The Diva of talk

Too loud, too opinionated, too brash. Few thought Katherine Lanpher could revive Minnesota Public Radio's sagging Midmorning. WRONG!

With authors and artists, on the other hand, Lanpher often must work to coax them into sharing their thoughts, allowing listeners to reach into every corner and crevice of their imagination. "You want such a good conversation, so everyone feels part of it," she says. "To make something so intimate apply to so many people... that's an art."

The idea of discovering truth through conversation is hardly new. Perhaps shows like Lanpher's are today's example of a Socratic dialogue. It is the interplay of opposing beliefs that builds upon itself, creating, in theory, some sort of revelation about ourselves and the world around us. For this to succeed, spontaneity is key. "You want candor on the air," Lanpher explains, adding that she wants to showcase the broadest possible spectrum of ideas, even if they may seem offensive. "We have racists who call in," she says. "That's good. They're out there."

Having a forum for this kind of dialogue is essential, notes Martin Kaplan, associate dean of the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication, who has been a guest on Lanpher's show. "It's the glue that binds our whole society," he asserts. "Conversation, discussion, informative exchange, debate. That is the mechanism by which we discover who we are. To be able to listen in on quality conversations or participate in them as a caller is an act of citizenship."

Daniel Corrigan

However, Kaplan, also director of the Norman Lear Center, which studies the convergence between journalism, entertainment, and economics, says this kind of program is most likely to be found on public radio, and is therefore likely to attract an already self-selected group of listeners.

Still, radio may be the ideal vehicle for this type of discussion. "Radio has its special qualities," Kaplan says. "Intimacy is one of them. If you only hear a voice, you are more attuned to the inflections in it. The sense of eavesdropping on a fascinating conversation arouses in listeners a particular mindset that is different than people sitting around a brightly lit TV set.

"Talk radio is not necessarily a tool of mindless distraction," he continues. "It's a tool of engagement. We listen to talk radio because we want to be involved."

Lanpher echoes the sentiment. "There are so many short segments in the world," she says. "On public radio, 55 minutes of conversation--that's a tall drink of water. People get to finish sentences. People get to complete thoughts." And, from time to time, a show, or even just a few minutes of dialogue, will bloom gracefully, blissfully, into that coveted human moment. That's what Lanpher searches for every day, and listeners get to ride along.

"Good morning, welcome to Midmorning. I'm Katherine Lanpher..."

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