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New Beginnings: Ann Alquist; Rick Gion with Prairie Plates

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Welcome to a transformative chapter at Prairie Public as Ann Alquist takes the helm as the new radio director. Kick off the Short and Sweet Member Drive with us, and indulge in the delectable world of chocolate on this week's Prairie Plates featuring Rick Gion.

Ann Alquist Interview Highlights:

  1. Diverse Global Background: Ann Alquist's unique perspective shaped by her experiences growing up in Germany, witnessing the fall of the Berlin Wall, and her professional journey across the United States from Alaska to North Carolina and Minnesota.
  2. Historical Connection and Inspirational Stories: Sharing a historic moment with former director Bill Thomas, witnessing the fall of the Berlin Wall, and her commitment to telling the stories of regions, like the tale of Bob Asp and his Viking ship project in Moorhead, Minnesota.
  3. Future of Radio and Digital Media: Alquist emphasizes radio's evolving relevance in the digital age, leveraging mobile technology and redefining radio as a versatile and accessible medium for storytelling and information.
  4. Community Engagement and Problem-Solving: Her vision for Prairie Public involves deep community engagement, serving as an honest broker to facilitate dialogue and address public issues, highlighting the importance of public media in community cohesion and democracy.
  5. Innovation and Partnerships in Media: Alquist advocates for innovative partnerships across media platforms and organizations to ensure a well-informed citizenry, reflecting on her past efforts to foster hyper-local news through the Twin Cities Media Alliance.

Transcript of interview with Ann Alquist:


Anne, I want to bring a little bit more focus to you and what you're going to bring to the table here. So just for starters, you've worked in Alaska, you've worked in North Carolina, you've worked in Minnesota, you're from California, you grew up in Germany. What made you apply to be the director of radio?

So I didn't know.

Ann Alquist, Director of Radio

Our former director of radio, Bill Thomas, what we do share, we've got an important historic moment that we share together, which we were both there when the Berlin Wall fell. I was a child at the time, my parents were schoolteachers at the international school, the Frankfurt International School. We were going to a local German public school at the time, but they took us out of school for three weeks and we got on a train and got to watch fascism fall and democracy reign.

Craig Blumenshine, Main Street

Do you remember it well?

Ann Alquist, Director of Radio

Oh yeah, absolutely. I was 11 and it was magical, it was incredible. And I remember that New Year's Eve because my best friend growing up was Polish, her family had had escaped and come to West Germany and they were relatives.

I'm gonna start to cry, it was so moving, but had relatives she'd never even spoken to because of the because of the Iron Curtain. And so I had the opportunity to meet relatives that she'd never met before. So it was a really magical time.

So Bill Thomas. We have that in common, it's surprising.

Ashley Thornberg, Main Street

We have a small state, but we have a small world. And now you're the Prairie Public Director of Radio. But again, why did you apply for this job?

What attracted you to this part of the world?

Ann Alquist, Director of Radio

You know, I love this part of the country because, you know, because I love demystifying and revealing stories that people think they know about a place. Alaska is like that and I think the Peru region is like that as well. I don't think I know it's exactly like that.

What the governor said really resonated with me. We've got, you know, we need to get our story out there. Absolutely.

And so I love being able to point out, you know, the stories of our of our region. Like when people said Fargo, you know, North Dakota, why would you want it in January? And I said, can I please tell you the story of Bob Asp?

Can I please tell you the story of Bob Asp? I've been to Asp? Yeah, I mean this in Moorhead, Minnesota.

I mean that story, again, I'll probably, you know, I'll probably start to cry. That man had a dream. He wanted to build a Viking ship and he wanted to sail it back home.

You know, he wanted to and he didn't live to see that dream, but he did live to see it in Duluth Harbor and float and it worked. This is an 8th century Viking ship replica and his children, his children sailed it across the ocean. I tell people that story about the Viking ship in Moorhead, Fargo-Moorhead area, and they're just shocked.

Like, I want to go. It's a weird ship.

Ashley Thornberg, Main Street

It's very cool.

Ann Alquist, Director of Radio

It's very cool. And then the, and then just, and there's the pictures of the children. So I've just always had an interest and I think it's because my own story, you know, growing up as a little kid and what was in West Germany and then people and going to German school and then the international school.

