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Mary Lucia
Mary Lucia (MPR Photo)

As a matter of course, Mary Lucia prepares carefully before interviewing a studio guest. "I feel a sense of responsibility, especially if it's a band that I know has really rabid fans," Lucia says. "I feel like I have to do them proud and ask the questions a dedicated fan would want to know."

St. Paul, Minn. -- Lucia, the weekday afternoon host on The Current, frequently interviews bands and other in-studio guests. With so many musical acts visiting the studio, Lucia can't be familiar with every band but the interview can leave a lasting impression. Lucia cites Gomez as a band who really made a fan of her after she met them at South by Southwest and again when Gomez did a special in-studio performance at Minnesota Public Radio's Forum in downtown St. Paul.

"Gomez were so nice and such pros," Lucia says. "And they're one of those bands whose fans would just take a bullet in the head for them. That was what was so cool about doing a Forum event with Gomez because I knew the people who won tickets to attend were so stoked."

A talented interviewer, Lucia is known for asking questions that veer from the traditional. "When I throw out left-field questions, I'm always so happy when somebody-without even missing a beat-starts answering it," Lucia says. "It's kind of a willingness to maybe look a little bit stupid on my part as well as the band's."

When Drive By Truckers visited the studio, Lucia quickly got a sense that they were willing. "Drive By Truckers were so funny and so open and game to answer anything. The question I asked was, 'Can you tell me a positive aspect to being a conjoined twin?' and right away, Jason Isbell starts answering the question and I thought, 'Okay, I'll take that seriously.'"

The interviews that simply evolve as normal conversations are the ones Lucia considers the best. "My favorite thing in the world is when I've done a ton of prep and I never look down at the notes once," Lucia says. "I never know when it's going to happen, so it's good to be prepared, but it's the best thing when a conversation just starts really naturally."

For many visiting musicians, Lucia is the face of The Current. It's a role she'll extend to the general public at the end of August, when she broadcasts live each day from the Minnesota State Fair. Just don't expect to see Lucia waiting outside a food stand. "I'm probably the only human being who comes out to the fair with my own food," she says, "which really is basically just a big tall latte or some grapes. I'm not super taken by the food. I tried my first cheese curd last year and the world didn't stop turning on its axis as far as I could tell."

Food aside, Lucia's broadcasts last year gave her great insight into The Current's audience. She frequently left the broadcast booth to greet the people gathered in the Minnesota Public Radio space. "I never guess right about our audience," she says. "An older guy and a preteen would come up and say, 'Yeah, we both listen,' and I thought, really? It still kind of stupefies me but it was so nice to be able to put some faces with those listeners."

There was another thing that was special about The Current's first year at the fair. "People were so grateful," Lucia says. "They kept coming up saying, 'I'm so glad The Current is on the air.'"

It can be surprising to Lucia just how much fairgoers enjoy watching radio being made, but she knows that radio has a special place at the fair. "I think it's important that radio stations have a presence out there," she says. "It's a tradition and I just think it's important. I think we fit well."

Listen to Mary Lucia weekdays from 3 – 7 p.m. on 89.3 The Current (88.7 in Rochester) and online at mpr.org. When the Minnesota State Fair begins on August 24, be sure to visit Minnesota Public Radio's expanded space on Judson Avenue, where Lucia will broadcast live weekdays from 3 – 7 p.m.

(This article also appeared in the June 2006 "Plugged In" section of Minnesota Monthly.)