20, No. 14, Feb. 15, 2001
by Bill Wiegand
On the job: David
by Sharita Forrest
joined WILL-AMs "Focus 580" when it was created in 1981.
He has been the full-time host of the live interview call-in program
since 1985. Inge earned a bachelors degree in psychology from
Northern Illinois University and a masters degree in journalism
from the UI.
580 is celebrating its 20th anniversary this month, right?
The official date
was Feb. 2, but were celebrating it on the 28th with a special
event a show featuring the president of National Public Radio,
Kevin Klose. And well have a live studio audience, just like Oprah!
[Klose will be the featured guest on the anniversary program at 11 a.m.,
after a 10 a.m. retrospective with portions of the programs most
Youve been on the air for so long, how do you come up with ideas
We do 10 hours of
interviews a week, and sometimes that seems a little overwhelming. But
there are so many things that are worth talking about that Im
sure were never going to run out of topics. We always manage to
find things that are new, that we havent done before.
Where do you get your topic ideas?
We get our ideas
from lots of places: listeners, other staff people, speakers coming
to campus. We try to keep on top of current events and look for programs
that we think offer issues that are important to discuss and we try
to find people to talk about those things. Were lucky enough that
we can sometimes indulge our own curiosities as long as its something
that will also be of interest to our listeners. I think we try to do
things that are fairly challenging and do them in a way that makes them
Are there certain topics that inspire more interest from your listeners?
The shows that get
the most calls are the ones that are devoted to the nuts and bolts issues
of daily life: home maintenance, financial planning, womens health,
gardening, computers and stereo equipment. Some of these topics are
done monthly and as soon as people hear what the shows about,
they dont have to think very long before they have a question.
is your audience?
It isnt just
Champaign-Urbana or the UI, and its very diverse. Our coverage
area is very large: It goes as far north as Chicago, down into southern
Illinois and a big chunk of western Indiana. I think its people
who are sincerely curious and trying very hard to understand the world
and what happens every day.
How much time do you spend preparing for interviews?
Every day I spend
two hours on the air, but I spend a lot more time preparing for the
show. It depends on the topic, but Id guess I probably spend three
to four hours preparing for every hour that Im on the air, reading,
doing research. Every show doesnt take that much time, but a lot
of shows do.
You interview a lot of authors. What do you do when a person isnt
real talkative on the air?
There are people
who are great writers who find it easier to write than to talk about
what they do. There are those people you have to work with more, give
them more questions, encourage them, even pull the stuff out of them.
We try to create a relaxed, conversational atmosphere. I think that
guests respond when they know that the interviewer has spent time preparing
and has some background on the topic. Over and over again, authors have
said to me theyre stunned that Ive even looked at their
books. Im sure there are a lot of people out there interviewing
these authors, and theyve never even opened their books. I dont
know how they do it.
What is the best part of your job?
Getting to learn
new things. It has great variety. I get a chance to meet interesting
folks and all those things that they tell you are the virtues of being
in journalism. I have a lot of freedom to choose topics I want to do,
provided its something thats going to be interesting to
What are the challenges of doing a live call-in show?
Its a little
unpredictable. Guests can tense up when we go on the air. And when I
put a caller on the air, all I know is where theyre calling from.
I dont know what theyre going to say. By and large, the
callers are very thoughtful and constructive and add something to the
program. There are some that are a little bit wacky, but it wouldnt
be a real call-in show without them.
long have you and your producer, Jack Brighton, been working together
and what is Jacks role?
Weve been working
together 13 1/2 years. I also have another part-time producer, Harriet
Williamson, who also works with Celeste Quinn on the afternoon show.
The producers are really important in terms of developing ideas, making
contacts, getting background materials for the hosts, setting up shows
and getting all the logistical stuff worked out getting the guests on
spouse, Celeste Quinn, is also a call-in show host. What are the advantages
and pitfalls of having a spouse who does the same job? Are you ever
competing for the same guests?
We spend too much
time at home talking about work, and somebody has to say, Thats
it no more talking about work tonight. We spend a lot of
our home life preparing for the next days programs. We bounce
ideas off each other, asking How should I approach this? What
should I ask? It can be very helpful. But, no, we dont fight
over guests, although sometimes well suggest guests or topics.
Whats the most important skill for a talk-show host?
Preparation, certainly, and going into an interview knowing what you
want to accomplish, but then you also have to listen very carefully
to the person youre talking with. And you always have to adjust
where youre going depending upon what youre getting back.
Theres a story I like to tell. Celeste and I like to go into this
little restaurant in Urbana, and we became friends with the waitress.
And she was surprised when she found out we were talk-show hosts. She
said, "But, youre so quiet!"