December 27, 2019

The Kojo Shows That Stuck With Us In 2019

By Margaret Barthel

Kojo listens to audience members at a town hall event on the arts and gentrification in D.C.

Kojo listens to audience members at a town hall event on the arts and gentrification in D.C.

Here at The Kojo Nnamdi Show, we put together a lot of conversations — one or two nearly every weekday of the year. By our count, we’ve produced close to 400 individual shows in 2019. And we love all of them equally.

Just kidding! We’ve got our favorites. Here are some of the moments from this year that stuck with us even after we left the control room.

Our Most Delicious Food Shows

As anyone who’s been to our office can attest, the Kojo team likes food. A lot. And we like talking about local food, the people who make it, the people who serve it, and the people who eat it.

Young D.C. Food Entrepreneurs Are Plating Up Tradition

Mohinga, the de facto national dish of Burma, is a catfish curry typically eaten for breakfast with thin noodles, banana stem, ginger, catfish and lemongrass, topped with boiled egg, lime and optional chili spice. The mother-and-daughter team behind Toli Moli in D.C. are launching a new fine-dining Burmese restaurant this spring. (Farrah Skeiky)

This segment was one of the most memorable for me – not only because it was focused on one of my all time favorite topics (food!), but also because, as an immigrant, the experiences of these food entrepreneurs really resonated with me. It was so inspiring to meet all of these guests and to learn about the innovative ways they are honoring traditional cultural cuisines while also innovating for diners in the D.C. region in 2019. – Monna Kashfi, Managing Producer

86 The Attitude: How To Be A Better Customer In Bars And Restaurants

Yelpers and foodies have opinions about what restaurants can do better. But what do restaurant industry workers think that customers can do better? Washington City Paper Laura Hayes inspired this conversation, where we brought in folks who work in the restaurant industry for a discussion about what to do — and not to do — when you go out to eat. What I learned: Some people take their shoes off at bars. C’mon, guys. – Cydney Grannan, Producer

We’re With The Band(s) 

D.C.’s music scene is rich. So it’s no surprise that some of our high notes on-air from 2019 were, well, literally notes.

From Black Cowboys To Old Town Road: Some Words (And Songs) With Dom Flemons 

One of the highlights of 2019 was getting the chance to record a few music shows in WAMU’s Bluegrass Studio, and my favorite one was Kojo’s interview with music scholar, historian and multi-instrumentalist Dom Flemons. Flemons took us through the history of Black country music from the Black cowboys of the 19th century to one of the biggest hits of the year, Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road.” Kojo always seems to have a lot of fun doing music shows, and I hope there are many more to come! – Mark Gunnery, Former Producer

(Want to hear more from Dom Flemons? Check out the set he performed for us below, and Mark’s write-up of the conversation.)

How D.C. Band Oh He Dead Went From Folksy To Funky

John Daise (left), Cynthia “CJ” Johnson and Alex Salser of the D.C. band Oh He Dead. (Tyrone Turner / WAMU)

Nothing’s as fun as diving into DC’s music scene. This show with Kojo interviewing the “grooviest band in DC” is a joy to listen to. It’s one of my favorites not just because of the content — it was also a team effort to produce with the irreplaceable Mark Gunnery and our extremely talented engineers. – Cydney Grannan, Producer

The Moments That Made Us Think

We’re pretty busy in the control room when the show is live. We’re writing tweets, fielding your calls, making helpful and unhelpful in-the-moment suggestions to Kojo. But sometimes in the middle of it all, someone says something in the studio that makes us pause, take a breath, and sit with the emotion or the tension it creates.

River Of Redemption: Connecting To The Anacostia With Words, Photos and Songs

Fall on the Anacostia River. (Krista Schyler)

When I first began reading Krista Schyler’s “River of Redemption,” I began to realize that the much maligned river that flows through my city is not only beautiful, but home to an astounding array of wildlife. Then I heard Brent Peterson’s songs about the Anacostia, and I began to learn about its rich history. I love the way Krista and Brent share their stories of discovering the Anacostia — Brent sang about it on the air!  And I love the idea that they might have inspired more people to appreciate and work toward the redemption of the river. – Lauren Markoe, Producer 

Colonel Charles McGee: Examining A Life Of Service And Fortitude From 45,000 Feet — And 100 Years

This was a candid, inspiring interview with a 100-year-old World War II pilot — a Tuskegee airman, in fact — who told us about the racism and bigotry he faced when he came home with remarkable candor. He went on to serve in Korea and Vietnam, and he recently went flying to mark his hundredth birthday.  – Maura Currie, Producer

Do You Talk About Climate Change?

