By Erin Roberts
"Ohio," says a National Public Radio producer, "is the center of the universe," and that's what prompted one of NPR's top news-talk shows to broadcast live from Ohio University on Thursday.
Sue Goodwin, executive producer of "Talk of the Nation," said the live broadcast from WOUB radio studios made great sense because of Ohio's role in the presidential election and the importance of its 20 Electoral College votes. Associate Professor of Communication Studies Jerry Miller was among the show's guests.
"Ohio is rich with good stories and good people," Goodwin said. "Ohio is the center of the universe, so we're happy to be here."
About 70 people, including students and community members, were in the studio for all or portions of the show, which closed with live music by regional musicians Jorma Kaukonen and Hillary Burhans.
"It's a cliché that Ohio is a microcosm of the United States, but it's true," WOSU News Director Mike Thompson, a guest on the show, told listeners, citing Ohio's mix of white- and blue-collar workers, rural farmland and metropolitan areas. "Republicans, in particular, have a hard time winning the nation if they don't win the state of Ohio."
Host Neal Conan led discussions about political ads that have targeted various groups and locations differently and how what works with voters in one part of the state offends those in another. Noting recent reports that Democrat Barack Obama is leading Republican John McCain by an average of four points in Ohio, Conan asked Miller, co-director of the university's Scripps Survey Research Center, what McCain needed to do to change the minds of voters.
"McCain needs to plant that seed in the minds of the audience that now is not the time for change," Miller said. "We do have several weeks left in the campaign, so I think it's going to give voters the option to weigh their decisions."
Miller, who has been quoted recently in The Columbus Dispatch and on Cleveland's Newsradio WTAM 1100 among others, said afterward that he enjoyed the listener interaction that "Talk of the Nation" affords.
"Those who listen to National Public Radio are engaged in politics and more interested in having a conversation instead of just hearing expert opinions," he said. "NPR listeners don't just listen and dismiss, but, instead, listen and reflect."
The broadcast was two years in the making, coming about after Conan visited campus in 2006 to attend a WOUB Center for Public Media fund-raising breakfast. At that time, Director of Development and Communications Jeannie Jeffers asked Conan if he would consider coming back for a live broadcast of the show during the 2008 campaign.
"We thought that Athens, Ohio, was a very good place to gauge the vote of middle America and that this would be a good time to do it," Jeffers said. "Evidently Neal and his producers agreed, and it's a pleasure to host him here at WOUB."
Conan, who also attended a dinner for WOUB donors at the Kennedy Museum while in Athens, said he enjoyed the trip and that he recognized landmarks from his visit two years ago.
"Everyone has worked together so well today," Conan said. "It's lovely to work in this nice, big studio."
School of Media Arts and Studies alumnus Kurt Stalnaker, BSC '01, who has worked with NPR for three years, was a member of Conan's team on Thursday. He said his 2 a.m. cable wrapping in preparation for the broadcast reminded him of his time as a student.
"It's nice to see Ohio University again," Stalnaker said. "I spent a lot of time here, in this studio in particular, while in school."
Click here to listen to a Web stream of Thursday's show from WOUB studios.
Updated Oct. 13, 2008, at 3:57 p.m. to include a link to the full program Webcast, including the local musicians who concluded the show.