Slow food. Driving on Cape Cod. Anne Strainchamps is citing points of inspiration for "Wisconsin Life," her new Wisconsin Public Radio project. The veteran To the Best of Our Knowledge producer holds grand ambitions for these three-minute segments, which have been airing in recent months and are collected here.
A couple years back, Strainchamps found herself spending more of her life online. "I began to feel kind of unmoored," she says, and she sensed she was not alone in this. "I think the slow food movement grows out of that hunger to kind of slow down and connect to what's local. I began to wonder what it would be like to make slow radio" - little "radio gems" broadcast on Morning Edition (6:35, 7:35 or 8:35 a.m., WERN, 88.7 FM), conveying "a sense of what it means to be here."
Early installments have tapped interns at WPR bureaus around the state. One captured a cappella caroling in Cave of the Mounds, another Apostle Islands dogsled racing. Strainchamps listened to the latter at home. "My dog went berserk," she remembers, "and then I went to work and all these other people said, 'My dog went berserk this morning.'"
The power of radio.
More recent segments have included Michael Perry - author of Population 485 and Coop - feeding his chickens. Strainchamps describes novelist Jane Hamilton's contribution as "vintage Jane Hamilton." Pending segments include field recordings of UW Arboretum frog choruses and contributions from cartoonist Lynda Barry and urban agriculture proponent Will Allen.
"The other piece of this is making sure we hear voices we don't usually hear on the radio," Strainchamps says, citing children, elders, people who live in poverty, and the state's tribal and Hmong populations. "I imagine a kind of deep cultural map of Wisconsin." The map would be built on a foundation of radio but also be web-based and interactive, with photos and audio files.
The Wisconsin Humanities Council has bought into the vision with a $30,000 seed-money grant, but Strainchamps notes several more pairs of deep pockets will be necessary to reaching such goals.
For now, she is focusing on one segment at a time.
Strainchamps often vacations out east and was driving on Cape Cod when she heard a template on public radio there - a three-minute feature about seagulls clustering nearby, preparing for their migration "to some specific island thousands of miles away." She was captivated.
"I had this strong sense of, I'm here - this is Cape Cod," she recalls. "I thought, I want to hear that on Wisconsin Public Radio. And I also wanted to make it."
So she is.