TUNED IN: Notes from Bob Davis, executive director of High Plains Public Radio
Three cheers for Valerie Brown-Kuchera, the host of High Plains Public Radio’s Little Spouse on the Prairie.
The Kansas Association of Broadcasters awarded Little Spouse on the Prairie honorable mention in “Commentary” category for medium markets.
Little Spouse airs Sundays at 8:35 a.m. (Central time) during NPR’s Weekend Edition.
I asked Valerie to answer a few questions this week. Here are my questions and her answers:
Q: For those who aren’t aware, please tell us about the origins of Little Spouse on the Prairie.
“I had been involved with HPPR's Radio Reader Book Club as a discussion leader. Once, when recording some commentaries for that program in Garden City, Valarie Smith (who had been helping me record) complimented my writing and asked if I had ‘anything else.’ Though I wasn't sure what she meant, I did have my laptop out in the car. The laptop contained some midnight ramblings I had written while Joel snored. Though the pieces had not been created with an audience in mind, they were the only things I had with me.
“I read through a couple of the sketches and Valarie Smith called Angie Haflich and Stephen Johnson in to see what they thought. We all sat in the studio snickering and poking fun at our own lives, and I assumed it was an enjoyable way to spend the afternoon, and that was it. A few days later though, Dale Bolton called and asked if I was interested in pitching a sketch show. I was excited about the opportunity to write a regular feature, but I had never thought about radio as an outlet.
“Little Spouse on the Prairie kind of defies genre a bit. There are parallels in the print media, with people like Erma Bombeck and Patrick McManus and Dave Barry writing regular humor columns. I knew I didn't want to make it political in nature, and the team at HPPR agreed that the time slot needed a light mood to give a short reprieve from the negative news. Women's humor is overlooked and undervalued. Gen X and Boomer women listen to the radio between 13 and 15 hours per week, and my feeling was (and is) that not enough entertainment programs are aimed at that demographic. So we made a lot of decisions early on based on a combination of our instincts as public radio consumers and a cursory look at data.
“I didn't know what to name the sketch, but one night (again while Joel was snoring - I should pay the guy creative consulting fees), I sat straight up in bed and said aloud, ‘Little Spouse on the Prairie.’ Though I don't want to be defined by my husband, I like that ‘spouse’ is a word that is non-gendered. In fact, when Dale first met my husband Joel, he said something like, ‘You're not little. I thought you'd be smaller since you're the Little Spouse.’ That ambiguity, though initially unintentional, has made me realize that the title of the show allows for some interpretation.”
Q: What does your family – and especially your husband -- think about their exploits being held up for inspection on Little Spouse?
“Joel loves the attention. He's a huge fan of the show. He's a storyteller and a talker and doesn't know a stranger. I usually read each episode to him before I record, and he has never flinched. He's one of those guys that can laugh at himself, and people love him for that reason, among others. He's been super supportive. In fact, we just recorded an episode that he actually takes part in, so listeners can look forward to hearing his real voice in a couple of weeks.
“My teenager has nixed a couple of cute sketches that she didn't like. I think there was one in which she baked a spatula into the brownies for a school fundraiser, and then had to make another pan after she realized they tasted plastic-y. The whole scenario was hilarious, because she let our family have the spatula brownies and we spent an entire dinner conversation puzzling about why they tasted so bad, and she was joining right in with the wondering. I said something like, ‘Maybe it was the new baking pan’ and her straight-faced response was, ‘That could be part of it, but I think the flavor has more to do with the spatula that I accidentally baked into them.’ Now see, I thought it was cute and fun, but she didn't want the radio listeners to know she had made that mistake, so I cut it. Hopefully, she never reads this newsletter! My middle school boy is pretty oblivious to it all. Although I've lampooned him pretty good in a few episodes, he doesn't complain. And my five-year-old eats it up. She listens over and over again, and she especially loves the episodes in which I talk about her. The shows about going to the thrift store and buying back toys that we ourselves had donated a few days before just tickled her pink.”
Q: Tell us about the kind of feedback you get from listeners.
