CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — For more than 100 years, National Public Radio (NPR) station WILL-FM in Champaign, Illinois, has worked to deliver the news to this largely rural part of the state, where farm fields largely outnumber residential homes. Now, a new public radio program based in this Midwestern city is hoping to elevate the voices of voters in the middle of the country who are often ignored by the national media.
As the executive director of WILL-FM, Moss Bresnahan sees it as the mission of this 20-person newsroom to cover a community that encompasses both a college and tens of thousands of acres of farmland, especially at a time when many local newspapers are disappearing.
"In many places, public radio is now the only radio station left with consolidation taking place, so it's up to us to bring local news," he said.
More than 68 million Americans live in the Midwest, accounting for nearly 28% of this country's population. Hardly ever, though, are national political programs based from here. But with the help of WILL-FM, long-time public radio host Jeremy Hobson is trying to change that.
"This is a very important midterm election; not everyone pays attention," Hobson said in a recent interview inside the WILL-FM studios.
Hobson started his career in Illinois. Eventually, he went on to host the NPR show "Here and Now." But after leaving the network a few years ago, he started realizing how much of the national media is consolidated to coastal cities. He felt places like his hometown of Urbana, Illinois, were left out of the national dialogue.
"There are all these stereotypes from people on the coasts and I want to show that the middle of the country is just as dynamic and the people that live here should be part of the national conversation," Hobson added.
To help fill that void, Hobson decided to take his 20 years in public broadcasting and give his community a national platform. Last week, he launched an idea on 500 NPR stations—a show called "The Middle."
Everything about the one-hour radio program is tailored to the middle of the country. It airs live at 8 p.m. CT so folks in this timezone and in Mountain Standard Time have a chance to be a part of the conversation after work.
"The goal of this show is to bring voices from the vast middle of the country together," Hobson noted.
Each week, Hobson and his crew will also host the show from a new city and bring in guests from that city. During the first show, their guests included Urbana, Illinois Mayor Diane Marlin and Phillip Bailey from USA Today. Both helped Hobson field phone calls that came in from across the country.
During the first program, the show focused on issues that would be driving voters to the polls in November. Callers voiced concerns on everything from abortion to inflation and even the current state of democracy in America.
"The number of calls we got, there's a hunger for people in the middle of the country to be a part of this conversation," said Hobson.
For now, "The Middle" is only set to run three more shows with the last airing the day after the election. At the end of the day, Hobson's hope is to give a microphone to people from the middle of the country so that this election their voices can be heard from coast-to-coast.