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10 favorite programs about Wisconsin from WPR’s ‘The Morning Show’ in 2023

We reflect on programs about a professional mermaid, efforts to reduce housing insecurity, a retiring caretaker of the 'Hope Diamond' and an eclectic mix of other topics

Echo holds up an arm while striking a reclining pose.
Echo poses in Lake Mendota during a video shoot Monday, June 26, 2023, in Middleton, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

WPR’s “The Morning Show” is a live, call-in program hosted by Kate Archer Kent that provides news and thoughtful conversation through a Wisconsin lens. As the New Year approaches, we asked each member of the show’s team to pick a favorite program among the hundreds they produced throughout 2023.

Follow the links below to read more and listen to each show.

Touring Wisconsin food culture with a Midwest chef

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Host: Kate Archer Kent

Air date: Oct. 13

Summary: Do you have a favorite beer brat recipe for tailgates and Oktoberfest parties? The new book “Midwestern Food” dives into the culinary history of the region. We talk with its chef author about the ancestral roots of Midwest food culture. Two recipes discussed: beer brats and fig kringle.

Why I liked it: This cookbook is a conversation starter! I keep returning to “Midwestern Food” for the stories behind recipes — like warm German potato salad and kuchen — that have been lovingly served by my relatives for generations.

Vampire myths and lore from Midwestern novelists

Interim Executive Producer: Keegan Kyle

Air date: July 10

Summary: Since before Bram Stoker conjured up “Dracula” in 1897, vampire fiction has endured in the blood-drained hearts of horror fans. We’re joined by three Midwestern writers who embrace the genre but put their own spin on the ghastly allure of vampirism.

Why I liked it: After stumbling across a new novel about vampires, I started to wonder how many authors had set tales about these popular creatures in Wisconsin or the Midwest. Producer Joel Patenaude took on the challenge of finding a few authors and scheduling them for a fascinating panel discussion about vampire storytelling with local inspirations.

Part of their world: Wisconsin’s ‘Mermaid Echo’ explains the tough work of performing with a tail

Digital Producer: Jonah Beleckis

Air date: July 13

Summary: For years, no one understood what it took for Echo to be a professional mermaid. Building their own business. Feeling alone. Facing rejection. A recent Netflix series and the new live-action movie “The Little Mermaid” brought more attention to the industry. Echo is clearing up what remains misunderstood about this job.

Why I liked it: Every time I told people I was writing a story about a professional mermaid, they looked confused. Few really understood how much Echo’s career looked like other “American Dream” storylines and how much their job is about teaching aquatic sustainability. Echo is a captivating interview guest and a brilliant entertainer and educator.

Two people swim in a pool.
Echo, left, leads a class teaching others how to perform as a mermaid Monday, June 26, 2023, at Middleton High School in Middleton, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Wisconsin should ‘double down’ on affordable housing efforts, governor says

Producer: Courtney Everett

Air date: Nov. 28

Summary: In October and November, “The Morning Show” produced more than a dozen interviews examining homelessness and housing insecurity in Wisconsin. As part of this coverage, Gov. Tony Evers joined the program to discuss affordable housing, state spending priorities and the minimum wage.

Why I liked it: The interview revisited six weeks of programs focused on issues related to homelessness across the state. It was special to hear the state’s governor respond to the challenges we heard from local service providers, community leaders and people experiencing homelessness.

Small white homes are set up in a residential space.
People walk around the small homes set up on Dairy Drive for people experiencing homelessness Saturday, Nov. 23, 2021 in Madison, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Longtime caretaker of ‘cursed’ Hope Diamond retires to native Wisconsin

Producer: Trevor Hook

Air date: July 27

Summary: The longtime curator of the gems and minerals exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History is retiring to Wisconsin after almost four decades on the job. The Mount Horeb native and former keeper of the Hope Diamond shares his insights.

Why I liked it: Jeffrey Post answered many common (and not-so-common) questions about rare gems with the warmth you’d attribute to a favorite teacher. This interview explored an interesting, novel connection between Wisconsin and the rest of the world — something I’m proud we regularly do on “The Morning Show.”