“I get really fun feedback from listeners. My mom told me about a young woman she met at work, and as they were chatting about their families, my mom mentioned that her oldest daughter had a radio humor show called Little Spouse on the Prairie. The young woman apparently got all excited and said, ‘That's my dad's favorite show! I can't wait to tell him I met The Little Spouse on the Prairie's mom!’ What surprised me most was that it was the person's dad who was the fan. The woman went on to say that her dad was in his 70s and considered it the bright spot on his Sunday mornings while driving his tractor around the field. I guess that just shows that the audience is diverse.
“The Little Spouse Facebook page and Twitter feeds get interesting conversations going. I've been giving out tacky prizes for people who share the page or retweet the page, and when I do that, the HPPR outreach broadens. Since I've been a teacher for 25 years now, my former students, many of whom have moved away from the High Plains, sometimes share the page, and then I'll pick up followers who listen online in states outside the listening area, which is so exciting!
“My favorite reaction is when a listener tells me, ‘You captured exactly how I feel when my husband does such-and-such’ or ‘My kid does that all the time! I'm so glad I'm not the only one!’”
Q: Have you read any good books lately?
“Lately, the books I read are all geared toward my job as a writing instructor or classes I am taking toward my PhD in information science. I love reading social and psychological science nonfiction, and I am planning to use more of the concepts I learn about in episodes, of course with a funny twist. Because I commute and spend a lot of time in the car, when I'm not listening to HPPR (which is, naturally, the station I tune into), I listen to audio books. Some of my favorite audiobooks are humor collections by Jim Gaffigan, Billy Crystal, Betty White and Dick Van Dyke. I just love self-deprecating humor, and that's the style I am trying for. I want people's first reaction to be, ‘Boy, is she ever hard on that husband of hers,’ but right on the very heels of that thought, I want it to dawn on them that I am actually making fun of myself.”
Q: Finally, what else should High Plains residents know about you?
“As far as anything else I want people to know, the main thing is that Angie Haflich and other HPPR people commit their valuable time to this show. Also, a wonderful musician named Kelly Wertz out of Kansas City wrote The Little Spouse Rag theme song, and I just love it. And now, Ron Rohlf from Fort Hays has been donating significant amounts of time and effort to recording and providing sound effects to recent episodes. I love seeing a diverse group of public radio supporters come together to create entertainment that makes people smile.”
Oklahoma Prisons: Fodder for Country Music And This Week's Best-Read HPPR Story
HPPR.org is your go-to spot for the latest news from the High Plains region, as well as our events, exclusives, and features. You’ll also find the latest national and international news. Here are this week's TOP STORIES from our website.
Musical September Continues with Tsukamoto
Hiroya Tsukamoto returns to Garden City this weekend as the latest in our HPPR Living Room Concert series. More details on Hiroya and other performances this month here or below.
WHEN: Saturday, Sept. 15, 7 p.m.
WHERE: HPPR’s Garden City offices, 210 N. 7th St., Garden City, KS
Suggested donation: $15
WHEN: Friday, Sept. 28, 7:30 p.m. (Doors open at 7 p.m.)
WHERE: Chalice Abbey, 2717 Stanley St., Amarillo, TX
Suggested donation: $15
WHEN: Friday, Sept. 28, 7 p.m.
WHERE: HPPR Studios—Garden City, 210 N. 7th St., Garden City, KS
Suggested donation: $15
Want to Support LIVE MUSIC on the High Plains?
Sponsor a HPPR Living Room Concert!
We’re always looking for new partners to provide support for this series. Please contact Ruth Ellen Lynch, our Texas Underwriting Representative, to learn how your business or organization can become our partner in providing unique live music for the High Plains.
You can reach her at by email at the link above, or call her at (806) 367-9088.
We Say Goodbye to Ben
Reporter Ben Kuebrich is leaving High Plains Public Radio to work as a producer for a true-crime podcast in Atlanta. He will work on the upcoming season of Monster, which is a partnership between Stuff Media, Tenderfoot TV and iHeartMedia.
Ben has been a central part of the Kansas News Service, a statewide collaboration of public radio stations coming up on its first birthday. Best of luck to Ben. He will be missed.
Keep up with HPPR by following us on social media. Don't miss updates, photos, videos, event listings, and regional news. You can find us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Please check us out, give us a follow, and encourage your friends to do the same.
And PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD! PUBLIC RADIO is only as strong as our community. Please share this weekly update with your friends, family, colleagues, frenemies, pet sitters, and sandwich artists. Anyone can sign up for this newsletter here.