Born in Greenock, Scotland, in 1960, Ritchie spent her childhood in nearby Gourock, a coastal town on the banks of the busy River Clyde on the country’ s west coast. In a household where the strains of the BBC’s “Home Service” soundtrack her early memories, Ritchie developed an appreciation for music and a love of radio. Her mother’s passion for the songs of Robert Burns, and Ritchie’s participation in a prominent youth choir nurtured a particular interest in folk music of the British Isles. In 1977, she entered Scotland’s University of Stirling to embark upon a course of study in Scottish and English literature, and was later drawn to psychology as her major area of study.
Three years later, Ritchie accepted a six-month position in the U.S. as a teaching assistant in the psychology department of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She returned to Stirling and graduated in 1981 with honors in psychology. That same year, Ritchie went back to Charlotte and soon joined the team at new NPR member station WFAE-FM.
By the end of the year, she had debuted on the air with the earliest version of The Thistle & Shamrock, featuring music drawn from a small number of vinyl albums that reminded her of home. In 1982 Ritchie was appointed WFAE’s Director of Promotion and Development. In 1983 The Thistle & Shamrock, already a weekly WFAE offering, began national distribution; Ritchie became full time producer and host of the show in 1986.