Big Talk has been a thing on Bloomington radio for a good eight years now.
I remember that first Big Talk, recorded in the cramped live air room at the WFHB studios in January 2014. My guest was Nate Powell, the noted cartoonist who’d illustrated the first volume of Rep. John Lewis‘s graphic novel memoir, March. (Lewis, Powell, and writer Andrew Aydin went on to produce two more volumes of the trilogy.) Lewis, of course, was the famed civil rights activist who served 33 years in the United States House of Representatives. Elected to the House 17 times from whatever district in Georgia the statehouse had mapped (or, probably more accurately, gerrymandered), Lewis previously had been a high ranking member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and had been famously bashed on the head by an Alabama state trooper during the 1965 Selma voting rights campaign. His skull was fractured and he feared at the moment of impact that his life was about to end. The march he was participating in that particular day became known as Bloody Sunday.
Nate Powell was a popular graphic novelist who’d already written and/or illustrated nearly 30 books including Swallow Me Whole, Any Empire, and The Silence of Our Friends. He’d won the Ignatz and Eisner awards for best original graphic novel for 2008’s Swallow Me Whole.
WFHB’s archives no longer go that far back so here’s the raw recording of that first Big Talk feature with Nate Powell:
My second Big Talk guest ever was Charlotte Zietlow, the beloved (by most) and legendary local politician and activist who, with a motley crew of political outsiders including future Congressperson Frank McCloskey, transformed Bloomington from a Republican-led town to one run by Democrats in 1971. It’s remained that way ever since. That Zietlow guest spot began a relationship between her and me that only grew stronger as time passed and resulted in the publication in September 2020 of our book, Minister’s Daughter: One Life, Many Lives.
At the time of the Powell, Zietlow, et al interviews, Big Talk was an eight-minute feature on WFHB’s Daily Local News. It would go on that way for the next two and a half years, with a lengthy gap in 2016 for me to get the crap kicked out of me by lymph node cancer. As I recovered from chemoradiation therapy and got stronger and regained the 80 pounds I’d lost during treatment, I realized I wanted to take that radio spot to the next level and so applied to WFHB’s News and Public Affairs Committee for a half-hour slot in which I could make Big Talk a stand alone program.
The then-News Director, Wes Martin, did all the heavy lifting for me in that effort and I was thrilled to learn my new show had been approved. So, in August 2017, I aired my very first 28-minute Big Talk, with guest, Adria Nassim. Adria, too has become a friend. She writes a regular column for the Bloomington Herald-Times detailing life for people on the autism spectrum.
Since then, Big Talk has aired weekly, every Thursday at 5:30pm, with a re-broadcast every Friday at 11:30am. Last year, I even recruited a semi-regular co-host, Alex Ashkin, a dynamic fellow I’d met hanging out in the Soma coffeehouse on Grant Street in downtown Bloomington. Alex is a lot younger than I am (and that I’d care to admit) and that’s the reason I asked him to come aboard. I’d been starting to feel as though the program needed a fresh voice, someone from a different generation and lifestyle who’d bring in a whole new slew of guests. He’s done just that.
Big Talk has put more than 250 guests on the airwaves here in South Central Indiana and, for that matter, on the internet around the world. Our most recent edition featured Kathy Loser, former librarian for the Monroe County Community Schools Corporation and current board member of the Monroe County Public Library. Kathy has strong opinions about…, well, everything, but especially about books and efforts by well-funded political activists trying to ban or restrict reading materials in school and/or public libraries. Like many — or even most — Big Talks, this edition was timely inasmuch as there appears to be a new wave of banning/restrictions around the country, most prominently the McMinn County, Tennessee dustup that came to light last month.