News and Views

Public Radio Show With Good Reason Sends Faculty Expertise Beyond the Classroom

Radford University faculty share their expertise across the Commonwealth and nation through the public radio show With Good Reason. RU is a member of the Virginia Higher Education Broadcasting Consortium, which produces WGR, the only statewide public radio program in Virginia.

“The goal is to introduce the general public, in a personal way, to the expertise and personalities of Virginia’s public university faculty,” says the show’s executive producer, Andrew Wyndham.

Virginia’s faculty members are “our unsung intellectual heroes,” says WGR host Sarah McConnell, who has been with the show since 1999. “The mainstream media don’t touch this rich reservoir. The show is bringing riches to the community that only college students have previously been able to experience.”

Recently RU nursing professor Ellen Birx and her husband, Charles, who are Zen masters, talked about how Zen practices can increase intimacy and communication in relationships. English professor Rick Van Noy discussed ways to get nature-deprived children interacting with their natural environment.

One of McConnell’s favorite shows featured RU English professor Jolanta Wawrzycka discussing James Joyce and his famously difficult masterpiece, Ulysses. The novel follows its main character, Leopold Bloom, through a modern-day odyssey in the city of Dublin during the course of one day — June 16, 1904. Wawrzycka talked about Bloom’s travels and described her experiences at the annual Bloomsday celebration in Ireland. Wyndham says the Bloomsday show is an example of bringing faculty out of the perceived ivory tower and allowing listeners to see scholars as real people. “They can read what scholars have done, but the general public is probably never going to get to those. And they may never read Ulysses, but they sat mesmerized by Jolanta for 15 minutes.”

Other RU faculty who have appeared on WGR recently include Dale Henderson, who offered tactics to maximize one’s leverage in salary negotiations, and Elizabeth Dore, who talked about international adoption and what happens to adopted children when they get to school and later start dating.

WGR is approaching its 14th anniversary. The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia first housed the show, which was later adopted by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities in Charlottesville. VFH now produces the program for all of Virginia’s public colleges and universities.

Overall, figures for WGR show a weekly program audience of 27,000, with an additional 52,800 catching weekly three-minute features based on the shows and aired during drive-time programming. The total annual audience for WGR amounts to more than 4.1 million.

Occasionally, at social events, McConnell runs into listeners — Virginia legislators, for example. “Lawmakers listen regularly while they’re in session in the winter. They love the variety,” says McConnell.

Listeners can order free CDs of their favorite shows. One of the most requested programs featured a doctor who had directed prostate cancer research at the National Institutes of Health. He is also a prostate cancer survivor. “The remarkable thing is that he spoke from experience. He spoke so gently, so warmly and so honestly about his own fears,” says McConnell. “The phone rang off the hook and the e-mail box was full of requests for copies. People from Virginia were sending the show to uncles, fathers and brothers across the country.”

RU Office of University Relations multimedia coordinator and writer Ann Hillenbrand was elected to the show’s executive committee and currently serves as vice-chair. The committee comprises representatives from five of the 16 member institutions in the Virginia Higher Education Broadcasting Consortium. The executive committee helps advise show producers on funding, program topics and future goals.

An important goal for the show, says Wyndham, is to offer WGR to a more national audience. “Topics come out of what we learn from Virginia faculty, but are not limited to Virginia audiences,” he explains. He hopes to place the show on a new service initiative by National Public Radio. “This will be a combination of Web and satellite technology that will enable us to feed programs directly into a so-called public radio ‘Content Depot.’ This will bring shows prominently before public radio stations across the country.”

To learn more or listen to a podcast, visit WGR or listen to the show on your local public radio station.