Asher '57: From the air to the presses

Asher was born in Washington, D.C., and he said that from the beginning, he recognized the value of being raised in our nation’s capital. “Washington is a great town for journalism,” he said. “Everything in the news happens there.” During the course of his childhood, he also spent four years living in Europe with his family, and at the age of 18 in 1953, he enrolled as a freshman at Amherst.

Radio days

After graduating in 1957, Asher worked at the radio station WDOV in Dover, Delaware, where he served as the “morning news guy.” His stint in Dover was short-lived, however. “Like most of the young men during those years, I joined the country’s military,” he said. “I spent a little time in the Air Force Reserve before shifting my concentration toward a career path.”

Following his months as a cadet, he worked briefly at another radio station, where he was involved with controlling the programs. Despite his fascination with radio and a love of broadcasting that had begun in his childhood, Asher became disillusioned by the monotony of his new position. “I would sit at a panel for 20 minutes while some dentist chair music was playing, and after that some other guy would say ‘That was another set of beautiful music,'” he said. “It wasn’t exactly the greatest job in the world.”

A new post at The Post

In 1959, Asher’s career took a fateful turn.  Disappointed and bored with hosting radio shows, he searched through classified ads in an effort to discover a new vocation. One of the jobs he happened to apply for was a copyboy at The Washington Post; ironically, he was almost denied the job because he was overqualified. “The people who were in charge of hiring wondered why somebody who had graduated from Amherst would apply for a job as copyboy,” Asher said. “But they hired me later that day, so I never really had time to worry about it.”

His clerical duties didn’t last for long-soon he was writing articles. He started by covering church sermons in three-paragraph blips. “The articles were published on Mondays, and I had to turn them in every Sunday night by 10:30.”

After writing shorter articles for a while, Asher became a full-time reporter. His jobs have included covering crime news and working as a photo editor. Once, he worked on a team that covered the shift in Washington’s local government, from appointments to elections. “I’ve done every job at this place other than washing the dishes,” Asher said.

Asher explained, however, that a person interested in beginning their career as a journalist today would not have had the opportunity to work in as many departments as he did. “Today, the news department is separate from editorial, which is separate from advertising,” he said. “I’ve been in the editorial department since 1970 and I’ve been at the paper for 41 years, so I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to work in so many different departments.”

In 1969 and 1970, Asher enrolled at Columbia University to study international reporting and affairs.  “It was an interesting year to be at Columbia,” he explained. “The school had to close down because of protests of the United States’s involvement in Cambodia.”

Asher also had the opportunity to go to Germany to cover NATO operations that were currently under way. “Going to Germany was a great opportunity for my career,” he said.

Golden years

Asher’s time at Amherst was filled with various social and intellectual pursuits, although they did not necessarily reflect his future editorial career. During his four years, he studied as an economics major. “My father was in economics,” he recalls, “I guess I just hoped that his genes might rub off on me.”

According to Asher, the format of classes was different when he attended than it is now-there was a core curriculum required in order to graduate. “There were some classes that were mandatory for all freshmen to enroll in,” he explained. “I remember one physics class that everybody had to take. Many an Amherst student met his downfall in the physics lab, where I’m sure the classes are just as tough today as they were then.”

Other mandatory courses included a history class taught by Lawrence Packard, one of the greatest professors on campus during the ’50s, as well as English 1. “English 1 was a fun class; it was basically an oddball study of the nuances of our language,” said Asher.

He also pointed out that one of the College’s greatest deficiencies during his time as a student was its lack of female students. “I know that classes since the admittance of women are much better than the ones that I had the opportunity to take when I was there,” he said.

Despite Asher’s current interest in journalism, he never worked on The Student while at Amherst. “My interests were primarily focused on radio and not yet on journalism,” he said. “I worked as a DJ at the radio station at school, which then was called WAMF.”

But Asher’s involvement on campus was not limited to academics. A member of the Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) fraternity, Asher was also part of a very active Greek life on campus during Asher’s time. “Men were outnumbered five to one by women on the college scene, so everything was pretty lively back then-maybe too lively,” he said. “I’m not sure if frats are needed today, because it seems that the social scene has shifted primarily onto the Amherst campus and away from the other schools.”

At that time, other social centers were not as readily available as they are today. Frats and other groups, such as the Lord Jeffery Club (the “non-fraternity fraternity”), enabled students to interact frequently in a social environment.

Collegiate athletics also became more accessible to the student population as the school created an outdoor ice hockey rink during Asher’s time at Amherst. “It was a pretty basic version of the rink that is at the school now,” he said, “but it got the job done.”

As positive as Asher’s experience was while at Amherst, he maintains that his fondness for his college years has grown since his graduation. “You end up enjoying the acquaintances that you made more and more as time passes,” he said. “After a few years have gone by, all the bragging stops and people let their hair down more and tell you the really important aspects of their lives. Then you’re able to see who your real friends are.”