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1A's Jenn White Says Show Is For People Who Are 'Relentlessly Curious' As It Joins WKAR Schedule

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Before hosting 1A and working at WBEZ in Chicago, White was the local host of All Things Considered at Michigan Radio in Ann Arbor.

Some new shows are coming to the airwaves on WKAR NewsTalk including Fresh Air, Here and Now and 1A.

Updated August 17, 2021 at 11:53 AM

Jenn White is the host of 1A. It’s a daily, live show that features experts as well as listeners as guests with calls and voicemails.

Before 1A, White worked at WBEZ in Chicago and Michigan Radio in Ann Arbor.

WKAR's Sophia Saliby spoke with White about the show and what WKAR Newstalk listeners can expect when they tune in.

Interview Highlights

On What Type Of Show 1A Is

1A is a show for people who are relentlessly curious. We cover such a broad range of topics, lots of politics and public affairs, of course, but we also talk about conversations that are in the zeitgeist in that moment. We talk to authors and artists [and] musicians. You'll hear a little bit of everything on the show, but I would say the core DNA of the show is really listener engagement. People listening can talk back to us.

On A Recent Show She's Proud To Have Brought To Listeners

We opened the phones, specifically to hear from young people 18 and under, and we heard from seven-year-olds and 12-year-olds, asking questions of our doctors, but also talking about how they're keeping themselves safe [and] the conversations they're having with their family and friends. And I think as kids head back to school this fall, we hear a lot from teachers, rightfully so. We hear a lot from administrators, rightfully so, and from parents, rightfully so. But we don't hear so much from kids.

On What She Misses About Michigan And Reporting From a Local Newsroom

I think the thing I miss most is, and this goes with working at any local station or locally produced show that's focused on local issues, it's the ability to follow a story day-by-day. Because we're covering the country, and we're trying to have these national conversations, it's more difficult to do that in a way that's very community-focused. Before I left Michigan, I was part of the team at Michigan Radio that was covering the Flint water crisis and really being able to stay connected to that story, to continue to follow it [and] to revisit people who we've been keeping in contact with over the course of that crisis, there's something very powerful about that.

Interview Transcript

Sophia Saliby: This is All Things Considered on WKAR. I’m Sophia Saliby.

Some new shows are coming to the airwaves over on WKAR NewsTalk including Fresh Air, Here and Now and 1A.

Jenn White hosts 1A. It’s a daily, live show that features experts as well as listeners as guests with calls and voicemails. Before 1A, White worked at WBEZ in Chicago and Michigan Radio in Ann Arbor.

She joins me now to talk about what else you can expect when you tune in.

Thank you for being here.

Jenn White: My pleasure, Sophia.

Saliby: For listeners who aren't familiar with 1A, how would you describe the show?

White: Well, 1A is a show for people who are relentlessly curious. We cover such a broad range of topics, lots of politics and public affairs, of course, but we also talk about conversations that are in the zeitgeist in that moment. We talk to authors and artists [and] musicians. You'll hear a little bit of everything on the show, but I would say the core DNA of the show is really listener engagement.

People listening can talk back to us. Sometimes, we open the phones, and we'll do live call-ins, but there's constant communication via Facebook and Twitter. And we have 1A Vox Pop, which is a way for you to leave a radio-quality voicemail for the show. You can also just leave us a regular voicemail message or email us.

And it's a great way for us to include your voice in the conversation, and that's really the central tenet of the show. It's a platform for listeners to join the conversations that are happening across the country.

Saliby: This show's name, 1A, comes from the First Amendment and the right to "speak freely."

How do you see the mission of the show right now as the country deals with these huge issues like the pandemic, climate change [and] politics?

White: Right? I mean, gosh, there's so many big conversations that we need to have. Specifically around the pandemic, one thing we've been able to do on the show is provide a platform for people to ask questions about COVID-19 [or] about the vaccines.

You would think, you know, this far into the pandemic like, "Do people really still have questions about this?" Actually, yeah, people have a lot of questions about the science [and] about access, and so we give people a platform to ask those questions and get answers from trusted voices.

We bring on doctors every month for a monthly conversation where people can just tweet that question that they have about the vaccines. And you would think, you know, this far into the pandemic, "Do people really still have questions about this?"

Actually, yeah, people have a lot of questions about the science [and] about access, and so we give people a platform to ask those questions and get answers from trusted voices.

But we also do things like have conversations about the emotional side of the pandemic. Lots of people are feeling anger right now that we're not on the other side of this. They may have difficult emotions around family members who aren't following public health guidance.

And so we'll have a conversation with experts in that field as well psychologists [or] family therapists to talk about how to navigate those conversations.

But when we're having conversations about, say climate change or specific policy issues or politics, listeners are also a part of that. They may disagree with our guests. Those voices are included in the conversation.

They may have an idea about something that we, as the people who run the show, didn't think about. We love that because they drive the conversation forward with those fresh ideas that we didn't think about. So, listeners are engaged in every part of what we do in the show.

