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Public radio's new morning show set to go

Award-winning journalist John Hockenberry will cohost a new public radio morning news show with Adaora Udoji. Award-winning journalist John Hockenberry will cohost a new public radio morning news show with Adaora Udoji.

For more than two decades, fans of public radio have started their days with "Morning Edition." This venerable news magazine, which airs on WGBH-FM (89.7) and WBUR-FM (90.9), has defined weekday drive time for nearly 13 million listeners, presenting a thoughtful alternative to the straight news and weather that WBZ-AM (1030) offers and the commercial fare that dominates the rest of the dial.

That will change by March, with the launch of a new public radio morning show. This as yet unnamed program, a joint effort of Public Radio International, WNYC, BBC, The New York Times, and WGBH, will be hosted by Emmy and Peabody award-winning journalist John Hockenberry and cohosted by Court TV and former CNN correspondent Adaora Udoji. Based in WNYC's New York studios, the show will test the waters next month with a series of specials on the presidential election.

"As strong as public radio is in the morning," says Hockenberry, "we know that . . . a lot of it just doesn't move as quickly as a lot of people do."

Although the upcoming show, like "Morning Edition" (which will continue), will be news driven, it will, he promises, be faster - and different in style and content. Instead of prepared, researched segments, Hockenberry and Udoji will talk with reporters in real time, as well as with listeners via phone calls and e-mail. What listeners will hear is "two people trying to get to the bottom of this live, rather than people reading intros to pieces that in this century begin to sound like podcasts."

"We believe in reporting, even if we don't believe in packages," Hockenberry says. "The show still has to be incredibly rigorous and fastidious, but the resources won't be going into the production of pieces."

Pilots for the new program have included such elements as a discussion on the future of Pakistan, with panelists such as the head of the BBC Urdu news service and an expatriate blogger.

The new show's immediacy, adds Udoji, should make it more flexible as well. "We hope to be highly responsive to whatever is happenening when we're on the air," she says. "When news is breaking in Burma or Los Angeles or Timbuktu, we hope to get to the news immediately."

Another difference between "Morning Edition" and the new show, says Hockenberry, will be its diversity. "We're putting together resources that represent different kinds of voices," he says, "we're a point of view alternative to 'Morning Edition.' "

Hockenberry is no stranger to radio. Although he has spent the past 15 years primarily in network and cable television, he had previously been a correspondent and host with National Public Radio. Since leaving NPR in 1992, he has also been a commentator on the public radio show "The Infinite Mind," which airs on WBUR Saturdays at 7 p.m.

The market for this kind of show is growing, says Dean Cappello, WNYC's vice president for programming. "The 24-hour news culture may have started with cable news," he says. "But it's become a more on-demand world."

WGBH, which will provide contributors and other resources, will begin to broadcast the program on its Cape and Islands outlet, WCAI-FM (which airs at 90.1, 91.1, and 94.3). The main Boston station, which will air the specials next month, will begin broadcasting an hour of the new program weekdays at some point during its first year.

In Boston, "Morning Edition" is broadcast, with repeats and local news, weekdays 5-9 a.m. on WBUR and 6-9 a.m. on WGBH.

"We don't see it as giving up 'Morning Edition,' " says WGBH's director of radio, John Voci. "We see it as complementing 'Morning Edition.' "

Although not sure yet how the timing will work out, Voci says he is committed to the new program. "This is a great consortium of producers who bring a lot of talent," he says. "We've had a longtime relationship with PRI and the BBC with 'The World.' So it seemed like a natural outgrowth to look at the other end of the day."

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