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Books on the Air: Community radio programs give readers outlets to share and connect

Tammy Bobrowsky hosts the program "What We're Reading" on Northern Community Radio out of Bemidji. The program is one of several in northern Minnesota that focuses on books, their authors, and the readers who enjoy them. (Jordan Shearer | Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI—Online and over the airwaves, Northern Community Radio has created a community of bookworms where the readers of the world can step out of their own, private nooks to share their love of the written word with one another.

Heidi Holtan hosts the radio program "Real Good Words," BSU librarian Tammy Bobrowsky hosts "What we're reading," and Robert Jevne hosts "Wordish." Outside the various radio programs, a Facebook-based group associated with "What We're Reading" allows readers to interact with one another and recommend, review, and spread the word about the books they enjoy.

"We realize that you're always looking for something new to read and something someone else recommends," Holtan said "Sometimes just looking through the New York Times Best Seller List doesn't connect in the way a fellow reader who lives here (does)."

The programs are hosted on 90.5 FM in Bagley and Bemidji, 91.7 FM in Grand Rapids and 89.9 FM in Brainerd. The Facebook group is called "KAXE-KBXE What We're Reading."

Hosted out of different locations, each of the radio programs offers a slightly different flavor. In one way or another, though, the various platforms serve to connect readers with new material, as well as give them some alternate ways to interact with that material.

In "Real Good Words," Holtan interviews Minnesota authors. She has hosted the program for the past 18 years, during which the program has taken a number of different formats.

On Facebook, readers use the radio station's page to trade recommendations, share articles and post items related to literacy.

On "Wordish," Jevne hosts area writers who read their own writing. The program features genres such as poetry "short-short fiction," and micro-memoirs.

In "What We're Reading," Bobrowsky interviews authors, takes listener recommendations and reviews, and even occasionally visits readers homes to get pictures of their bookshelves. Bobrowsky said taking the program into people's homes is a way to create a "community conversation" beyond individual stories, such as why readers collect the books they do and where they choose to read them.

"They wanted to come up with something that was more about what the community was reading," Bobrowsky said about "What We're Reading." "I love doing that because you get a review of a book from one of our community members in their own voices. I think people really respond to that."

One of the more recent steps Northern Community Radio took to incorporate listeners into the process was to host its inaugural book awards, giving listeners the chance to nominate their favorite reads. The winners from the awards were expected to be released Monday, March 12.

Although the book awards may have been the radio programs' most recent project, it's ultimate goal was essentially the same as that of the radio programs themselves—to give the community another way to interact with the books they love and to present new options they may never have heard of before.

Because of the array of readers who have joined the group, finding new material to read is never hard to do. The whole span of genres is represented between the various radio shows and the Facebook group.

"A lot of times it's something I've never heard of, and I'm a librarian," Bobrowsky said about some of the books that have come across her show. "It tells me that there's so much literature out there and that we have such a wide variety of people reading such a wide variety of things."

Sometimes, the radio programs even are able to provide more than just book recommendations or connections with other readers. Sometimes it's able to provide an alternate outlook on the craft of writing in general. That's the case, at least at times, for Jevne, who's been listening to Holtan's program since it began.

"I truly appreciate hearing writers talk about their work in a longer format," Jevne said about Holtan's program. "Even if I don't read the book, these conversations have shaped how I think about reading and writing."