Matthew Desmond
Matthew Desmond. Baron Bixler

American poverty can be abolished, Pulitzer winner Matthew Desmond argues in new book

Producer: Mackenzie Krumme

Air date: May 12

Summary: How can the richest country in the world have more poverty than any other industrialized democracy? That is the question Matthew Desmond aims to answer in his new book, “Poverty, by America.” We speak with Desmond on who profits off the poor and how to abolish poverty.

Why I liked it: Although our conversation had a national scope, much of Desmond’s research and experiences are rooted in Wisconsin. We examined how people outside of poverty profit from it. I think my favorite shows involve myth-busting. This entire program was full of moments that question the norms of why people are in poverty and hopefully retract some misconceptions people in poverty hold about themselves.

Indie rapper, singer, writer Dessa on her new pop-forward album, ‘Bury the Lede’

Producer: Joel Patenaude

Air date: Nov. 7

Summary: The indie rapper, singer and writer Dessa is on tour to support a new solo album. The pop-forward “Bury the Lede” deals with love, death, the grimness of current events and the need to find relief on a Friday night. Dessa talks about the album, guest hosting NPR shows and her family ties to Wisconsin.

Why I liked it: I admit to enjoying Dessa’s work whatever the format. After playing a few choice cuts from the album, Dessa elaborated on the messages of her album, her inspirations and the craft behind the songs. Along the way, Dessa displayed her quick and articulate wit, humility, and genuine appreciation for being asked about her mom, who raises grass-fed cattle in northwest Wisconsin.

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Plans for Vel Phillips statue at Wisconsin Capitol would build representation of women in public monuments

Producer: Royce Podeszwa

Air date: March 16

Summary: Of all the public monuments scattered throughout America, a mere 6 percent of those statues portray an actual woman out of history. This research comes from a University of Wisconsin-La Crosse assistant professor at the same time as Wisconsin’s state Capitol prepares a new monument to civil rights icon Vel Phillips.

Why I liked it: Statues and public monuments reflect values, history and art all wrapped into one. And when only a fraction portray real women, that feels like a stunning point people should know. This program examines a nationwide pattern with a Wisconsin-based researcher and the upcoming monument to Vel Phillips, a trailblazer for Black women in Wisconsin.

Northwoods tribal leader reflects on 40th anniversary of court protecting treaty rights

Producer: Avery Lea Rogers

Air date: Oct. 13

Summary: This year marks the 40th anniversary of a court ruling that helped reaffirm Lake Superior Chippewa treaty rights to fish, hunt and gather on their ceded lands. We talk to the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission Voigt Task Force chairperson about how these treaty rights are being upheld today.

Why I liked it: I produced this segment a few months into my job as a producer for WPR. I’d never been to Wisconsin before. I wanted to learn about the history, interests and perspectives of First Nations in the area and how that context informs life in Wisconsin. The history of the Voigt decision remains relevant to understanding treaty rights in the state today. Producing this program helped inform my future work and make sense of the place I now call home.

Preserving the ‘Love Tapes’

Producer: Joe Tarr

Air date: May 30

Summary: In 1980, a visual artist invited people at the World Trade Center to talk about what love means to them and recorded the results. The Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research is digitizing and preserving the videotapes. We talk with the artist, a film professor and a member of the Wisconsin center about the project.

Why I liked it: Live radio is an ephemeral business and sometimes it can feel like each show disappears into the ether after broadcast. But some audio and video pieces have a shelf life. Such is the case with the “Love Tapes,” which are poignant, funny, sad and eclectic. Watching them is a bit like staring at old photographs and suddenly hearing the people in them talk about their hopes and dreams. The tapes reveal the timelessness of human emotion and, well, love. It makes me wonder what people will hear in “The Morning Show” archives decades from now.

“The Morning Show” welcomes feedback and show suggestions. Email ideas@wpr.org or contact interim Executive Producer Keegan Kyle directly at keegan.kyle@wpr.org. You can also submit program ideas to the team by filling out a two-question online form.