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Wednesday, March 13,2013

Local programming takes center stage

WKAR previews fall 2012 schedule

by Tracy Key
WKAR radio station manager Peter Whorf. Tracy Key/City Pulse

Friday, Sept. 7 — Have the dramatic exploits of “Downton Abbey” lost some of their charm?  Is the old quilt episode of “Antiques Roadshow” no nail-biter the sixth time around? Good news, then: Local PBS affiliate WKAR announced its fall television and radio lineup last night at the 2012 fall preview, and there is some compelling public broadcasting on the horizon. And don’t worry, you’ll still get your scowling Maggie Smith fix, you junkie.


“We’re going to ramp it up and go in new exciting directions,” said Matt Ottinger, producer and host of the WKAR trivia show “QuizBusters,” who hosted the preview. “We’re branching out into the community, reaching new audiences in mid-Michigan, engaging with new folks and expanding the WKAR family.”


The event included material from all three national PBS television stations — Create, which focuses on arts, travel and cooking; World, which specializes in international programs; and the original Public Broadcasting System — which will all begin 24-hour broadcasting this fall. WKAR also introduced radio station manager Peter Whorf, whose lengthy career with PBS included WNYC in New York and WBEZ in Chicago before he joined the East Lansing crew in August.


“I don’t believe that radio, television or other media exists in a vacuum,” Whorf said. “Media is a two-way community. My biggest goal is to always be a part of the community and listen to different points of view.”


Although WKAR will bring in nationwide programming — such as the new Ken Burns documentary “The Dust Bowl;” “Broadway or Bust,” a three-part series on high school actors; “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood,” a new educational children’s show from the creators of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood;” and of course, the third season of “Downton Abbey” — there will be a strong focus on expanding the shows’ presence in the local sphere.


“Local programming is important because it reflects who we are as a community,” said WKAR’s station manager Susi Elkins. “We always want to appeal to a diverse audience with all kinds of interests, and there’s no slice-of-life on television without local programming.”


The “Backstage Pass” music series is one way to reach out. The WKAR crew set up shop recently at the Michigan Mosaic Music Festival in downtown Lansing and will cover the Old Town BluesFest later this month. Elkins said music festivals provide a valuable opportunity to showcase the neighborhood on television and give people a chance to “hear stories from their own community.”


How else can WKAR reach out and expand local programming? Buzz buzz! Produce a special edition of “QuizBusters” featuring community leaders. The special all-star version of the game show will branch out from high school students to include Michigan State University professors and coaches, local entertainers, journalists and television personalities. Additionally, this will be the first ever episode of “QuizBusters” that invites the general public to watch the show as a member of the live audience on Tuesday.


Love it or hate it, local programming is here to stay on PBS. But either way, Elkins says WKAR wants your opinion.


“I really want people to know that we want input as we get into the community about what people want to see and hear from public broadcasting,” she said.

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