Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Talk Radio's Intelligent Connection

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Talk Radio's Intelligent Connection

Article excerpt

When TV anchorman Christopher Lydon grew a mustache, his viewers talked about it for weeks. "You'd think I'd grown another head," he recalls.

Now Mr. Lydon could dye his hair magenta, and few people would notice. That's one of the many advantages of life on radio, says Lydon, who for the past 4-1/2 years has been host of "The Connection," a radio call-in show beamed from WBUR, Boston's public- radio station, to 25 other stations around the country.

"Television is all about hair," Lydon says he found during his previous job anchoring The 10 O'clock News at Boston's WGBH-TV. "It's great if you're selling something, but not if you want to have a conversation about ideas." For two hours a day, five days a week, "The Connection" aims to be just that. With Lydon presiding, guests from all walks of life - authors, musicians, poets, scientists, politicians, ministers, chefs, and more - converse about ideas of mutual delight, passion, or puzzlement with listeners who seem compelled to dial in. "There isn't a topic that doesn't light up the phones," said Lydon during a break between meetings at the WBUR studios. "Practically everybody has some area of life that is blazingly alive and intense ... people just turn up and want to get in on the conversation." He is sometimes surprised by the response. Like the time when Haitian writer Edwidge Danticat lit up the phones "like crazy" after Lydon had been fretting that she was too obscure. "Until I got her book, I had no idea who she was. Many of the callers were Haitian, and some of them cab drivers whom I've met since. They just adore her." Not unlike an online Internet chat group, "Connection" listeners seem to enjoy "meeting" others who share interest in, say, Robert Frost or Brahms or holiday recipes. "People are sort of joining a club of listeners who sound like them," Lydon says. He considers his audience not one group of 100,000 or so weekly listeners, but "thousands of clusters of like-minded folk." If the first hour's topic doesn't resonate with listeners, the second one might. One recent morning, Lydon started the program with a timely talk about Kosovo. Then he leapt from international politics to a personal topic, moderating a poignant discussion between Irish author Nuala O'Faolain and listeners who related to her struggles with loneliness and singlehood. That day's program was "a combination of my two lives," says the Boston-born, Yale-schooled Lydon. He explains that the first topic jelled well with his journalistic interests and especially his years as a reporter for The New York Times. The second reflects his growing fascination with the "emotional, mysterious sides of life." Such diversity of subject matter has become a "Connection" trademark. "We're just dealing with the stuff of people's lives," he says. …

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