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Radio head: Doug Fabrizio finds a new voice as Sherlock Holmes

RadioWest host takes on the mystery of the world’s most famous detective.

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And: "That was the most enjoyable and insightful conversation I’ve ever had about the book," says Christopher McDougall, author of Born to Run. "I wish he’d read a draft of the book before publication so I could have used some of his ideas."

Or, as Oxford historian Diarmaid MacCulloch puts it: "Doug is a prince among interviewers, clearly, as American friends had confirmed to me."

At a glance

Another ‘Sherlock’

“Sherlock Holmes and the Blue Carbuncle,” adapted as a radio play by Utah playwright Matthew Ivan Bennett for Plan-B Theatre Company. Doug Fabrizio will voice Sherlock Holmes, with Bill Allred as Watson, and Jay Perry and Jason Tatom as everyone else. The show is directed by Cheryl Ann Cluff, with foley sound effects by Mark and Eric Robinette.

When » Tuesday, Dec. 18, 7 and 8:30 p.m.; the 7 p.m. performance will be broadcast live on KUER, 90.1FM.

Where » Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center’s Jeanné Wagner Theatre, 138 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City.

Tickets » $10-$20. Call 801-355-ARTS or visit www.planbtheatre.org for more information.

Info » At press time, the only tickets available were balcony tickets for the 8:30 p.m. show.

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The trick is to ask detailed questions (not just "Tell us about your book" but "Tell the story about the blind zebra finch") but at the same time not to ask questions that are "conspicuously crafted as to sound clever or informed," Fabrizio says.

He mentions a painful interview with the Dalai Lama in 2001 and I cringe. When the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader came to Salt Lake that May, Fabrizio, Tribune religion reporter Peggy Fletcher Stack and I were selected to have a private interview with him.

We spent a lot of time trying to come up with intelligent questions the Dalai Lama had never been asked in his long life of answering questions. But by the time we sat down with him, late in the afternoon, he was tired, and we were trying too hard, and the interview fell flat on its face.

"We would have found out more about him if we’d asked him about how he likes to fix watches," Fabrizio says — that is, to talk to the Dalai Lama about one of his interests, something everyday and mundane, rather than big questions about big topics like world peace.

Clark and Bombard meticulously search for and screen the authors and scientists and politicians and other experts who appear on the show. They’re looking for smart people who can tell good stories, who are excited about their own work and ideas, who don’t talk too fast or too slow.

And even then, things might not go according to plan. One morning in November, with just a minute until airtime, Clark was still instructing Fabrizio’s guests — two filmmakers who were being interviewed at a radio station in Telluride, Colo. — how to use their microphones. It was Clark’s job to be the frazzled one worrying about sound quality and the clock. It was Fabrizio’s job to be calm.

Acting at the microphone » There’s still a part of Fabrizio that beats himself up for not trying to make a living in theater. And so he often reminds his five children to not be afraid to take risks. "It’s something I hope my children will understand: that failure is a critical part of success. That you have to be able to fail spectacularly."

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In recent years, though, he has tiptoed back toward acting. Plan-B Theatre Company’s Jerry Rapier hired Fabrizio in the mid-2000s to act in three of the company’s radio plays. "A lot of people were surprised by his performance," says Plan-B’s managing director Cheryl Ann Cluff, who directed him in "Frankenstein." "They expected to hear the RadioWest Doug Fabrizio, but instead they heard and saw a fully realized, nuanced, emotionally shattering performance, totally unlike his usual on-air persona."

Indeed, Fabrizio got so into the role that every time he had to scream "He’s alive! Alive! Alive!" he sweated and nearly passed out.

Next week he’ll star again, this time in "Sherlock Holmes and the Blue Carbuncle."

He’ll play Holmes, so he’s been giving a lot of thought to the clever detective. Like a good reporter, he says, Holmes paid attention. But he really only noticed the mechanics of how the world worked, not how he treated the people in it. "He didn’t have the emotional capacity."

"He would have been a terrible reporter. He wasn’t interested in the narrative. That’s my hunch."

Not talk radio » Fabrizio has been doing radio since the cut-and-splice days. At the U., he ended up majoring in broadcasting, with minors in theater and Spanish, figuring that radio could be his backup plan. He volunteered at KUER while he was still in school, got a job there as a reporter and became news director at 29. The station once got a call from a listener wondering why it had hired a junior-high student. He points out that he doesn’t have a classic radio voice.

Long a fan of public-radio storytellers like Ira Glass and Jay Allison, Fabrizio started a magazine-style show called Friday Edition; it eventually morphed into RadioWest in 2001.

Six years later, RadioWest was picked up by Sirius/SM satellite radio and aired across the country. That partnership ended three weeks ago when the network decided to focus on "national content."

"Locally produced programming is usually the loss-leader of public radio," says KUER general manager John Greene. More than 50,000 Utahns listen weekly to RadioWest, and a recent survey of the station’s listeners found that they rank the show in the top handful of all NPR programs. "That almost never happens at local stations," Greene says.

Fabrizio is looking forward to a new venture called VideoWest, which KUER will launch early next year. The project will feature the works of local filmmakers, including Fabrizio, who has produced several documentaries for KUED-TV. He’s excited to be telling stories in a new medium.

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