Talking with … A golden radio voice gone greenby alix wall, j. correspondent
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Name: Betsy Rosenberg
City: Mill Valley
Position: Eco-activist, former KCBS radio reporter, former host of three environmental talk shows
J.: How did you get into journalism?
Betsy Rosenberg: Quite accidentally. I was traveling in Europe with my boyfriend in 1976 and we were in the right place at the right time: We ended up working as gofers for ABC Sports during the Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria. We had so much fun, that we then followed them for the Montreal Summer Games. In college, I realized I had gotten bit by the broadcast bug, though I wasn’t interested in sports. I had always been a news junkie and decided to look into a broadcast career. I studied journalism at Berkeley and was hooked.
BR: It does. I’ve always said I have a green gene, or an extra “W” chromosome, for waste prevention. I remember in elementary school feeling sad when I would see kids throwing away their lunches untouched, not only because their moms had taken great care to make them, but perfectly good food was going to waste, and I had such a visceral response.
J.: What’s your Jewish background?
BR: I was raised Jewish, but not particularly observant, in Silicon Valley. I went on a confirmation trip to Israel and that did it. It sealed the deal. We are members of Congregation Kol Shofar [in Tiburon] and our daughter went to the Jewish Community High School of the Bay [in San Francisco] as well as a Jewish summer camp in Maine for 10 years.
J.: Tell me a bit about your radio days.
BR: I worked for CBS radio for 20 years, doing news and traffic and weather, and then I did national headline news at the top of the hour. After I had my daughter, I was increasingly dissatisfied covering breaking news and decided we’re not covering enough environmental stories. I pitched the idea that would become the one-minute “Trash Talk.”
I did that for 10 years on KCBS [740 AM in San Francisco], and then did a one-hour version [“EcoTalk”] on the online station Air America, and then I did “On the Green Front” on the Progressive Radio Network. Unfortunately these were unpaid gigs, and I did them as a labor of love and tikkun olam. After 10 years of doing radio on my own dime, I’ve decided it’s enough. I strongly believe the world is ready for a green talk show. There are none, and it’s appalling and astonishing. I did my last show on March 26.
J.: You co-founded “Don’t Be Fueled! Mothers for Clean and Safe Vehicles.” What’s that?
BR: In 2002, shortly after 9/11, the New York Times was still doing obituaries on all those who died. John Kerry and John McCain tried to pass a bill cutting fuel emissions, which went on to defeat, and the justification was “Soccer moms like their SUVs the way they are.”
Here we are at war, and SUVs are all over Marin County, with “God bless our troops,” and “Keep Tahoe blue” — and there was such a disconnect. These vehicles are getting even larger and less efficient, so a bunch of us moms got together and started a campaign I wanted to call MAGG, Moms Against Gas Guzzling, trying to organize mothers to sign petitions telling the big three automakers in Detroit not to make them, and to make more fuel-efficient vehicles, saying, “We will buy them if you make them.”
J.: What was the event you attended at the White House last May?
BR: I was one of 100 women invited to the first-ever White House Leadership Summit on Women, Climate and Energy. We didn’t get to see the Obamas, but it was exciting to be with other women working on all aspects of these issues. I had hoped that the administration was inviting us there to collaborate and partner with us on some initiatives, but the response I got was “No, we’re the government, we can’t partner with you. We just want you to meet each other.” Nothing concrete came out of it.
J.: What’s next for you?
BR: I am continuing to approach broadcasters about a green TV or radio talk show, as there is no such thing and people are passionate about it. If that doesn’t work, I’m thinking about writing a book. I also speak on college campuses, and would love to speak in the Jewish community because that is part of my story.
J.: What one thing can each of us do to help the environment that would have the greatest impact?
BR: I get this question a lot, and what I always say is this: Put on green glasses, meaning, look for ways to conserve in your home, community, workplace, school, synagogue, etc., as you water, which is especially important now, and to lower your food and paper waste. People are so oblivious about throwing away perfectly good resources that will be needed in years to come. If you start to see the world in that way, it will come naturally to you and you will feel empowered and start to become part of the solution.
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