Somehow in an age of connection via the Internet—and all of its social-media offspring (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram)—we seem more fragmented than ever. I keep wondering if all the attention given to the film incentives is only reaching the people who already care and are onboard with supporting its extension. On the Internet, we can select our connections so easily and block what we don’t want to see. But at what point do we engage with upsetting topics and divergent viewpoints?
Rachel Lewis Hilburn’s hopes for WHQR’s new locally produced call-in talk show, CoastLine, to allow all viewpoints to be heard. Airing on WHQR 91.3 FM on Wednesdays at 2 p.m. (though last week’s pilot episode was on Tuesday). Lewis Hilbrun hosts the show, and she hopes it will cultivate a new standard for which everyone can come together and share their thoughts cohesively and with respect for one another—unlike the partisan conflict we are relegated to infinitely in Washington and beyond.
“I would just like people to consider—when they hear someone they don’t agree with—to ask themselves what gift there might be in the other person’s point of view,” Lewis Hilburn says.
Wilmington’s National Public Radio affiliate has put a focus on locally produced news and content since their inception. For Lewis Hilburn, also WHQR’s news director, an opportunity for a deeply engaged community conversation is something that has been missing. “What do you talk about over dinner that we haven’t been talking about here?” she asks. “[What do] we need to be talking about?”
Wilmington is not a desert for talk radio. WMYT 106.7 FM has a strong mix of national and local talk, as does Port City Radio 103.7 FM and WLTT 1180 (with a news department that also puts out The Port City Daily and one of my favorite shows, Hometown Solutions with Bo Dean. Though WAAV, 980 AM, carries mostly national talk with some local programing, for years they had the gold standard for local call-in radio with “On the Waveline with Rhonda Bellamy.” The daily talk show featured politics and current events. Though NPR has “The Diane Rehm Show” and “Here & Now,” there is not currently a locally produced NPR call-in talk-radio show to host in-depth discussion and act as a forum for community members to learn and share more about the pressing issues facing our area.
Regular WHQR listeners might remember three pilot episodes of CoastLine that were tested in March 2013. The topics included the proposed Titan Cement, changes to the tax system, and “Reporter’s Roundtable.” With great excitement on Tuesday, June 24th, Lewis Hilburn announced on air, “From the studios of WHQR Public Radio in Wilmington, this is CoastLine.”
Lewis Hilburn is quick to point out that, unlike other talk shows with dedicated full-time staff, CoastLine gets cobbled together by WHQR employees who already share existing responsibilities. The new voice of Morning Edition, Ken Campbell, came to WHQR from WSKG in Binghamton, NY. While there he worked on a similar show, “Community Conversation.” Campbell and Lewis Hilburn spend a lot of time preparing for each show: researching, weighing guests and planning questions. Once the “on air” light illuminates, Campbell transfers the live feed across the building, from Studio 1 to the newly renovated Studio 4, for the call-in program. He immerses himself into the control board, working the gentner (the machine that runs phone calls through control board to allow for recording or broadcast) and watching the all-important clock for Lewis Hilburn.
The person who manages the phone bank remains a key position with any call-in show. In this case it is Bob Workmon, who gets to greet and screen each caller. It’s an overwhelming job to answer those frantic calls, and to quickly establish if the caller has something to contribute or nothing of real value to add to the conversation—or maybe even has a wrong number. If all signs are good that the caller can speak in a coherent, concise way, Workmon sends Lewis Hilburn a note with something scribbled on it like, “Bella is on line two; wants to talk about why she’s against film incentives.”
Last Week, Lewis Hilburn hosted someone who works with economic modeling, Dr. Woody Hall, senior economist at the Swain Center for Business and Economic Services in the Cameron School of Business at UNCW. Joining them was Kevin Wuzzardo, news director at WWAY NewsChannel 3, whose staff covered the film-incentive debate in the news. Dr. Hall primarily spoke to the economics of the matter. While listening to him, I realized that, like many experts, he understands his subject thoroughly, and for people unfamiliar with his work, it is a little hard to conceptualize how he creates models and arrives at his conclusions. For many of us, economics are felt so immediately that it can be hard to think of such topics in decade-long trends. The reality is: We have had the film industry in North Carolina for three decades, so the discussion needs to take the long view.
The show looked at the debate over the NC General Assembly trying to alter our state’s current film incentives. “The phones lit up,” Lewis Hilburn confirms. “People felt strongly.” Among the opinions expressed was the notion that the film industry comprises liberal Democrats and the Republican legislature could use this as a tool of political vengeance. Lewis Hilburn says she visits film sets frequently and recently conducted an informal poll about political affiliation on film sets. She concluded an even mix of political philosophies in existence. Since it is a talk show, and therefore about discourse, the caller responded how the perception was still that the industry was skewed to the left. Unlike a show aimed at propping up the host’s agenda, CoastLine will let the caller get the last word.
As a writer who has covered film incentives so thoroughly—and who has lobbied for them, too—there wasn’t a tremendous amount of new information in the show for me to digest. Production accountants did call in and talk about the breadth of money spent at florists, drapers, stores, and restaurants—a nice confirmation from the people that sign the checks. However, the opportunity to hear from people who truly don’t understand how the industry works, in spite of living here, was a good reminder that we can’t assume everyone in our town is on board with keeping the film incentives.
The only thing worse than guests who talk too much is guests who don’t talk enough. “I’d like this to be a place where people hear [about] issues that matter to them,” Lewis Hilburn notes.
The host hopes to continue attracting strong responses in the next episode which will focus on coal ash. Truly engaging the audience with issues they’re passionate about fuels CoastLine. Part of that connectivity requires going to the source, not the rumor, for the topic at hand. The coal ash show will allow listeners an opportunity to directly ask Duke Energy about the spill in our NC waters.
The following week, Lewis Hilburn will look at the anniversary of the Civil Rights Act and its impact on our community. She hopes to have a space where the guest list actively includes people other than the usual suspects.
When we are passionate about something, it can be hard to realize other people have opinions or perspectives which differ from our own. At CoastLine, all opinions matter. More so, it fosters them in a healthful manner and allows them to be a catalyst for improving how we interact, express and stand up for our beliefs.