It’s a New Year and Michigan Radio has added a new voice. April Baer is the host of Stateside. She joined Doug Tribou on Morning Edition to talk about her Midwest roots and her path to Michigan Radio.
Doug Tribou: As our regular listeners know, Cynthia Canty retired last month. Lester Graham had been hosting Stateside on Fridays, but he is now focused full-time on his work for The Environment Report. So, you are hosting Stateside every weekday. How’s the first week been so far?
April Baer: Well, it's a good thing there's nothing going on, right? It's been very eventful, but honestly, it's felt fantastic. I mean, that was really why I wanted to come back to the Midwest, kind of to get a bit more centered and a bit more to the center of the action in 2020. And I guess that the universe has conspired to deliver that to me in full.
DT: You came to us from Oregon Public Broadcasting, but your roots are in the Midwest. Where’d you grow up?
AB: I'm a Buckeye [from Ohio]. We won't talk about that.
DT: No, we won't mention that. (laughs)
AB: I grew up in Columbus and also spent part of my adult life in Cleveland, married a guy from Ann Arbor. And here we are.
DT: What got you into public radio?
AB: You know, it was like a million years ago, at a time when to be in public broadcasting was a bit more of a form of alternative journalism. People might remember this was a form that came out of the Watergate hearings. And during the '80s and the early '90s, we considered what we were doing, sort of a foil for the mainstream press.
When I was in Cleveland, I was hosting a show not unlike Stateside. I was on air live during September 11, 2001. And it became apparent, and I think folks at the network would say this, too, that everyone was pretty unprepared for what was happening. NPR was struggling to figure out what was going on, as we were. And it became this moment of calling all of our primary sources, the congressional delegation, experts at Case Western Reserve University, and stepping up. And it was evident from that point on that we were either going to lean all the way in or we weren't. And that was when I would say I got a lot more serious about my work in news.
DT: Stateside debuted seven years ago, so there’s a rich set of archives. What did you like about the show when you heard Michigan Radio was hiring a new host?
AB: Well, first of all, I think we really have to talk about regional news and what it means for everybody in the state to feel like they have things in common. And there has been a big decline in the number of news sources that cover the news in that way, that talk about what's happening in our state legislatures, what's happening in our counties, and also have context for national and global events.
So, I can't help but feel that connecting those dots is maybe one of the most important things we can do in news right now. And I always loved the way that Cyndy and the rest of the team approached it from that way. There are things people in the Upper Peninsula have in common with someone in Traverse City or the people in Detroit might have in common with somebody in Kalamazoo, experiences we all have together. The show should not continue if we don't continue to do that.
DT: In Oregon, you hosted a show called State of Wonder that was focused on arts and culture. How do you hope that will factor into what you do on Stateside?
AB: My colleagues would tease me and say, "April, you could find a news angle in even the lightest, enjoyable arts story." We really were trying to look at what was happening in the culture through the lens of the arts. And that's what artists try to do. They're showing us the world in different ways through their work. We were trying to be the art show that was always thinking about other things that were going on in the world.
I hope that Stateside could be the reverse of that. That we're just looking through the events of the world in terms of how they play out in everybody's lives. We all should know a little bit more about other people's lives. And we all should think as deeply as we need to about the issues in our own lives right now. Keeping that generalist view of things is something that's really important to me.
Editor's note: This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.