This is a rare quality in anyone, but particularly in an industry where hosts are expected to build a reputation by honing a strong and sometimes polarizing point-of-view. In such a context, being nonpartisan can be equated with being neutral. But the terms are not synonymous, and Fahle is the evidence—he makes a point of researching the issues he covers, and expresses his own opinions clearly even as he leaves substantial room for others to make their case. He regularly challenges his guests, as well as listeners on the call-in segments, but retains enough of a calm “regular guy” tone to keep the show fairly well balanced. Said Weber: “He’s very personable, and able to negotiate really fine lines that divide people.”
While the show has a lot of ground it means to cover, it prioritizes space for on-air listener commentary. Weber told me that the show likes to do a call-in segment every day; Isabella likes to have at least a bit of call-in every hour. “We get callers from all over the region, not just Detroit,” Weber said. She has noticed that men tend to call in right away, while women won’t call until later in the segment. But overall, there is a noteworthy diversity among those who pick up the phone: Detroiters, suburbanites, older people, college students. There are at least two people the show is sure to hear from anytime the topic is “something political,” Weber said, but Miller added that, “I’ve been really surprised at how few regular callers there are, compared to other radio stations I worked at.” The engagement with listeners extends to the show’s Facebook page, where both the producers and the host are active.
(For all its virtues, the show is not immunue from the political fights that often surround public radio. Isabella suggested that public radio itself has become so ingrained in many people’s minds as being liberal that “anytime you say something not right-wing, they say you’re being too liberal.” Weber, meanwhile, adopted a stance often used by nonpartisan media outlets: “We get it from both sides, which I take as a sign that we’re doing a good job.”)
There have been talks about taking the show statewide, and while that discussion hasn’t necessarily been resolved, Weber said, “I do know that Craig is deeply committed to the region, as all the followers of the show know. He’s really so interested in Detroit, Oakland County, Macomb County, and Lansing for how it affects us here.”
And that matters. The timing of the rise of The Craig Fahle Show may be no coincidence. Detroit’s newspapers still provide quality reporting; the Detroit Free Press just won an Edward R. Murrow award for an online video documentary, and the political coverage of both the Free Press and The Detroit News has a good deal to recommend it. But in 2009, about the same time that The Craig Fahle Show relaunched under its new name, the big regional newspapers reduced home delivery to three days a week. In July of that same year, The Ann Arbor News ended its 174-year run.
“Especially with the dissolution of newspapers, this is what regional journalism is all about,” said Weber.
By the end of my visit to the station, one of the show’s regular guests had turned up: Saeed Kahn, a Wayne State professor who specializes in Pakistan and Islamic political thought. He wore all black and was carrying an umbrella; he leaned back in one of the office’s rolling chairs, clearly comfortable here. As introduction, Fahle gestured to him and said, “He’s one of the smartest guys I know.”
I turned to Khan, my pen still poised on the page from the notes I’d been taking.
“Tell me something smart,” I said to him.
Without missing a beat: “I listen to this show.”
Correction: This story originally misstated the name of the show’s executive producer. She is Joan Cherry Isabella, not Joan Isabella Cherry. CJR regrets the error.