• MIT President Susan Hockfield, center, enjoys a musical moment with her daughter, Elizabeth Byrne, and her husband, Dr. Thomas Byrne, during the taping of 'Dinnertime Sampler,' a music-and-talk show that will air Wednesday, March 30 on WMBR-FM.

    MIT President Susan Hockfield, center, enjoys a musical moment with her daughter, Elizabeth Byrne, and her husband, Dr. Thomas Byrne, during the taping of 'Dinnertime Sampler,' a music-and-talk show that will air Wednesday, March 30 on WMBR-FM.

    Photo / Donna Coveney

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Tune in on MIT's first family

MIT President Susan Hockfield, center, enjoys a musical moment with her daughter, Elizabeth Byrne, and her husband, Dr. Thomas Byrne, during the taping of 'Dinnertime Sampler,' a music-and-talk show that will air Wednesday, March 30 on WMBR-FM.


MIT's first family may not be musically adventurous, but Susan Hockfield, her husband and daughter were daring enough to bare just a bit of their private selves to disc jockey Eric Chemi and his listeners on "Dinnertime Sampler," a music-and-talk show hosted by the senior on WMBR 88.1 FM.

The interview will air this Wednesday, March 30 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. and will be webcast live.

The show's format calls for Chemi's guests to share favorite songs and talk about the music, but Chemi's peripatetic style takes the conversation down a meandering path, revealing something about the family dynamic.

After playing "Titles," the theme song from "Chariots of Fire" ("one of our favorite, favorite songs of all time and favorite movies of all time," says Hockfield's husband, Dr. Thomas Byrne") and some Paul Simon "travel music," Chemi asks Hockfield if she's been getting enough sleep since coming to MIT in December.

"I was told that people don't sleep at MIT, so I've been working on it," Hockfield says.

Is she keeping the family awake "clicking on the keyboard" at night, he asks.

"She pretends to be tired when I have to go to sleep," says 13-year-old Elizabeth Byrne.

"Once Elizabeth's tucked in, then I get to work seriously," Hockfield says.

What's a typical day like for the president?

"Oh … radio shows, defending latkes, taking on the really important tasks at the Institute," replies Hockfield, who said she gets about 100 e-mails a day--"very few of them junk."

When Byrne insists on playing a song by Enya, his wife and daughter acquiesce, but not without a few good-natured barbs. "It's so repetitive," Hockfield says during the tune. When the second Enya tune starts up, she pushes the stop button and says, "I think that's just about enough of that, thank you very much."

In an interview afterward, Chemi said that his heart nearly stopped a couple of times during taping.

"There was a time when they tried to play the song and there was nothing on the CD and Susan said, 'Oh. I guess I didn't burn it right.' And I was like, 'Oh my God, we're not gonna have any music!'" said Chemi. "The stuff off air was ridiculous. I wished they would have said that stuff on air. Like, when they were arguing about the music. The dad said, 'Look, we've got this Simon and Garfunkel CD.' And she'd say, 'We're not gonna play that.' And the daughter said, 'Well, we can play just one.'"

On air, Hockfield says no to "Mrs. Robinson" and Elizabeth puts her foot down against "Scarborough Fair" and "Bridge Over Troubled Water."

"We're playing 'Cecilia'" says Hockfield.

"They came in really serious and, like, set the ground rules and stuff. Then, after they figured out what kinds of questions I was gonna ask, they relaxed," said Chemi, whose questions include: Do you get a ride to work when it snows? Do you elbow people out of your way in the Infinite Corridor? What do you do on weekends?

Tune in Wednesday night for the answers.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 30, 2005 (download PDF).


Topics: Administration, MIT presidency, Students

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