And, you know, I think just my own, you know, my own story was sort of was strange and unique. And, and so I just was always interested in listening to other people's stories and understanding their nuance because I felt like nobody was really listening to my own nuance story.

Craig Blumenshine, Main Street

And I wonder why radio and I ask, I almost say radio in air quotes. Many across the country and in other places think radio might be a dying medium, but is radio really radio in your eyes and what the future might hold?

Ann Alquist, Director of Radio

Well, I would say that radio is, radio doesn't have an audience problem and audio is going everywhere. We now have this wonderful platform called our phones, our mobile phones. And so we're able to carry, I mean, we sort of functionally have a, have a radio in our, in our pockets.

I would also like to point out the original term for radio, the wireless. It was called the wireless. It was, it was the original Wi-Fi.

Craig Blumenshine, Main Street

I ask it in the context of we having a discussion in the office and someone said, you know, my daughter doesn't even know maybe how to work a radio. Right. You know, does, does that interest you at all relative to what you have in front of you?

Ann Alquist, Director of Radio

Oh, absolutely. I mean, I, we have to, yeah, we have to use the, the words that are going to resonate with people to describe the platforms, you know, that makes sense to them. I mean, we're in the communications biz.

We have to communicate with people about the relevant delivery platforms, the delivery platforms that are relevant to them. Absolutely. You know, so that, so like podcasts, I mean, if you want to unpack that word, I mean, it's a pipe, you know, you know, we don't, we don't say, you know, transmitters.

But that's functionally what a podcast is. It's a, it's a pipe. It's mobile audio.

It's time shiftable. You know, you can move it around and listen to it at your, at your leisure. But, you know, but it's a, it now connotes a certain meeting.

I think it connotes a type of creativity. I think it, you know, connotes a maker class or a maker group of, group of people. And so, so we need to use the words that are going to resonate with people.

Ashley Thornberg, Main Street

Yeah. What are some of the biggest trends that you are looking at in terms of maybe what scares you and what sounds like it could be great? Opportunities.

Ann Alquist, Director of Radio

Yeah. The exciting, yeah, the goals that we can set for ourselves and how exciting those goals can be. Well, I think, you know, well, I mean, I guess I'll start with what scares me.

I think what scares me, gosh, what does scare me? I'm such an optimist. I gotta be totally honest with you.

That's a little, that one's a little tough. I think what scares me is hopelessness. You know, is when communities feel hopeless about their futures, when communities feel disconnected from each other and they can't see a way out.

Craig Blumenshine, Main Street

So that The school closes, something's different. It's not the same.

Ann Alquist, Director of Radio

Yeah. And I, that's so, and what also scares me is not having an honest broker in our communities. You know, who do you, who do you turn to, to be able to have that public square, to be able to have that dialogue?

Because really, and this is what excites me, is we're in a really unique position as a public service media institution to help communities solve public problems. We're a public institution. We can help communities solve public problems.

And I want to, I want us to be that honest broker. You know, we'll know we're doing our jobs when we're getting the call, when we're getting the calls. And they're saying, Ashley, I need you to come to Regent.

You know, I need you to facilitate the dialogue. I need Craig. I need, I need the honest brokers that is Prairie Public because you're such a respected institution.

Craig Blumenshine, Main Street

That's what I want. Is that what you envision community engagement to be? Or what does that mean to you?

And how do you plan to really understand what the Prairie Region, what the state of North Dakota is most interested in?

Ann Alquist, Director of Radio

Yeah, I mean, community engagement is my definition. Many, many years later is still the same. It's about identifying, understanding, and then responding to community needs and aspirations.

So I still stick with it all these many years later. And so you're right, that starts with listening, identifying, identifying it. And then with listening, I mean, really listening, somebody may be saying something.

But understanding it, being empathetic towards their point of view, that's understanding what the needs and aspirations are. And then identifying how we as a trusted news outlet can meet them.

Craig Blumenshine, Main Street

Did you study the media landscape of North Dakota, kind of in your context of preparing that? This is what I want to tell the people at Prairie Public that I'm going to be interviewing with. Do you have a sense of the media landscape here?

