Gerontology Alumnus Applies Knowledge With Radio Show on Aging

As a boy, UNC Charlotte alumnus David Gwilt perched on his family’s Syracuse, N.Y. porch, listening to stories shared by his great-aunt Peggy, who lived to age 99, and other relatives.

“I enjoyed sitting around talking with my grandparents, aunts and uncles, and older relatives about their lives,” Gwilt said. “That generation tried to be part of the solution. The historical aspect of their lives, the hopes and dreams they had, and how those folks managed through times of change and circumstance fascinated me.”

Now, decades later, Gwilt has found a home for that interest and for the application of his knowledge of psychology and gerontology as the host of a live talk radio show, Radio 4 the Ages™, broadcast Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon on WRHI and found locally on 1340 AM and 94.3 FM. His show celebrated its three-year anniversary last fall.

Gwilt received his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Syracuse University and more recently in 2010 earned a graduate certificate in gerontology from UNC Charlotte. He also holds an adult-care-home administrator’s license and previously hosted a real-estate show on WDYT radio in Charlotte from 2007 to 2008.

He had worked with emotionally troubled youth and managed a youth center for troubled teens, yet found his thoughts returning to the issues of senior citizens. He decided to pursue UNC Charlotte’s certificate program, which requires the completion of a set of core and elective courses related to the study of aging.

While taking Gerontology 6600 with Dena Shenk, who was then director of the gerontology program, Gwilt’s mind opened to potential topics he could discuss on his radio show to address issues that senior citizens face. Shenk encouraged Gwilt to consider an intergenerational approach with the topics he covers. The show mostly targets the aging generation but also includes topics that relate to caregivers or adult children.

“The sharing of ideas, being in the class as an alternative student, I had ample time to do an extraordinary amount of research,” Gwilt said. “I can cover so many topics from many different angles with my show.”

Radio 4 the Ages has demonstrated its impact on listeners. Gwilt tells the story of Betty, a caregiver for her sister, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. After listening to one of Gwilt’s programs on Alzheimer’s caregiving, Betty better understood her sister’s behavior. She had learned that the late stages of the disease can cause those with Alzheimer’s to grow increasingly irate with caregivers.

Keeping his show interesting and different is a goal for Gwilt. He often reads between 10 to 15 articles on a topic as he prepares for a show. While he prepares intensively, he sets aside his notes during the show, preferring his interviews to be conversations. He describes himself as “naturally curious.”

“I could ask my guests anything, and I genuinely care about what they have to say,” Gwilt said. “I have never sobbed on the show, but I have teared up before.”

The program covers topics including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer survival, dating after 50, and aging and dignity. His library of over 150 90-minute shows are available online at radio4theages.com.

“David offers crucial information and support to help his listeners access information, navigate the service delivery system, and tackle the challenges of aging,” Shenk said.

The show has featured UNC Charlotte faculty whose research is related. Most recently, Julian Montoro-Rodriguez, new director of UNC Charlotte’s gerontology program, covered the general aging process and how the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area is a young community growing even younger. Other past guests have included John Lincourt, a philosophy professor who discussed aging with dignity, and communication studies professor Jillian Tullis, who researches communication on death and dying.

Expanding is his next goal for the show. While he will keep the older generation as the main focus, he wants to attract younger audience members who are interested in aging well. He also intends to expand his market elsewhere in the Carolinas, including Asheville, Myrtle Beach and Colombia.

Gwilt strives to help potential advertisers understand that the show is of interest to a broad audience with purchasing power. “What I’m trying to do is take my show and make it more inclusive of all adult issues,” he said.

Two years ago, Gwilt started an offshoot of his radio show that he calls P.L.E.A.S.E. (Prayer, Laughter, Exercise, Attitude, Service, Everyday.) Gwilt takes his P.L.E.A.S.E presentations to churches and senior living communities, delivering messages of helping others and focusing on strengths rather than lost abilities.

Words: Seth Allen, Student Communications Assistant
Image: Courtesy of David Gwilt

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