Writing Samples

The art of hosting a talk show: Walt Bodine’s 20 years with KCUR

Anyone who has tuned in to the Walt Bodine Show with regularity must feel as if they intimately know its host, the venerable Walt Bodine. With that unmistakably familiar voice and nearly six decades of work in broadcasting, it seems that Bodine has always reigned supreme as king of talk radio in Kansas City. This year marks Bodine’s 20th anniversary hosting the Walt Bodine Show at KCUR — his favorite paying job to date.

I’ve watched it grown and have grown alongside it,” says Bodine of KCUR. Bodine seems surprised at how much time has passed since he began working for KCUR. “All of a sudden I got a letter from the university saying I have a choice of a medal or a fancy clock,” he quips.

When it comes to hosting talk shows, few people have more experience to draw on than Walt Bodine, who was one of the first to make use of the live call-in radio show format in Kansas City. Before his KCUR days, Bodine hosting programs on KMBZ, WDAF, as well as the popular Night Beat show on WHB.

He has covered unusual pets, renowned politicians, where to find the more scrumptious chocolate malts in town, and everything in between — all of which helps account for his unflappable demeanor and quick humor.

So how does he keep the show fresh and relevant to local audiences day in and day out? Walt Bodine has a theory about that.

“A good talk show, if it wants to stick around, had better have variety — lots of it,” he insists.

At KCUR, Bodine has the luxury of being able to choose his guests and the freedom to roam over a vast body of ideas and subject matter that might strike a chord with listeners.

Many elements go into the blend of crafting a compelling talk show, not the least of which include controversy, timely guests and subjects, deep human interest, and a hearty dose of fun. Over the years, Bodine has come to the conclusion that some topics fare better on certain days of the week. For example, medical-related shows go over well on Mondays to match listeners’ sober mood, whereas Fridays are best devoted to things recreational in nature.

Bodine also firmly believes that everyday people often make more appealing interviews than head honchos of organizations or celebrities who are known to all and often over-interviewed.

“If I had my choice, I’d rather have a show which had nothing but strangers calling the whole time,” he says.

The Walt Bodine Show has garnered enough of a following around the country that traveling guests clamor to be on the program, sometimes even rerouting themselves through Kansas City for the opportunity. Bodine stresses that what makes the program distinctive is that, “We’re a talk show that treats people respectfully and enjoys their company.”

He’s into serious discussions with serious people, and that’s what the show attracts.

The host never wields the show as a forum for pushing a personal agenda, nor does he steer his guests in that direction. “There are guys in the world who have an opinion every single day on everything,” Bodine says. “And I have discovered that I am not one of those… In fact, I can’t tell you how many opinions I had that I’ve thrown out in favor of either no opinion or a different one.”

He invites guests and listeners to speak their minds and he clearly respects their viewpoints, which is what keeps people coming back.

A tactic frequently employed by the Walt Bodine Show is that of the listener line, which is when host and producer comb through the day’s newspapers and select major stories or topics they think will resonate with the audience. Amid discussion, listeners call in and voice their comments on the topics of the day.

Bodine is quick to point out the different between a listener line and an open line. “An open line goes on the theory that the host knows everything and you can bring up anything you want and the host will know about it, “he explains. “We don’t try to say we know everything about everything.” It is the observations that arise from commentary with Kansas Citians that make up the heart of the show.

The most rewarding thing for Walt Bodine about hosting a talk show is that he is seldom bored (and never jaded). “A talk show is wonderful because it’s a constant variety of people,” he explains.

After so many years in the business of radio, Bodine can sum up his profession in a sentence. “My main job is to try to extract interesting stuff from people.”

Ho hum indeed.

89.3 KCUR-FM 2003 Year in Review
The Art of Good Radio