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NPR’s “1A” comes to Pittsburgh

Written By Carley Bonk, Editor Elect

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NPR’s “1A” host, Joshua Johnson, visited Pittsburgh to host a live show at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture Downtown last Thursday evening.

Johnson spent last week working alongside journalists at the local public radio station, 90.5 WESA, whose staff helped organize the event, according to General Manager John Sutton.

“We try to bring in some of the hosts, reporters and correspondents that appear on the NPR programs,” Sutton said. “1A is a relatively new program and Joshua Johnson is a very dynamic host. People are always interested in attaching faces to voices and learning about somebody that would not normally shine the spotlight on his or herself.”

Johnson and his team also held two live shows in the WESA studio in the South Side prior to the event. “Artificial Intelligence At Home in Pittsburgh” was the focus of Thursday’s “1A” show where Johnson spoke with local experts on Artificial Intelligence developed in the city.

“We’ve been very impressed and pleased with the thoughtfulness the ‘1A’ crew put into them coming here, meeting the WESA newsroom staff and sharing their insights on the work that they do,” Sutton said.

The event on Thursday evening ran similar to the typical “1A” set-up. The audience heard an early “Friday News Round-up,” where Johnson and his guests  David Hickton, founding director of the Institute for Cyber Law, Policy and Security, Dana Brown, executive director of the Pennsylvania Center for Women & Politics and WESA’s government editor Chris Potter reviewed
current events.

On stage, the professionals commented on the Supreme Court nominee hearings of Brett Kavanaugh, the opioid epidemic, the Pennsylvania Catholic Diocese court filings, Amazon’s potential move to Pittsburgh and National Cardigan Day, paying homage to Pittsburgh’s own Mister Rogers.

As far as the growth of Pittsburgh and the fear of gentrification as it becomes more of a technological hub, Brown said the city has a long way to go.

“We want a more inclusive Pittsburgh,” she said. “We need better transportation… we need to have a conversation on not just how we attract these tech giants, but how it is going to affect Pittsburghers that are already here and what that’s going to do to our infrastructure.”

Following the round-up, Johnson brought on stage Pittsburgher John Meyer, who drew the stick-cartoon drawing of a cowboy that “1A” seized as a humorous way to share their topics on social media from the start. An avid fan, Meyer was one of the earliest connections between “1A” and Pittsburgh.

Kevin Gavin, host of WESA’s “The Confluence” then held a Q and A session with Johnson in the guest chair. The audience learned how Johnson is able to look at the news with a clinical, objective stance.

“If you can’t focus, you can’t function; the news is the same way,” Johnson said. “What I do in the lab with my mic – my job is to try to wash my hands the best I can of my biases, of my prejudices, of my preconceptions, of my stereotypes, of my politics and just learn and just focus.”

The crowd learned of his love of Star Trek and how he connected his favorite installment, “Deep Space Nine,” to the work he does today.

“It talked about where life was for me and people I knew,” Johnson said. “It felt visceral; it felt real and it taught me a lot about the way people navigate life. My job as a host is to not be the smartest person in the room. It’s just to be the most observant.”

Johnson also mentioned how he believes his audience has just as much a responsibility to share the news.

“What are you doing to get more people to listen,” Johnson asked. “When was the last time you shared a link with someone to something you heard on WESA? We feel like we are preaching to the choir, and we are – so come down from the firestand and evangelize. There are people in intellectual silos all over the county that we will never be able to reach, but you can because you know them.”

Sutton said the visit presented itself as an opportunity for everyone involved.

“Open and civil discussion has never been more important and everything we do here we like to say embodies the sound of a free press,” Sutton said. “It’s not only a chance for Pittsburghers to learn about 1A and Joshua Johnson, but through 1A, his audience is going to learn a little bit more about Pittsburgh.”

Johnson ended the live show with a standing ovation from the crowd, citing a Dr. Suess quote.

“Remember what Dr. Suess wrote at the end of ‘The Lorax,’” he said. “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.”

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