Two and a half years ago, I had a drink with a new guy in town. Joe O’Connor had just started as president and general manager of WFAE, the NPR station in Charlotte. We talked about me doing some work for them. I hesitated for a lot of reasons, the main one being I wasn’t sure how my weird voice would ever work in audio. But I did have an idea, even though it was a little vague in my head at the time. I wanted to do a podcast about the South.
I’m 53 now, and I’ve lived in the South for 52 of those years. (My wife and I spent one year up in Boston, which we enjoyed even though they got 60 inches of snow that winter.) I’ve never longed to move to New York or Montana or Paris or Rio. I grew up in Georgia, I’ve spent most of my adult life in North Carolina, and both those places feel like home. I love Florida beaches and Tennessee mountain ridges and Kentucky bourbon tours. The South is where I want to be and intend to stay.
But the truth is, for all its charms, this place has tragic flaws and lingering problems. Sometimes we find it hard to let go of the past. Sometimes we look progress dead in the eye and turn off in the other direction. We live in a complicated place, one full of both a world of beauty and a world of hurt.
As Joe and I kept talking, over the last couple of years, I kept talking about the same idea — a podcast of conversations about the South, talking to other Southerners who are also trying to make sense of this place we love. He agreed that it was a good idea. And now we’re here.
SouthBound debuted today with my first guest, Harvey Gantt: architect, first black student at Clemson, former mayor of Charlotte, opponent of Jesse Helms in two famous races for the U.S. Senate. He’s a first-ballot Southern hall of famer. I think you’ll be interested in how he sees the South and his place in it.
We’ll be back with episodes every other Wednesday, built on the same format: a one-on-one conversation with a notable Southerner.
For those of you who are new to podcasts, they’re like a radio show you can listen to anytime. Here are some places you can listen:
If you listen through the WFAE site, we’ll have show notes for each episode with links to things we talked about (here’s the Harvey Gantt episode page). If you listen through iTunes or Stitcher, we’d love it if you’d subscribe — that way you automatically get new episodes when they come out. Also, if you’re so inclined, post a review. Podcasts get traction through word of mouth.
If you have comments, thoughts or ideas, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m especially interested in ideas for future guests.
I’m new at podcasting, so I’ll probably stumble around until we get this like we want it. But the people at WFAE are true pros — they know what they’re doing even when I don’t. They have done an amazing job promoting SouthBound — they even put up billboards in Charlotte, which is surreal and ridiculous and made me and my family very happy. But it’s even better to actually have this thing out in the world. It’s pretty close to what I had in my mind from the start. Hope y’all enjoy it.