Ann Alquist, Director of Radio

Oh, yes, absolutely. Actually, one of my one of my dear friends was so excited. Her great-grandfather actually was a governor of North Dakota.

And so she, Kelly Scott, she was very excited about me coming here. And she's really looking forward to visiting her her family's cabin in Detroit Lakes. And so we're already planning our get together.

But she, I mean, was just thrilled that that I would be able to get the chance to meet the folks at the forum in Fargo. She was really intrigued by the opportunities to develop digital products here because North Dakota, like you were talking about the media landscape. I mean, one of the things that is really impressive about North Dakota, I don't know who did this.

I need to investigate this more. Somebody invested in fiber in this state. This state, for a rural part of the country, for quote unquote, flyover country, it's really well connected.

Craig Blumenshine, Main Street

I have two strands of fiber coming through my property from two different providers that I can take advantage of. That's awesome. Yeah.

Ashley Thornberg, Main Street

And our governor is a big tech guy. So that's not actually very surprising. And I'm wondering if you could talk a little bit more about partnerships with other journalism outlets.

Some people get very worried that newspapers are closing down and that radio listenership, terrestrial radio listenership is going down. Maybe digital is still increasing. But, you know, in Minnesota Public Radio, they have a position where they work with one of the commercial news stations and they share a reporter.

Other places, I'm thinking like the North Dakota Monitor, a statewide online news presence. What are your thoughts about teamwork in the current media landscape?

Ann Alquist, Director of Radio

I think it's essential. I think it's essential because, I mean, ultimately, you know, we can't have a functioning democracy if we don't have an informed citizenry. So every media outlet, if you're commercial, if you're non-commercial, if you're online, if you're a legacy broadcaster, we're all interested in making sure that our communities are informed because we're part of democracy, too.

And we're necessary. We're absolutely necessary. And so when I think about partnerships, Ashley, I mean, I think about all the opportunities.

I mean, not even with legacy outlets as well. I mean, one of the things I did in the Twin Cities was start the Twin Cities Media Alliance. So this was in 2005, 2006.

And we trained up community members to go to their neighborhood association meetings. They produce reporter notebooks. We put them online to share information.

It was hyper local news for pretty much almost every single neighborhood in Minneapolis and St. Paul. And the reason that we did that was because at the time, the Star Tribune was shrinking. And Minnesota Public Radio at the time, they were hiring more reporters to cover the legislature.

That was their strategy. That's where they that's where they doubled down. But they were not paying attention to the growing demographic changes in the Twin Cities.

The Star Tribune was shrinking. And so I and Jeremy Eggers, who is a food critic at the Star Tribune, we decided we had to do something about it. And we partnered with the public libraries and they were terrific partners.

Places where we could provide digital literacy. WordPress was new. So we trained people about how to write their work.

Blogging was a thing at the time. Remember blogging? Barely.

Ashley Thornberg, Main Street

I remember doing a story on it for campus news.

Ann Alquist, Director of Radio

What is this? So I mean, so I mean, I even I mean, I look at at at our communities across the region as our assignment editors.

Craig Blumenshine, Main Street

And let me ask you this question, excuse me, relative to content. Sometimes when late at night, maybe when Prairie Public is playing something jazz or something, and I don't I want information. I'll play NPR now for my satellite.

My point is there's a lot of great content that's out there that is national. And of course, then we actually and I bring local content in your mind. How do you balance those things about what is appropriate national coverage that Prairie Public should be focusing on?

And then how about local content? Where should that balance be? What do you think about those things?

Ann Alquist, Director of Radio

I think that content finds people. I don't think people are finding content anymore. And so our job is to find audiences on the relevant delivery platforms.

That's going to make sense for them. So in order so in order to do that, we need to understand what their information and cultural needs are. You know, that's how we stay relevant is to be in touch with people.

And by the way, I actually I don't even I don't even see a tension between national and local content. You know, I think those are those are sort of insider baseball terms that we use, you know, because we because because we're thinking about the toss. You know, we think about that, you know, the national headlines ended at 06.

We go to Danielle. You know, Todd's going to do all things considered with Prairie News this afternoon. You know, so those are if it's relevant to you, it's relevant to you.

It's not about national and local or regional.

NOTE – this transcript was generated using artificial intelligence tools. The audio file is the official record of the show.