Jim Cunningham

WQED-FM's artistic director, Jim Cunningham hosts the WQED-FM Morning Show weekday mornings from 6 to 10 a.m., and the nationally syndicated Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra broadcasts which air Sundays at 8 p.m.

Cunningham grew up in Warren, Penn. During the ninth grade, he became involved with a radio club at school through which he began to work as an announcer for “The Hightime Show,” a Saturday morning broadcast on WNAE. Throughout high school, Cunningham was a regular on WNAE and WRRN-FM.

He continued to work in radio while at Thiel College, serving as the general manager of the college radio station, WTGP-FM. During college and after graduation with degrees in English and business administration, Cunningham worked full-time for WGRP-FM & AM as an announcer, producer and account executive. Having worked as an intern for WQED-FM Pittsburgh while a student, Cunningham returned to the station to work part-time and a few months later was hired as a full-time announcer. Following graduation from Thiel, Cunningham earned a management certificate from the University of Wisconsin Graduate School of Business with sponsorship from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Cunningham continues to volunteer for his alma mater giving the commencement address to the class of 2013 and having served on the Alumni Board of Directors.

Cunningham served as station manager of WQED-FM for 15 years. As manager Cunningham lead the team that established WQEJ Johnstown; began 24-hour classical broadcasts; expanded live broadcasts in annual series from Carnegie Mellon, Duquesne University, Chautauqua New York, Heinz Hall and Heinz Chapel; initiated new programs including Symphony Weekend with Mariss Jansons; national distribution of concerts from the River City Brass Band and numerous holiday specials distributed nationally.
Cunningham served as the classical music critic for Pittsburgh magazine where he contributed a monthly column for 15 years. He has produced and hosted more than 30 features for WQED-TV's nightly OnQ magazine. He's a regular pledge host for Channel 13 and has twice produced feature programs with Andre Rieu in Rieu's hometown of Maastricht, the Netherlands. His OnQ special followed the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony on their tour of Europe.

In 2002, Cunningham became the host of the Pittsburgh Speakers Series at Heinz Hall where he interviews and introduces 90-minute lectures. His guests have included Henry Kissinger, Walter Cronkite, Beverly Sills, Robert Redford, Colin Powell, Rudolf Giuliani, Dave Barry, Elie Wiesel, John Major, Bill Moyers, Mark Russell, Ken Burns, Benjamin Netanyahu, Benazir Bhutto, Cokie Roberts, Ken Burns, Amy Tan, James Carville, David McCullough, Mary Higgins Clark and Doris Kearns Goodwin, Salman Rushdie and Tom Brokaw.
Cunningham has traveled as a correspondent with the Pittsburgh Symphony on 20 world tours to Europe, Japan, South America, Australia and the Orient. Some of his most memorable radio broadcasts were sent live from Rome at the Vatican, the great Wall and Red Square in Beijing, Moscow, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Sydney, Dublin, Edinburgh, Paris, Madrid, Amsterdam, London's Proms, the Berlin Festival, Tanglewood in Lenox, Mass., Carnegie Hall in New York City and in Carnegie, Penn., Chautauqua, Pittsburgh's Point State Park, and the Salzburg Music Festival in Austria where he produced and announced the first international live digital broadcast. Cunningham broadcast the Pittsburgh Symphony’s concert at the BBC Promenade Concerts in September 2011 at the Royal Albert Hall in London as cohost live on BBC Radio 3 for an international audience. In September 2013, Cunningham interviewed Manfred Honeck as the intermission feature for the worldwide Pittsburgh Symphony concert webcast of the Berlin Philharmonic Digital Concert Hall at the Berlin Philharmonie.

An enthusiastic teacher, Cunningham taught music and art for the Carnegie Institute adult education program and currently teaches Unlocking the Classics for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Pittsburgh and for the Academy of Life Long Learning at Carnegie Mellon University.

During his career at WQED-FM, Cunningham has enjoyed meeting and working with many of the most talented people in the current classical music world. He has interviewed great 20th-century violinists Itzhak Perlman, Isaac Stern, Sarah Chang, Midori, Yehudi Menuhin and Nathan Milstein, as well as conductors Leonard Bernstein, Andre Previn, Daniel Barenboim, Lorin Maazel, Christoph von Dohnanyi, Christoph Eschenbach, Gerard Schwarz, Valery Gergiev, Michael Tilson Thomas, Mstislav Rostropovich, Leonard Slatkin and Mariss Jansons. Among the composers Cunningham has interviewed are Steve Reich, Virgil Thomson, Franz Strauss Jr. (the son of composer Richard Strauss), Milton Babbit, Morton Feldman, John Cage, Aaron Copland, George Crumb, Krystof Penderecki, John Adams and Witold Lutoslawsky.

When asked to choose a few favorites from his list of hundreds of interviews Jim names Ravi Shankar, Benny Goodman, Tiny Tim, Wynton Marsalis, Mercer Ellington, Gordon Parks, Graham Chapman of Monty Python and Fred Rogers.

Cunningham has served as a narrator and host for numerous classical music events. He appeared four times for the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, interpreted all the roles in Stravinsky's Soldier's Tale at Music for Rodef Shalom, Copland's Lincoln Portrait for the Pittsburgh Symphony, Pittsburgh CAPA Orchestra and Westmoreland Symphony Orchestras, Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf for the Pittsburgh Philharmonic and the Edgewood Symphony and five appearances with the Pittsburgh Symphony narrating Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.

Cunningham is the host and producer of the nationally distributed Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra broadcasts heard on more than 150 public radio stations. Cunningham has hosted more than 100 pre-concert talks for Pittsburgh Symphony concerts in Pittsburgh at Heinz Hall, in Midland, Penn. and at the Royal Albert Hall in London before a Promenade Concert. As the presenter for the Orchestra's Unlocking the Classics series he has spoken to music lovers at area libraries.
Cunningham’s work has been recognized with awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania with numerous Golden Quills, the Air Award from March of Dimes, the Gabriel Award from U.S. Catholic Broadcasters, the Opera Theater of Pittsburgh's Millie Award, the Board of Directors of Chatham Baroque and the Pittsburgh Symphony Paul J. Ross Award for Excellence in Education and Audience Engagement.

A lifelong music lover, Cunningham took piano lessons from harpsichord builder and organist Jerry Elmgren. He studied guitar with Stephen Wendell. Cunningham sang in his church choir at First Lutheran Church in Warren and in the choir in junior and senior high school, including recordings and performances in the rotunda of the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg with William Brocklebank. He hosted the choir concerts at Thiel College at the Passavant Center under Dr. Marlowe Johnson and studied music history with Dr. Edward Kasouf, Dr. Ellis French and Ivan Romenenko at Thiel.

As an active member of the community, Cunningham regularly appears as a guest speaker, narrator or host at various cultural events, including Pittsburgh Chamber Music pre-concert lectures. He is a frequent host at classical music events, introducing concerts at the Mellon Arena, home of the Pittsburgh Penguins for Andre Rieu; Hartwood Acres, South Park and the Bach Beethoven and Brunch series for Pittsburgh; Citiparks at Mellon Park; and he’s hosted the Three Rivers Community Band Festival for 10 years. He also served on the boards of the City of Pittsburgh Arts Commission, Chatham Baroque, Citizens for the Arts in Pennsylvania and Eastern Public Radio. Currently, he is a board member of the Friends of the Carnegie Library, the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony, the Pittsburgh Chamber Music Society Executive Committee and the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, the Steinway Society and the Pittsburgh Concert Society.