Wed May 28, 2014
Another KCUR Homecoming: An Interview With Gina Kaufmann
Our members and listeners are delighted by Gina Kaufmann’s return to the KCUR airwaves. A popular co-host of The Walt Bodine Show from 2008 to 2010, Gina returned to 89.3 in March as the host of Central Standard. Here at KCUR, we couldn’t wait to sit and chat again with Gina.
Your return to KCUR has certainly been a welcome one for many of our members and listeners. What have you been up to these past few years?
The past few years have been quiet years of professional and personal growth. When I worked on the Walt Bodine Show, I was also working toward my Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing. My tenure on the Walt Bodine Show ended as I entered my thesis year. I also had been hired by Globe-Pequot Press to write the Kansas installment of the More Than Petticoats series, which profiles 19th-century women in each state. That project that took me on lots of little adventures to small Kansas towns and their archives.
Having completed my master’s degree and published my first book, I began the search for a full time job, which landed me at the Spencer Museum of Art in Lawrence, Kansas.
On a personal level, I took advantage of being untethered to the rapid-fire deadlines of daily journalism and did a lot of traveling. I also got married to none other than KCUR’s health reporter, Alex Smith. Or, as his nearest and dearest know him, The Original Alex Smith. We are still newlyweds, but I think we may already be starting to look alike.
What changes have you noticed at KCUR since the last time you were here?
Well, the staff has grown considerably, and all that new blood has brought a great deal of energy and opportunity to the newsroom. [KCUR General Manager] Nico Leone seems to have a real knack for detecting people’s strengths and passions and channeling those. As a result, I see my colleagues falling in love with their work all over again. It’s a real gift to return to that kind of atmosphere. I couldn’t be happier about it.
What motivated your return to KCUR?
What didn't motivate my return? It was a rare moment in life where everything aligned with incredible clarity, making this move the obvious best decision. I am just so honored to have been selected for the position. The job description read like a wish list.
You’ve said, “My time working with Walt…was my broadcasting education.” What is the most important lesson you learned from him?
I love this question. Walt taught me first to develop my instincts, and then to trust them, tuning into other people in the studio in a nuanced, subtle way. I also learned a lot from Walt’s simple, unapologetic love of what he did. It was a breath of fresh air. He shared a genuine love of the show with his listeners, which made him one of them rather than apart from them.
Who are your other journalistic mentors?
My other mentors, locally, include C.J. Janovy, who was my editor at The Pitch and who, I now realize, encouraged me to take unbelievable risks with my work when I was too young to have a track record to warrant confidence in the outcome. During my Pitch years, I also interviewed Susan Orlean, who was visiting town for a reading of The Bullfighter Checks her Makeup. Her example challenged me to try harder; after her visit, I ramped up my effort to take every little 300-word blurb to the next level. She said, and I’m paraphrasing, that what you are as a person is what you are as a journalist. There are a lot of ways to take that, and I find new meaning in her comment with every passing year. As a listener, I have learned a lot from David Greene lately. He goes really deep really fast. Audie Cornish is also a role model of mine. And in public radio, admiration for Ira Glass is borderline cliché and goes without saying, so I won’t say it — but of course, not saying it just makes it that much stronger.
Can you tell us more about the live storytelling events you’ve organized? What inspired you to create these events? When/where/what will the next one be?
When I started, I didn’t know I was starting a series. It was 2003 and I was among the original contributors to a short-lived and shockingly well-received magazine out of New York. The magazine organized and hosted a storytelling series in New York, and I flew out there to help with one. The editor surprised me during that trip by asking me to organize and host an event here in KC. The experience of doing it is what convinced me to keep going. The simplicity of storytelling and its ability to transport an audience for an evening was addicting. By clearing away bells and whistles, you can open up this immense space for authenticity and substance. Basically, what I create with each event is an evening where people in a community share interesting pieces of themselves that they might not otherwise have a platform or a reason to share. The Moth storytelling series was named for the spirit of a front porch on a summer evening, and I think that’s an apt comparison. I do about two events a year; keeping them somewhat infrequent so that each one feels special. The next one hasn't been scheduled yet, but it will be soon!
Same question, but in regards to your book, More than Petticoats: Remarkable Nineteenth Century Kansas Women. What inspired you to write this particular book? Have you plans for another?
That book was part of a national series. A colleague recommended me to the publisher for the Kansas installment. It was a cool opportunity, and in some ways a dream come true, to be hired to write a book. It was also an opportunity to write about a marginalized population — in this case, 19th-century Kansas women — by treating them as human beings with interesting stories, and not as tokens of the population they represented. For that reason, I set out to find people whose stories were compelling regardless of gender. I ended up getting really attached to the women I wrote about and tended to miss their company when their chapters were complete. As for other books, the short answer is: yes, please. It is definitely my intention to keep writing.
Let’s talk a little more about your background. Where did you attend college and what was your field of study?
I went to Columbia University in New York City, where I focused on getting a strong foundation in many subjects while writing for the Columbia Daily Spectator. I majored in French, but my friends joked that "related courses" should be my major. I took a little bit of everything.
What was your first radio job?
Well, I come from a print background, so although I was an experienced journalist when I started working on the Walt Bodine Show, co-hosting with Walt was my first radio job. It wasn't my first time on the air, however; I had recently interned at the station in order to learn the tools of the broadcasting trade. The very talented Sylvia Maria Gross had just arrived at the station, and I was her first intern!
What brought you to Kansas City, or are you from here?
I'm from here, born and raised. What brought me back from New York after college was the vibrancy and accessibility of the arts community here. There was so much going on, and it was so easy and exciting to be a part of it. You could really get your hands dirty here. Also, porch-sitting. I am a big fan of KCMO-style porch-sitting.