Award-winning Davenport radio show gets global listeners

DAVENPORT, Iowa (AP) — A KALA-FM radio talk show that's always relevant, despite its title, has earned state-level awards and an international audience as it continues in its 10th year.

David Baker, operations manager of KALA at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, said the show has earned four awards for different programs from the Iowa Broadcast News Association in the major market radio category.

"They started with humble beginnings," Baker said. John Kealey, a historian and teacher at West High School, and his colleague Jay Swords, developed the concept.

Swords and Baker knew each other in high school, said Baker, who was intrigued by the idea of the show about history and current events.

The weekly program begins with a melodic guitar song, "Kala's Theme," by Mark Zaputil of Davenport, a St. Ambrose graduate. Then there's an introduction to ROI as "the radio show where events of history are examined through the discussion of books, journal articles, papers and presentations. Then historians and history buffs ask the question what is relevant or irrelevant in today's world?"

"The show is not necessarily aimed at historians, but it's for people who might have a passing interest in historical topics and current events," Baker said. "I think more are listening online now. We've got thousands of listens that happen on the listeners' own time."

Now the show is a trim 30 minutes, with an extra segment with no set time that is web-only, Baker said. "It's the carrot that excites people hopefully to visit our SoundCloud presence."

As of March 4, 304 shows had been broadcast, the Quad-City Times reported. Guests, with backgrounds in academia that "are just abounding," come from all over the world, Baker said. Many are professors and chairpersons from major colleges and universities.

The approach is lighthearted when appropriate, Baker said. "It's often got an air of 'Car Talk' about it. There are some moments that are hilarious."

The show is compelling at times, too. A turning point for the show was in 2008, after a devastating tornado struck Parkersburg, Iowa, and that same month the U. S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raided Agriprocessors, Inc., a Kosher slaughterhouse and meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa.

ROI panelists interviewed teachers to ask them how they were doing at Parkersburg.

"I had such a lump in my throat the entire time," Baker remembered. "I've never heard discussions like this — 'We had to climb into the building to rescue the band instruments,' and things like that. The human tragedy and toll was of course a horrific event, but our question was 'How are you going to rebuild?'"

"We've had lots and lots of guests, scholars, chairs of departments ... there's something special with this show," said Baker, who helps on the technical side "to make sure it all happens."

Among the "deciders" — a "wonderful, magical group of people," all volunteers, Baker said — is Rick Sweet, who helps select topics.

Sweet, retired from Caterpillar as a senior product support representative in global mining, describes the conversations, which are far from dry, as talk you might hear around the kitchen table.

SoundCloud listeners hail from climes as far away as Finland and North Korea, he said. Locally, it is transmitted to listeners in about a 75-mile radius of the Quad-Cities.

Swords is his golfing partner.

"Jay would talk to me about bringing a guest on to talk, and I would critique it as we played golf," said Sweet, who is program manager for the show. "He asked me to come on board."

Other ROI participants include Terri Topler, retired Davenport West High School librarian; Brett Monnard, instructor at Davenport West; and Ed Broders, retired attorney. His wife, Jennifer Broders, is script editor.

The show "gives me a vehicle to talk about everybody and everything," Sweet said.

All topics are agreed upon by the ROI players, he said. Shows are recorded live, then broadcast later. Examples of the topics are "The Fate of Reading in the Digital World," '' All Things Bach," ''The Every-Child-Succeeds Act," ''The Monetary System in the Late Roman Republic," ''The Decorah Impact Crater," ''Civility in American Politics and Government" and "Luther and the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation," and "Scott County Unsolved Murders."

Many times, instructors and professors who have been guests use the SoundCloud versions of the show in their classrooms, Sweet said.

"We're being educated," he said. Students, he said, originally were the audience. "Now we have a lot of non-students who listen in."

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Information from: Quad-City Times, http://www.qctimes.com

An AP Member Exchange shared by the Quad-City Times.

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