Hawthorne Publishing author of Indiana Legends and Host of Hoosier History Live
Back in the late 1990s, after the first edition of my book Indiana Legends: Famous Hoosiers from Johnny Appleseed to David Letterman was published, a Kiwanis chapter in Indianapolis invited me to make a presentation. That’s where I first met Molly Head, a veteran radio producer and long-time Kiwanian. Several years later, our paths crossed again. Molly had cooked up a format for an interactive radio show that would explore all aspects of our state’s colorful heritage and approached me about being the historian host.
Today, more than 13 years since the debut of “Hoosier History Live” on WICR-FM (88.7), the live, one-hour radio show at 12 noon on Saturdays is only one aspect of a multi-media production. The history program now has its own history, with an archive of more than 580 shows ranging from a rotating series about ethnic immigration (“German heritage in Indiana”, “Irish immigration”, “Cubans in Indiana” and “Korean immigration” are among them) and town histories to shows exploring the sports, art, music, political and social heritage of the 19th state. Other programs have explored natural history, true crime, and the impact of the Palm Sunday tornado outbreak of 1965, the Blizzard of 1978, the Flood of 1913, and other natural disasters.
For the last three years, ever since associate producer Mick Armbruster joined our team, we have been podcasting our shows not just on our website at hoosierhistorylive.org, but on Apple, Stitcher and other distribution networks for mobile devices that are a new frontier for a low-tech guy like me. But I certainly appreciate how – thanks to computers and smart phones – we have listeners who tune in to our live show from Fort Wayne, Elkhart, Corydon, Terre Haute and other points beyond the over-the-air frequency range of WICR-FM.
These folks – as well as retired Hoosiers in Florida – listen live by visiting our website or wicronline.org Transplanted Hoosiers overseas even listen to our podcasts in London and Romania. The latter expatriate grew up in Knightstown, became fascinated by the Titanic, and met his Romanian wife at a convention of fellow buffs. He discovered our show online when we did a “Titanic and Hoosiers” program. (Did you know there were 14 passengers from Indiana aboard the ill-fated ocean liner in 1912?)
If podcast listening “counts” are indicative of popularity, our most enticing recent shows have been “Epidemics in Indiana history” and “The Influenza Epidemic of 1918-1919: The Second Wave”, both with medical historians as my guests. No explanation needed for why those topics would intrigue listeners during a pandemic year.
So what sparked my passion for exploring history? Once I realized it was about the stories of people — not the rote memorization of dates so many folks say turned them off in classrooms – I became captivated. I strive to shape our topics – even when they are about places, from scenic Rising Sun on the Ohio River to Lake Wawasee and Lake Maxinkuckee, our largest natural lakes– through the voices of people.
Which brings me to an important point about preservation and interviewing. Although all of our earliest shows are not podcast online yet, I’m grateful we have saved our audio from the beginning, when the program was only 30 minutes. (After four years on the air, we expanded to one hour.) More than 50 of my guests – including several World War II veterans who were in their 90s when I interviewed them – have passed away since they joined me at the radio studio. They never again can tell their stories. To us, their oral histories are treasures.
There’s an additional aspect to the multi-media “Hoosier History Live” production. Molly, Mick and I put together an informational, free e-newsletter that’s blasted to history lovers and regular listeners across the state. The e-newsletter consists of history articles about upcoming shows, with photos and links embedded. You can sign up by visiting the hoosierhistorylive.org website.
As you might expect, many of the famous Hoosiers featured in my Indiana Legends book have been “Hoosier History Live” guests. They range from basketball icon Bobby Plump and “Hoosiers” screenwriter Angelo Pizzo to astronauts, Indy 500 drivers and jazz great David Baker, who died a few years after his guest gig.
David Baker emerged from the Indiana Avenue jazz scene during post-World War II Indianapolis and became the conductor for the first orchestra funded by the Smithsonian Institution. When he was my “Hoosier History Live” guest, he had just returned from Egypt. He described how the orchestra played jazz by Indiana composer Hoagy Carmichael at the base of the majestic Pyramids – and how the Egyptians were enchanted by the music.
See what I mean by people stories?
Get Nelson’s book Indiana Legends by clicking back to the website.
*Image 1: Nelson Price (left), the host of “Hoosier History Live”, is joined by his guests after the broadcast of a show in 2014 that’s among several programs featuring Hoosiers who survived World War II. Guests on this show were 90-year-old Merrill “Lefty” Huntzinger (seated), who grew up on a Grant County farm, landed on Omaha Beach a few weeks after D-Day and received a Bronze Star for valor. The other guests were Stephen Hardwick of Indianapolis (standing, middle) and Duane Hodgin of Richmond (standing, right), co-authors of “World War II: Duty, Honor, Country: The Memories of Those Who Were There”, an anthology of interviews with more than 80 Hoosiers, including Lefty Huntzinger, who died six months after this guest appearance on “Hoosier History Live”.
**Image 2: For this “Scottish Heritage in Indiana” show on “Hoosier History Live” in 2015, host Nelson Price (left) was joined by guests Carson Smith (seated), past president of the Scottish Heritage Society of Indianapolis, and Lee Cloe (right), a charter member of the chapter. Since his guest appearance, Lee Cloe has passed away; the Scottish show was among a rotating series about ethnic immigration and heritage in the state.