Jean Feraca still remembers what went through her head as she saw the pictures of Earth the astronauts beamed back from space during the Apollo 10 mission in 1969: Earth as one, a beautiful blue planet without divisions or geopolitical boundaries, suspended in blackness. The image inspired in Feraca the idea for "Earth Radio," a global conversation over the airwaves and a dialogue to unite the planet. But an idea that grand and revolutionary takes time to ferment. Just this year, the veteran Wisconsin Public Radio talk-show host finally saw that dream start to bear fruit in the new program "Here on Earth."
Before the Apollo mission, Feraca was already inspired by the power of talk radio, especially on the humanities subjects she tended to favor. She loved how people from all walks of lifetruck drivers, award-winning writers, artists, factory inspectorscould communicate as equals on a topic that moved them all, unhampered by those fatal assessments by which we tend to judge each other face-to-face.
Years later, Feraca began collaborating with Madison-based journalist John Nichols, who became a featured guest on "Conversations with Jean Feraca" in a monthly series called "From Shanghai to Sheboygan," a round-up of international news stories drawn from newspapers from around the world. The idea was to close the information gap caused by an American media that delivers international news on the basis of crisis and breakdown rather than breakthroughs, thereby reinforcing the idea that we have little or nothing to learn from the rest of the world.
Then came September 11, 2001. Like many members of the media throughout the country, Feraca found that her idea of taking the rest of the world seriously was suddenly invested with real weight. When she returned to Wisconsin Public Radio in July 2003 after a yearlong reduced appointment, she convinced the network to let her try something newand "Here on Earth" was born.
From 2 to 4 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday, "Here on Earth" delves into the world outside the United Statesor looks at its home country from a displaced perspective. The show's preferred topics include international movements, books and films, cultural events, food, efforts to better living conditions around the worldin short, anything that's likely to help listeners renew their sense of wonder and adventure.
Another part of the vision is to attract callers from many different countries. On the rare occasions that's happened in the show's first three months, Feraca describes it as "thrilling." The producers are working diligently to make it happen routinely, promoting the program's Internet Webcast to international constituencies.
For many years, producer Carmen Jackson has worked with Feraca, finding guests for the weekday morning call-in program, setting up interviews and keeping her eye on the latest and best offerings from the publishing industry. Now, Jackson is lead producer at "Here on Earth"not a bad fit for the transplanted Peruvian native.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison's Division of International Studies has recently signed on as an official partner. UW-Madison has some of the strongest international offerings in the country, and its participation should facilitate well-rounded, innovative coverage of the rest of the world, as well as bring some international listeners into the fold. "Here on Earth" is currently searching for a graduate student intern with an international studies background to help the program reach out to the rest of the world.
Even more recently, the UW-Madison Library System offered its assistance in getting the word out to other countries, finding potential guests and enriching the links section of the program's Web site, a crucial element which Feraca and Web Producer Benson Gardner hope will turn the show into more than just a radio show, but also a galvanizing force for positive global change.
WPR personnel Joe Hardtke and Caryl Wheeler are also on board for the effort. So the circle of "Here on Earth" seems to be growing wider and wider. The show's team hopes that expansion won't stop until the circle is as big as the planet.