Jean Feraca & Joe Hardtke
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Public radio program about cultures, food, global issues, local people, language, and more. Responsive, smart, friendly, and worth a listen.
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Tune your radio to AM 970 at 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, and you'll encounter other cultures, foods, languages, and people. Your guide is Jean Feraca, the host of Wisconsin Public Radio's Here On Earth: Radio Without Borders, an hour-long program dedicated to showcasing the connections between people around the world. Here On Earth has been on WPR since 2003. The show's collaborative project with the UW-Madison's National Resource Centers, a series titled "Inside Islam: Dialogues and Debates," received a 2009 Brass Crescent Award. Feraca is an award-winning writer and radio host, and her voice is distinctive, friendly, and open.
Behind the scenes, Here On Earth has a small production crew that includes Joe Hardtke, the show's technical director. In addition to running mics and checking levels, Hardtke is the main social media person on the show. He defines Twitter as "a combination of instant information and written word that is engaging and entertaining." Before each episode broadcasts live, the production team sits down with Feraca to write questions they will pose to Twitter and Facebook. Hardtke then tweets those questions in the first twenty minutes of the show to gauge listeners' response.
"Those are the hot button questions we think will provoke the most reaction," he says. But sometimes the online audience of the show takes the conversation to a new place. It's an issue that Feraca and Hardtke discuss with me earlier this week around a large wooden table in the WPR studio.
"You've built this radio program in depth and structure, and it's an hour long, but that's not the way people listen to the radio," Feraca says. "They might catch a part of it, and they might be distracted. It creates a third level of the program, where people pick up on one idea and it takes on a mind and life of its own. How much of the program are they really getting?"
People are really, really busy." Hardtke says. "Sometimes you have to digitally go for the throat, and catch the listener in a five or ten minute span. I tell people who tweet at the show if we used their comment on the air, and that might get you to listen to the whole thing later, either by downloading it as a podcast or listening on the site."
Feraca and Hardtke are passionate about radio and about getting people involved with the show, no matter what format that takes.
"Audio is still our currency," says Hardtke. "We are making sure that we are in places where different people can hear us. We want to be there for all listeners."
The show's producers began using Twitter in the late summer of 2008, after doing a show about the microblogging site.
"A journalist was arrested in the Middle East and he was afraid he was not going to get out," Hardtke says. "He tweeted about it, word got around, and it allowed people in the West to work for his release. We were interested in journalists using microblogging sites to tell their stories and forward their own work."
The producers didn't expect the response from Twitter that they got, and it progressed from there. People who want to interact with the program can call, tweet, email, or post a message to Facebook. Hardtke tries to think of all these communication methods on the same level.
"Nobody should be viewed as a second-class citizen because they sent a tweet instead of calling," he says. "If you contribute something that moves the conversation in a productive way, I'll probably put you on the show."
He adds that Twitter has impacted the show by providing "little microblasts of smarts that Jean can interject in a slow moment. It keeps the pace of the show moving at a very interesting rate."
Hardtke screens the tweets, just like phone calls. He tries to get at least a few tweets and Facebook messages on the air every show. He also tries to respond to everyone who tweets to @HereOnEarthShow.
"I like to practice good relations on our account," he says.
Why should Madisonians follow @HereOnEarthShow? It's a locally produced, globally minded radio show. And if you're lucky, they might even read your tweet on the air.