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Behind the scenes with Elaine Cha, the new host of ‘St. Louis on the Air’

St. Louis On The Air host Elaine Cha on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022, at St. Louis Public Radio’s headquarters in Grand Center.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis on the Air host Elaine Cha on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022, at St. Louis Public Radio’s headquarters in Grand Center.

Elaine Cha debuts as the new host of St. Louis on the Air on Thursday.

It’s been an exhilarating four weeks in the studio with fellow producers in the buildup to her first live show.

“So, getting used to the pace, especially after having worked from home, largely during COVID. That has been an adjustment but I like the energy,” Cha said. “The team has been extremely supportive and that is a great thing to come into. And it's a group of people who are genuinely curious and that has been fantastic.”

Cha brings notable public media experience to her new role. She was a producer for KPCC public radio in Southern California. She later served as associate producer for the Nine PBS program Indie Lens Pop-Up!, an initiative that encouraged St. Louisans to “make friends, share stories, and join the conversation” over good indie films.

In addition to her media expertise, Cha was selected as host because of her deep experience with community engagement. In her eight years in St. Louis, she has contributed to many nonprofit organizations, including time spent as the founding storyteller/journalist and senior communications manager for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri, and work with the Ferguson Commission, Forward through Ferguson, and the Regional Arts Commission.

Much of her work is deep storytelling that centers everyday people, which is exactly what she hopes to bring to St. Louis on the Air.

“That is very much my focus. One of the things I’m very interested in is civic participation — talking with everyday people about what matters to them,” Cha said.

“I’m looking forward to St. Louis on the Air becoming a place where more and more people feel welcome.”

The idea of making the show a home is a fitting tribute to the role St. Louis has played in Cha’s life. A native Canadian, Cha has traveled extensively and moved a lot.

“Before St. Louis, the longest I've ever lived in one place was four and a half years, maybe. This is it — this is the longest time I’ve lived in one place. I became a parent here. We’re living in a house. I’ve never lived that long in a single building!

“And so it's just different. I’ve settled here in a way that I've not ever felt settled before.

“But, I don't want to get so settled that I am complacent or not paying attention to what needs change. I want to be part of moving St. Louis in a positive direction.”

Cha has spent the last month getting to know the production team, booking guests and researching topics for upcoming episodes. She’s full of ideas about how to reach new audiences, rural, urban and suburban, in Missouri and Illinois.

Are there particular areas of interest she hopes to cover?

“I love talking about anything that has to do with arts and culture in the everyday. The everyday is kind of my jam,” she said. “I love the idea of gaining insight into what it is to be part of the listenership rather than the group of people making the stuff.”

Meet Elaine Cha

To that end, Cha looks forward to continuing outreach begun during St. Louis on the Air’s summer listening tours, from digital engagement to more direct methods.

“I’d love to talk about doing some remote broadcasts.” she said. “Remote broadcasts can often be the place where producers of content understand who is listening and who's not. Are we getting certain things wrong that we shouldn't be?

“I’m interested in exploring people — how do they live? How do they interact? What are the things that they do on a day-to-day or regular basis that reveals something about what their values are? Then we find a way to spotlight those macro-level issues and concerns.

“There is a difference between parachuting in, and asking to be guided,” Cha said. “The guided approach takes time and there needs to be a mutual reaching so that what we're doing is not just outreach, but that we are creating ways for people to reach us, too.

St. Louis on the Air introduces listeners to important and interesting voices, newsmakers and events that shape our region. Each show strives to educate, engage and inspire. The show is produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski and Miya Norfleet. The engineer is Aaron Doerr. Avery Rogers is the production assistant.

Tune into Elaine Cha on St. Louis on the Air every Monday through Friday from noon – 1 p.m, repeating from 7– 8 p.m. each weekday. Listen live, online at stlpr.og or via podcast.

As the Communications Specialist for St. Louis Public Radio, Fontella gets to showcase the award-winning local reporting, original programming and community engagement that make STLPR a beloved regional institution.