“Off to the WNYC get together,” twittered spicyplumchatni at 5:56pm on Wednesday. “I’ve never just gone to a random event but I am new in NYC and having a radio station in common is good, right?”
About an hour later at the Brooklyn Brewery in Williamsburg, WNYC – the largest NPR affiliate in the country – hosted a meet and greet with Soterios Johnson. The popular local Morning Edition host evidently sports a cult following, notably inspiring a musical score entitled Dance, Soterios Johnson, Dance. Mr. Johnson had just announced that the evening’s trivia quizzes would churn out a prizewinner.
“I think I listen to WNYC too much,” said Jack, an IT consultant who has recently found himself at home more often than he’d like. Disappointment sets in, Jack continued, when the classical music begins to waft through his FM tuning.
As quiz sheets were passed around, plastic cups of Brooklyn Ale were gulped down and devoted listeners began to scour the room for counter-intelligence on answers. Wait, wait! Don’t tell me!
We caught up with Mr. Johnson as he was gratefully accepting praise from a kindly older female listener, and asked him for his thoughts on WNYC’s Brooklyn listenership, the web, and the assumptions his fans make about his appearance.
Brooklyn The Borough: What do public radio listeners have in common?
Soterios Johnson: I think that public radio listeners are as a whole curious – they want to know what’s going on and I think they’re also open minded. They’re willing to hear a viewpoint other than their own. So they’re drawn to us – like the Brian Lehrer Show, where people talk about issues from every side of the spectrum and I think that they – I don’t know, I hate to say it this way but – I think they tend to be smarter than the average person partly because they listen to us, but partly because they bring it to the table. We’re drawn to each other.
BTB: Is the future of WNYC’s listenership in Brooklyn?
SJ: We have a lot of listeners everywhere – we have a lot of listeners in Manhattan, we have a lot in Brooklyn, we have a lot in New Jersey – so I don’t know. I think the demographics of Brooklyn have been changing, so I think that might be part of it. I definitely think we have a strong listenership in Brooklyn; we have a huge future in Brooklyn, I know that. We have a lot of listeners in Queens, everywhere. In some ways Brooklyn is drawing the same kind of listener that we have – the younger professional person, the artist, the person who wants to know what’s going on and wants to know what’s going on in the public radio way, where we’re kind of able to delve into it more deeply. I can only see growth in Brooklyn, that’s for sure.
BTB: What is the difference between the WNYC my parents made me listen to and WNYC now, with the advent of the web?
SJ: I think we’re always trying to find new ways to get the story out, we have a huge initiative to try to do more stuff on the web – even more stuff just for the web. Covering a story on the radio in one way and doing ancillary or tangential stories or deeper stories on the web just to have stuff there for people who want more to get more. So we’re definitely doing more things with video, photographs, blogs, all kinds of stuff. We’re trying to do the public radio thing in every medium possible.
BTB: Does radio have an advantage over print in shifting to the web?
SJ: I think so. Well first of all, I think that radio – and audio – is such an intimate medium that it really connects to people. It’s one thing to read someone’s quote or read a story, but it’s another thing to hear their voice, to hear the person conveying what they’re going through – it really brings you there, it brings you the human quality of the story. So I think we have an advantage over print in that way. In some ways we have an advantage over print in that we’re already a broadcast medium, so when it comes to internet stuff we’re maybe one step ahead of print in that way as well, where print people have to make a huger leap to do the video stuff, or the other kind of stuff that would go on the web.
BTB: I hear you have a cult following. What is the most common thing that listeners say to you when they see you?
SJ: Usually they’re surprised at what I look like because – everybody does it, I do it – when you hear somebody on the radio you have a picture in your mind of what they look like and they almost never look like that. So they’re usually like, “Wow, you’re a lot younger,” or “You’re a lot shorter,” or “I thought you were black.” It’s all great – it’s hilarious, it’s really funny. I love meeting people and it’s a lot of fun, it’s really great.
BTB: Is this event keeping you up past your bedtime?
SJ: Definitely keeping me up past my bedtime, yes. So if I sound a little – if I’m slurring my speech tomorrow morning you’ll know why.
(Photo courtesy of WNYC)
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