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Show aims to separate wheat from chat

OPB talk program could serve as model for radio nationally
by: , MILLER

Having borrowed liberally from the resources of the nation’s public radio system, Oregon Public Broadcasting may soon have something special to give back. In a week’s time, OPB will launch “Think Out Loud,” an hourlong program that unites the worlds of radio and the Internet to create a forum for Oregonians and, possibly, a model for other stations. “We have long thought that we needed some kind of local public affairs show that took up the issues that affect the region,” says Eve Epstein, executive producer of the show. “What we didn’t have was a place for people to call in, a place for people to participate. “I also didn’t see anything that attempted to integrate the online conversation with the on-air conversation. Everyone in public radio is grappling with this issue.” Evidently agreeing, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting granted OPB $325,000 in seed money for the project. “Think Out Loud,” which will air at 9 a.m. weekdays, cribbed both ideas and talent from public radio elsewhere. From Minnesota Public Radio came a database called Public Insight Network that enlists the knowledge of citizens with expertise in various areas. “It’s a way to tap into better stories and more informed comments,” Epstein says. “What we really liked was the notion of people talking from experience and not opinion.” When OPB put out a call for such on-the-ground experts in September, the goal was 1,000 participants. Epstein says more than 2,000 Oregonians have responded. From Boston came co-host David Miller, a veteran producer responsible for the pioneering Public Radio International program “Open Source,” which explored the potential of blogging and podcasts. And the project brought home Peabody-winning reporter Emily Harris, a Lincoln High School graduate. Harris, 40, who will co-host, left Portland in 1994 for a career that took her to Russia, Iraq and Germany, where she recently served as NPR’s Berlin correspondent. Net shapes conversation The creators of “Think Out Loud” say the show will resemble a more structured version of the BBC World Service’s freewheeling “World Have Your Say,” where insights are collected on-air, online and even via text message. “Think of it as a big brainstorming session,” Epstein says. “It doesn’t matter where the ideas come from. What matters is that you’re all thinking creatively.” Co-host Miller says online participants may shape the program with more considered opinions and suggestions than those who weigh in by phone. “I think it’s more than just volume of participants,” Miller says. “There is a digital divide. There is a difference in terms of who has Internet access and who doesn’t. I think that affects the conversation in profound ways.” Harris, whose experience as a radio host is largely limited to volunteer work at the community station KBOO years ago, is confident that her background as a reporter will contribute to an exchange of what Morgan Holm, vice president of news and public affairs at OPB, calls “informed opinion.” “What we want this to be is energetic; we’re not expecting this to be a rant,” Harris says. “This is a space where people can think about things together.” Harris, who returns home with a husband and 2-year-old daughter in tow, says she’s intrigued by the shifting demographics in Portland and the state, which have attracted significant numbers of newcomers in recent decades. “The sense I have is that the makeup of the people here has changed,” she says. “What does that mean for this place?” Station counts on audience Holm says the station has long looked at the new show’s post-drive time slot as a place of opportunity. “Morning Edition,” which precedes it, “is easily our most popular program,” he says. “Think Out Loud” will replace NPR’s “Here and Now,” increasing the quantity of local programming on the station, now at about two hours a day. Epstein says that while any new project is experimental by nature, this one has the potential to benefit listeners here and nationally. “We very much want it to be a local and regional show,” she says. “But we want it to be a model. If we get the formula right, yes, we could really make a contribution to the public radio system in the country.” This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.