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Radio’s ‘Uncle Ruthie’ Still Going Strong

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Uncle Ruthie Buell, teacher, performer and pioneer of children’s programming on Pacifica radio station KPFK-FM, is still going strong. Her 20-year-old, hourlong show “Halfway Down the Stairs with Uncle Ruthie” is heard Saturdays from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m.

A mix of storytelling, music and conversation with both child and adult appeal, this celebration of the written word offers a taste of everything from Thurber to Saroyan; themes can be “something as silly as food or as serious as divorce.”

“I have to give the station credit,” Buell said. “They said, ‘Take this hour and do a children’s program,’ and they knew I wouldn’t do one of the ookie kind that are patronizing to kids.

“That’s probably why adults listen--I pick things that I see multilevels in; I read stories that have a very heavy emotional component or a very heavy fun component.”

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Her straightforward, imaginative reading style draws listeners into the world of her choosing, where she hopes to inspire adults and children. A primary motivation is to promote reading.

“We’re not reading to our kids anymore,” she said. “The reason our kids cannot read today is because they learn vocabulary from being read and spoken to.

“You don’t learn to read if reading isn’t fun and wonderful.”

Buell is convinced that the world will be better off “if adults hold tight to the gift of playfulness.”

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Buell, “resting comfortably near 60,” is a long distance runner and a grandma. She tries her new material out on the handicapped kids she teaches at the Perez Center in East L.A. and performs in concert around the country.

Upcoming tour stops include the Chinese Moon Festival today at 4:30 on the Mandarin Plaza in Chinatown and Sunday at 1 p.m. in Irvine Park.

Sign of the Times: Former Limeliter Glenn Yarbrough, known for such solo hits as “Baby the Rain Must Fall,” joins a growing list of pop/folk/rock artists who are turning their talents to children’s music. Yarbrough recently signed with Kids U.S.A. Audio to record a minimum of five children’s projects over the next five years.


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