“Try something different”: From Phoenix to Seattle


For many incoming first-year college students, the future may seem unclear. But with a bit of courage and drive to try different things, they may be able to find their dreams along the way.

For Joey Cohn, the General Manager of KPLU, one of the most popular public radio stations in the nation, his path wasn’t always clear. But with a bit of advice, along with a few unexpected opportunities, that brought him on a journey from Phoenix, Ariz. in the late-1980s to Seattle and Tacoma, Wash. today.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I had absolutely no idea,” Cohn said. His father advised him to try something different and, taking a Speech Communications class at the University of Arizona on a whim, Cohn found the world open up to him in new and exciting ways.

It was not until his junior year of college when, after an unforgettable experience with UCLA’s summer program in Communications, the radio door was flung open. Armed with confidence from his summer studies, he walked into office of KUAT, University of Arizona’s public radio station in Tucson, Ariz. and asked for a job.

“I thought they’d have me rewinding tapes, or sweeping the floor,” Cohn said. After the Program Director put Cohn in front of the microphone and auditioned him on the spot, he was put on the air almost immediately. Cohn stayed with KUAT until he graduated in 1980.

Before the ink dried on his diploma, he was graced with another opportunity. On his way back to Phoenix, Cohn dropped off a demo tape to KLPX, a rock station in Tucson. Cohn expected to have a bit of time off after this; maybe he could go travel. He recalled sitting down to relax and let the realization that he finally graduated wash over him. “Then the phone rings, and it’s the station in Tucson,” Cohn said. “They said, ‘I have a job for you.’ I said, ‘can I have a week?’”

So how did he get from Arizona to Washington? Fast forward a few years.

KPLU’s reputation was known nationwide even as far back as the 1980s. Hearing about the station from his Program Director, Cohn was seduced by the tall evergreen trees and the beautiful college campus nearby. Beginning his KPLU career as the Music Director and Morning Jazz host, he has since moved on to become the General Manager for both KPLU as well as Jazz24, the station’s 24-hour online jazz stream.

Despite his impressive background, Cohn prefers to elevate his fellow staff members. His story isn’t the important one, he says, but the ones of the people around him, and the diverse personalities around KPLU that have influenced who he is today.

“Over the years he has certainly brought out the best in me,” Nick Morrison, the Production Manager of KPLU said, recalling his time working closely with the man he called Joe. He spoke about Cohn’s honesty, empathy and kind spirit; “I can say without hesitation that he’s the best human being I’ve ever worked for.”

Cohn hopes to be able to give Pacific Lutheran University students the kind of opportunities he had in college by weaving student reporting and production into KPLU’s presentation. The advice he gives to students looking for their way is the same advice he received as a first-year student: “Just do a lot of different things, and something’s going to click with you that you will really enjoy.”

Categories: Art & Music, Arts and Entertainment, Community, Other, Profiles

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