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Word for Word
New speeches program lets listeners hear straight from the source

"Ask not what your country can do for you." ... "I have a dream." ... "The only thing to fear is fear itself." The words continue to resonate. They stick in our minds and point to a simple fact-speeches matter. They inform, they persuade, they give substance and texture to ideas. Word for Word, a new program from American Public Media, takes up where the National Press Club broadcasts left off and takes the concept to a new level with broadcasts of the week's most timely, salient speeches from a variety of sources.

Word for Word Executive Producer Bill Buzenberg sees a strong demand for sustained, well-articulated arguments. And he says that unlike other formats, speeches have a special resonance. "A person speaks differently when he or she is standing at a lectern staring down a room of people," says Buzenberg. "You can hear the passion rising in their voice." While topics and speakers vary considerably, Word for Word features speeches from many of those active in or connected to the world of politics. Buzenberg sees this as a natural extension of the political process (and of public radio's mission). "Good speeches are an important part of the democratic dialogue," he says, "and part of public radio's basic mission to inform and educate citizens in our democracy about significant and complex issues."

The hour-long, weekly program, hosted by veteran broadcaster Melinda Penkava breaks the mold of speech broadcasts in other ways, too. It includes an introduction that puts the speech in context with background on the speaker and the topic at hand. And Word for Word features a broader variety of newsmakers from across the political spectrum drawn from the National Press Club, Chautauqua Institution, the Aspen Institute and other regional and national forums.

"We look for speeches that are particularly relevant to the week's news; speeches that comment on the news and speeches that are newsworthy themselves," says Buzenberg. "We look for ideological balance, seeking perspectives from the left, right and center." Buzenberg says it's the passion and eloquence of the speaker that puts a speech over the top. He sums it up this way: "Good oratory makes great radio."

Listen to Word for Word with Melinda Penkava Sundays at 7 p.m. on all Minnesota Public News stations

(This article also appeared in the September 2006 "Plugged In" section of Minnesota Monthly.)