Joshua Johnson’s brief stay in the Gateway City this week didn’t allow him a whole lot of time for touristy exploring, as the popular host of WAMU’s daily radio production 1A was busy broadcasting the morning show live from St. Louis Public Radio on May 3 and 4.
But what Johnson did see during his visit to the city, particularly within the Grand Center Arts District, left him plenty impressed.
“There’s a lot here – you could make a vacation to St. Louis,” he said on Friday’s St. Louis on the Air shortly after wrapping up 1A for the day. “There’s that much. It’s rich with culture and art and museums and things to do and things to see, in addition to all of the legacy issues and challenges that St. Louis is trying to address.
"I feel like the nation, after Ferguson, began to crystallize a conception of St. Louis that was real but incomplete, and the challenge for us is to find ways of telling the stories of communities that are real and complete.”
1A airs every morning from 9 to 11 a.m. on STLPR. The show, which launched in January 2017 with Johnson at its helm, has proven to be a popular one among local listeners.
Along with St. Louis itself, Johnson said he was impressed with the local NPR member station.
“This is a phenomenal station with a great fan base,” he added, “[with] people who really love it and support it and hold it in very high esteem and hold it to a very high standard.”
One of the big stories on Thursday’s 1A drew heavily on recent work by the St. Louis Public Radio newsroom on the topic of fair housing. Johnson explained that that’s one example of how he and the rest of the 1A team aim to find stories that are “reflective of the city or the community that we’re visiting with resonance to the nation.”
“The beauty of being in St. Louis is twofold,” he said. “One, we can use the local stories to humanize what is often just this really complex, wonky policy debate … journalism is at its best, I believe, when it’s a storytelling medium. It makes tough stories easier to understand.
“And two, St. Louis Public Radio makes it easy because they’ve done all this reporting. So we try to highlight the reporting of the stations we visit, and because this station has that podcast, We Live Here, it was easy to have stories that were already put together, vetted, curated, built and beautifully produced.”
During his conversation with host Don Marsh, Johnson touched on the reality of “the Beltway mindset” in Washington, his newfound enthusiasm for virtual reality as a much-needed break from the news cycle at times and the delicious virtues of toasted ravioli.
He also offered his take on where most of the attention of national media outlets is centered these days – and what it means for so-called “flyover country.”
“I think it’s our responsibility in public radio to reflect communities in a different way,” Johnson said. “That’s why this local/national split that NPR has is wonderful – you get programs like Morning Edition and All Things Considered and 1A and others that allow you this national and international perspective, and then you get to build your local station so that it can do the regional work that a lot of national outlets don’t do.
“So as much as I hate the fact that people in the Midwest do not get their fair due on national media, I’m grateful to be part of a national organization that helps communities fill their own gaps.”
St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.