Saliby: Are there any recent topics you're proud to have brought to listeners, maybe something that you don't think would have gotten a spotlight otherwise?

White: So, a show we did just this week, focused on how young people are experiencing the pandemic as they head back to school, what their concerns are [and] what their questions are about safety. And so we opened the phones, specifically to hear from young people 18 and under, and we heard from seven-year-olds and 12-year-olds, asking questions of our doctors, but also talking about how they're keeping themselves safe [and] the conversations they're having with their family and friends.

And I think as kids head back to school this fall, we hear a lot from teachers, rightfully so. We hear a lot from administrators, rightfully so, and from parents, rightfully so. But we don't hear so much from kids.

And so having their voices be center stage in a conversation that is about them in so many ways, I was really proud of that show and just really proud of the young people who added their voice [and] who stepped up and said, "Yeah, my voice matters in this." And that's an opportunity we have on 1A that I don't think you you often hear in other spaces.

I was really proud of that show and just really proud of the young people who added their voice [and] who stepped up and said, "Yeah, my voice matters in this." And that's an opportunity we have on 1A that I don't think you you often hear in other spaces.

Saliby: Coming from the Midwest, what do you think are the biggest issues from the region that might get some attention on the show?

White: Oh, gosh, I think a big issue right now is just how work is changing. You know, we're still in the pandemic, but we know that there's been huge impacts on our economy, where people work, how they work [and] whether they're choosing to work right now.

Some people have opted out altogether for safety reasons. And I think that raises some particular questions in the Midwest. I think that's one area of interest for me and for our team.

But I also think there are these larger questions about how we live right now, like the housing market, where people are choosing to live, what that means about how communities change [and] how states change as people are migrating to different parts of the country for a variety of reasons be it climate change or if it's about work availability or about where you can afford to live right now.

And I think when we have those conversations, oftentimes, their focus may be on the West Coast or on the East Coast, but that's a really important story for the Midwest as well.

Saliby: You've been hosting 1A for just over a year. Like you, I also took this job during the pandemic. What has the transition been like?

And is there anything you didn't expect about hosting live radio as most people work from home?

White: Oh, boy, it's been quite the adventure. Before I came to 1A, I was hosting a live radio show in Chicago as well, another two-hour daily talk show. The difference being because of the pandemic, I was hosting that show from home, so there was a level of management and navigation that went along with hosting a show from home, when you've got two dogs and you have a husband who's also doing conference calls in the house and you have a neighbor who decides to mow the lawn, you know, five minutes before your microphone opens.

And so, you know, coming to D.C. and going back into the studio, the control that being in the studio gives me is great, but I haven't actually had people in-studio to interview in now almost two years. I haven't been face-to-face with our guests.

Most people either have a conversation over Zoom like we're having right now or they use an app on their phone to talk to us which sounds like they're in the studio.

But I think that's been one of the biggest challenges, I'm sure you've had a similar experience, just missing being in person with people because there's a whole level of this work that has a lot to do with nonverbal communication.

When someone's in the studio with you, you can read their body language. You can signal in ways that you're running out of time that you can't do when they're, you know, over a phone line with you.

There's just an element of it that people probably don't think about because it's audio. But I miss having people in studio, and I hope we can get back to that at some point.

Saliby: And one last question, is there anything you miss about working and reporting in Michigan?

White: Oh, man, my family is there. And so the fortunate thing about 1A is that we cover the whole country, and so, we've had Michigan stories on 1A, and that's always great, because it's my hometown.

I think the thing I miss most is, and this goes with working at any local station or locally produced show that's focused on local issues, it's the ability to follow a story day-by-day. Because we're covering the country and we're trying to have these national conversations, it's more difficult to do that in a way that's very community-focused.

Because I've always worked in local newsrooms before coming to 1A, it just makes me always value the power of local journalism.

Before I left Michigan, I was part of the team at Michigan Radio that was covering the Flint water crisis and really being able to stay connected to that story, to continue to follow it [and] to revisit people who we've been keeping in contact with over the course of that crisis, there's something very powerful about that. And because I've always worked in local newsrooms before coming to 1A, it just makes me always value the power of local journalism.

Like a national show, it's great. I hope everybody tunes in. I hope everybody adds their voice to the conversation. But what happens at the local level is so important to that community, knowing what's happening in your state legislature, you know, [or] knowing what's happening in that city council meeting.

And I think that's the part that I miss the most is just that specificity and really being able to follow a story through and seeing the direct impact it has on the community you serve.

Saliby: Jenn White hosts 1A. You can listen to the program from 10 a.m. to noon and 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. on WKAR Newstalk. Thank you so much for joining me.

White: Sophia, thank you.

This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Correction: A previous of version of this story included a photo caption saying that White worked at "Michigan Radio in Chicago." This has been corrected to read, "Michigan Radio in Ann Arbor."

Sophia Saliby is the local producer and host of All Things Considered, airing 4pm-7pm weekdays on 90.5 FM WKAR.
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