Fresh from Oregon, Michigan Radio's new 'Stateside' host relishes Michigan's 'realness'
In January, April Baer took over as host of Michigan Radio's popular "Stateside" program, which hosts thoughtful discussions on topics that span the Michigan gamut - from the injustice of the Flint water crisis to a new book on the Mormon "king" who ruled Beaver Island in Lake Michigan 180 years ago.
Baer, 47, came to Michigan Radio (WUOM-FM - 91.7) from Oregon Public Radio in Portland, where she'd been for 16 years, most recently hosting an arts show, "State of Wonder." Before that, she was in public radio in Columbus and Cleveland. Inevitably, however, since landing in Ann Arbor, it's been total immersion in all things Michigan. As Baer aptly put it, for the past six months she's been drinking from the fire hose.
The Detroit News sat down with Baer in an empty elementary-school playground, amply socially distanced, to talk Michigan v. Oregon, summer cicadas, and what it's like trying to fill the considerable shoes of her predecessor and "Stateside" founder, Cynthia Canty.
So where did you grow up? Were you a West Coast kid?
April Baer: "I grew up in Columbus and went to Ohio State. I'm one of those! But my husband grew up in Ann Arbor. So we've been coming back to visit for the 13 years we've been married."
How would you say Michigan compares to Oregon?
"I would say there’s a realness to Michigan. It's closer to the American experiences of immigration and industrial expansion. Oregon has some of that, but not in the same way.
"Michigan also has a different pace than Oregon – a little less laid back. Not that it's completely amped up. Portland has its own caffeinated energy these days. But Michigan is more experienced in itself, and lives with its history in a different way than Oregon. History is more present here."
Are the people of the two states that different?
I’d forgotten how much Midwesterners downplay their own stories, and tend to think of them as not very relevant. Out in Portland, everyone’s got an autobiography to share with you – and usually they’re pretty interesting. But here it's, ‘Oh, no, you don’t want to talk to me. I’m just Joe Average.’ I find myself having to sell people on what’s compelling about their own lives."
Where do you want to explore in Michigan?
"I so want to get to Sleeping Bear Dunes and Isle Royale. I’d like to give my husband's grandmother a hug in Marquette. She's 96 and just the most wonderful person. We Facetime with her, because that's what we can do right now. And I would love to travel to Cleveland to see my people more often – and have more food. Like Detroit, Cleveland’s a colossally good food town."
Any surprises on returning to the Midwest?
"I'd forgotten how incredibly muggy it is. I’m dying already. But I've been getting back into the ecosystem. I’ve had so many moments where I’ve heard a bird call, seen a bug or tree I haven’t seen in 16 years. I’ve been just delighted by that. But no cicadas! They drive my daughter, who's 10, nuts."
Did you always want to go into radio?
"In college I thought I was going to be videographer or editor and trained for that, but just happened to do this internship in public radio. I realized in three or four days that it was what I wanted to do. It's as much about the community of listeners as the work itself -- that there was this constituency that was into local and global news, music, contemporary performance and the like."
You're stepping in to replace "Stateside" founder, Cynthia Canty. How's that been going?
"It was intimidating. All I did was listen to her for about a year when we started thinking about making the move back to Michigan. I knew what a longtime presence Cynthia was here – she had this deep DNA with the region. But at the same time, the great thing about public radio, perhaps more than commercial radio -- it’s never been just one thing or one voice. You get to evolve shows."
What are your ambitions with "Stateside?"
"You can use almost any news beat as a lens on what’s happening in the world right now. But I like to think that at 'Stateside' we’re opening that up a little, and covering all the beats Michigan Radio is known for – politics, society, the environment and the arts -- but giving ourselves the license to think diagonally sometimes."