alive again. The time on the clock will hit exactly 7 p.m. and the show’s catchy opener will begin to play, “Some people rock — Some people roll. Some will make you giggle right down to your soul. She’ll talk to the world and introduce ’em to you — and look at me now, I’m on ‘Barbara & You!’”

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