“People want to talk about the issues they can’t talk about. Like death,” Moss-Coane said. In the assisted suicide show, the “calls just blew up. People want to talk about caring for their mom and dad in their final days. They shared these amazing stories.” (She added that “the anonymity of radio, the intimacy of radio” offers a powerful potential to connect with the public—inspiring people to share more than they might with, say, a newspaper reporter.)

Radio Times is responsive to listener suggestions—on Facebook, it’s asked for favorite cultural segments to edit into a “best of” rebroadcast, and it solicited questions Moss-Coane would ask during her interview with the Philadelphia schools superintendent.

But the show flexes its editorial muscle to ensure it’s making a meaningful contribution to national and local stories. Sexy or not, the show frequently circles back to local or state issues with national implications, like natural gas and fracking in the Marcellus shale. It’s zeroed in on very local stories about Philadelphia but also recently did a show debating intervention in Syria, because, Moss-Coane said, “we thought it was something important to talk about.

“As a local show that tackles national and international issues, we have a responsibility to listeners,” Moss-Coane said. “No other show I know of devotes an hour to something.” They mean to fill it well. Listeners may testify to a lack of enthusiasm for political stories, but Moss-Coane said that if it interests her and her producers, there are likely others who will be interested as well. Given the longevity of Radio Times, it appears she’s right—perhaps because of the show’s ability to make politics interesting.

Stick with it

Moss-Coane said she’s evolved as a host of Radio Times—her voice is lower than in early shows, she doesn’t get nervous anymore, and, perhaps most significantly, she’s developed “a deep fount of local knowledge, just from all the research and interviews” she’s done.

There’s no escaping the advantage that comes from sticking with it. The station’s consistent investment in the show over the years—it accounts for 500 hours of broadcast time each year—has paid off as the show improved. Not only has Moss-Coane been able to offer more over time, but, as described earlier, the show has built a reputation that allows it to bring in high-quality guests. It’s format—devoting a full hour to an issue, twice a day, five days a week—is also an unusually rich space for tricky policy conversations to transcend sound bites and gain real nuance.

But sticking with a story, and trusting your editorial judgment on a day-to-day basis, is also important. “Maybe we decide what to do next day,” Moss-Coane said, describing the planning progress. “By 3pm, oh gosh, it seems like its old news.”

The temptation is to scrap the plan and pick up on a more current trending news topic instead. But patience pays off.

“Having worked at the same place for, gosh, 30 years, when there were actual typewriters and smoking in the station, you see how the social media revolution has made the job so much easier and so much harder,” Moss-Coane said. Particularly with the show’s broad scope, she and producers can feel “jerked around from one topic to another.”

But, she said, “you have to have the confidence to say, okay, we don’t have to jump on everything every morning. It’s okay to take a day or two” before you tackle a subject.

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Anna Clark is CJR's correspondent for Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. A 2011 Fulbright fellow, Clark has written for The New York Times, The American Prospect, and Grantland. She can be found online at www.annaclark.net and on Twitter @annaleighclark. She lives in Detroit.