Along with many other news organizations, WAMU and The Kojo Nnamdi Show participated in #CoveringClimateNow earlier this fall, an effort to increase our coverage of climate change. We talked about local science and local impacts pretty extensively — but what sticks with me is the discussion we put together about why people don’t actually talk about climate change very much with family and friends, even though they say they care a lot about it. We heard from faith leaders, educators, parents, psychologists and a very enterprising 12-year-old, all of them parsing out why it’s tough to have conversations about climate change, and how they think people can get past those barriers. – Margaret Barthel, Producer

The Life — And Tragic Death — Of Bijan Ghaisar

Bijan Ghaisar’s family and friends gather at a protest last February. Ghaisar was killed when park police fired nine gun shots into his Jeep Grand Cherokee. (Courtesy of the Ghaisar family)

“You have always told me that, ‘In life, one can build many things, but there is nothing like building a family.’ I hope one day I can be as great of a father to my kids as you have been to Negeen and me.” – Bijan Ghaisar in a letter to his father

Live radio is, by nature, an imperfect platform — the clock works against you and, despite hours of planning and research, you can never prevent the unexpected. But what our show allows for is moments that are surprising and — in this case — deeply moving. This moment, when James Ghaisar read a birthday message from his son Bijan, was among the most poignant. It’s one thing to read about a tragedy like Bijan’s — a 25-year-old killed by the police. It’s another to hear directly from those affected. To imagine what it would mean to lose someone this way. To hear the pain in their voices that two years’ time has not diminished. I’ve produced a lot of shows, but this one I have not been able to get out of my head. – Julie Depenbrock, Producer

The Times We Broke Out Of The Studio

Most of the time, we have to stick pretty close to the studio where the show happens every day. So it’s extra special when we get to go meet our listeners and hear their stories face-to-face.

What Do Local Students Think Of National Politics?

Sam, a student at Thurgood Marshall Academy, talks about gun violence at a Kojo Nnamdi Show event on youth civic engagement. (Tyrone Turner / WAMU)

We pride ourselves on focusing on local news, not national politics. But sometimes those two things intersect, and we get to tackle the challenge of taking a big, national issue and figuring out what the local slice of the conversation looks like. So, in the heat of the impeachment hearings, we didn’t race to Capitol Hill — we spent the day with the AP Government class at Thurgood Marshall Public Charter Academy in Anacostia, hearing about how local students are thinking about the upheavals in national politics these days (spoilers: D.C. statehood comes up!). Their comments were insightful and funny and wise, and gave us fresh perspectives on impeachment and the Democratic primary contest. – Margaret Barthel and Cydney Grannan, Producers

(Later in the same week, we heard from local seniors about what it’s like to live through impeachment for a second or third time.)

Kojo Visits Eden Center

Producing the Kojo Pop Up videos was so much fun – not only because it let me fulfill my love for all things video production (which is harder to do when you switch to working in radio after 15 years in TV and film!), but it also allowed us to take the show out of the studio and hear people’s stories in the places where they are unfolding. At Eden Center, we got Kojo on camera making spring rolls, trying bubble tea — and talking to a supermarket employee who learned English listening to the show. – Monna Kashfi, Managing Producer

A Town Hall On School Diversity In Montgomery County

Who goes to which school? It’s one of the thorniest questions in the D.C. region these days, as the population swells and suburban school systems scramble to accommodate a new and increasingly diverse student body. The debates are fierce, and center on things at the bedrock of people’s lives: their neighborhood, their identity, the opportunities afforded their kids, their feelings about race and class. So when the Montgomery County Board of Education voted to conduct a countywide school boundary study, we knew we wanted to be part of the conversation early. As part of the Kojo 20 events series — which marked Kojo’s twentieth year on-air at WAMU — we hosted a town hall on the subject. One thing that sticks with me: Students themselves have been leading the debate on the subject (more on that here). At the event, many of them told the room about how they see school boundaries and school diversity influencing their experiences at school every day. – Margaret Barthel, Producer 

Of course, none of these shows would have been possible without all of the phone calls, tweets, emails and online comments we receive from all of you each and every day. We’re excited about the conversations we’re getting ready to share with you in 2020. Whether you’re tuning in to the live show at noon or streaming the podcast as you go about your day, we hope you’ll keep engaging with us. We’ll be listening.