History Radio Show: Drive-Time History, With a Dry Sense of Humor





Three history professors spent a recent Sunday afternoon leaning into microphones in a small studio near the University of Virginia, trying to become radio stars — and attempting to invent a new model of educational programming in the process.

When they don their bulky headphones, they become "the American history guys," hosts of the monthly public-radio show BackStory. Peter S. Onuf, a UVa history professor known for his work on the American Revolution, gives his perspectives on the 18th century. Edward L. Ayers, president of the University of Richmond and a Civil War historian, is the show's 19th-century expert. And Brian Balogh, an associate professor of history at UVa, is the 20th-century guy. In each episode the professors interview other historians, playfully one-up each other on historical facts, and take calls from listeners who ask how contemporary life compares with the America of the past.

For more than three years, the professors have logged several hours each week crafting their radio personae. So far the show airs on only a handful of stations (and as an online podcast), but its organizers are thinking big, hoping to win national syndication and turn the trio into household names.

First, though, these academics have to learn to be effective broadcasters. And Mr. Balogh, for one, admits that he is not used to communicating to a general audience. "My scholarship in the past has been impenetrable," he deadpans.

Luckily, the history guys have some help. Three seasoned radio producers sit in the room adjoining theirs, hunched over a mixing board. The producers make sure the sound levels are even and — more important — steer the professors away from academic jargon and too many big words....

comments powered by Disqus
History News Network