December 20, 2016

Hello and Welcome to 1A — I’m Joshua Johnson

By Joshua Johnson

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but things are kinda crazy out there. America’s political climate is deeply divided, the world is tense over national borders and many people find themselves stressed out over what the future will bring.

If you’re anything like me, then you’ve taken more than a few “Twitter Time-Outs” lately — sanity savers to detox from the echo chamber. Social media can be great for connecting people, but talking about tough issues online can get very ugly, very fast.

That’s where 1A comes in. We’re building this program as a safe place to be heard: a place where everyone is treated with respect and empathy, even as we discuss (or argue about) the major issues we face. If you’re tired of bracing for discussions with clenched fists and sharp elbows, then you’ll love 1A. We’re more of an “open arms” show. And we’ll talk about solutions, not just problems.

The show’s name has two meanings. First, 1A stands for the First Amendment: a collection of five freedoms (religion, speech, press, assembly, petition) that I suspect will be ever more prominently exercised in the near future. These freedoms are the backbone of our democracy. They ensure that we are able to engage with one another in civil, meaningful and effective ways when times get tough.

Second, 1A is what some newspapers call their front pages. Those are the kinds of stories we’ll be telling on this program, the stories that are gripping everyone’s attention and need to be demystified, as well as the ones that people can’t stop talking about but need to discuss more deeply. We’re not going to chase the latest trending topics for the sake of it — there are already plenty of people doing that! — but if we do, you can be sure it’ll be for a good, smart reason.

In fact, a legacy of smart conversation is how 1A came to be. Public radio fans may know the name Diane Rehm — she’s stepping away from the mic after 37 years hosting a talk show for NPR. Our program is the successor to The Diane Rehm Show, and we plan to pick up right where she is leaving off. I grew up listening to Diane, and as a result she passed many of her values on to me without knowing it: a passion for civil dialogue, a deep curiosity about the world, and a very strong allergy to double-talk. (The Diane Rehm mug WAMU gives out during membership drives has, written on the bottom, “But you didn’t answer the question!”)

Getting to host this program is literally a childhood dream come true. I have wanted to create and host a new show since I was about five or six years old, and now I’m getting my chance! Quite a few of my friends have gotten in touch with me both to congratulate me on this new adventure, and to offer condolences that I have to do it in such a tough political climate. Trust me: It ain’t a problem!

Now is the best possible time to build a show like this. It’s a time when we need a place to come together, work through our issues, vent, argue if necessary, but come together anyway. Public radio is extremely good at these kinds of conversations, and 1A is the next evolution of what NPR has done so well for 45 years.

And the best part? We don’t have to build this program alone. Being able to create this show in collaboration with you takes a huge load off my mind. It means that we don’t have to have all the answers all the time. Together, we’ll create something that is far better than what anyone would do alone. And isn’t that what the best conversations are made of? Give and take, back and forth, giving each other room to be heard. That’s what we need, and we need to hear voices from across the country, not just the ones with master’s degrees and command of 14-letter words. Great insights can come from anywhere.

In the days ahead we’ll be giving you lots of opportunities to connect with us — chances to suggest topics, tell us your stories, vote on questions we should answer and more. Of course, we’re on social media, so feel free to contact us on Facebook or Twitter. And subscribe to our podcast if you can’t listen to the show live. I am honored, thrilled and humbled that you’re coming along for this ride, so let’s talk.

… actually, I think I’ve said enough. It’s time for me to listen.

What’s on your mind?

—J.