May 27, 2024


Health know-how

How a Radio Host, Broadcasting Live From Home, Spends Sundays

“The United States of Anxiety” seems like the perfect title for a radio program these days. Since the shutdown, Kai Wright has led the WNYC show — which takes on hot-button social issues, from racism to gun control, often providing a historical perspective — live from his home in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn.

This, of course, produces its own anxieties.

“In the studio, if something goes wrong, you have an engineer there,” said Mr. Wright, 47. His crash course in audio production takes place in the converted guest room of a rowhouse he shares with his boyfriend, Jedd Flanscha, 39, a graphic designer for UNICEF.

COFFEE, TWITTER I wake up between 7 and 8 a.m., and then I’m at my desk, taking in that we’re going to be live that night. First thing I have to figure out is, is the world still the same? Or has it changed overnight? I sit for an hour with my coffee, under my sun lamp, getting information. I read Twitter, sadly, in addition to other news sources. I don’t think social media is a very healthy way to start your day. But it feels necessary.

THEME AND TONE I’m at my desk for four or five hours, digging in and crafting what the show’s going to look like. We’re asking you to come sit with us for an hour of your evening. You’re inviting us into your home. So it’s not “what information am I going to bark at you for an hour?” But, how are we going to spend this time together?

MORE MOTION From about 1 to 3 o’clock is my effort to be a human. Depending on the weather, I either go running around the reservoir at Highland Park, which is a big, beautiful neighborhood park that a lot of people in Manhattan don’t know about, or I do my friend Ian’s workout videos. I don’t know what you call the workout, but the word “plyo” comes up a lot. About a decade ago, I decided I needed to have more motion in my life. There’s a lot of early death in my family from the kinds of preventable illnesses that kill a lot of Black folks. I decided that wasn’t going to be me.

RECONNECT After the workout, I try to decompress and see what’s going on with Jedd. We’re blessed to have enough space where we’re not bumping into each other. He has a boy cave where he likes to hang out in the basement. A lot of times on Sundays he’s listening to WBGO and doing the Times crossword puzzle. We’ll have something to eat.

MAGIC BEANS Most everyday meals we make ourselves, but we’ve been doing that on steroids since the pandemic. I’ve been making a lot of pots of beans. They’re indulgent and rich but they don’t leave you feeling gross. And I have a vague notion that you’re supposed to eat protein for energy, which I need for later, for the show.

PREP Maybe this is T.M.I., but on Sundays I try to take long showers and pamper myself with lotions and creams. I’ll do that, and then by about 3 o’clock it’s time to start plugging back in. Our team of producers and engineers starts going through a rundown of the script, and sometimes I’ll join that call. One of the big questions we’re asking in that space is what kind of callers we hope to take. Because when the phones open up, they’re on the other end of a fire hose. They want to know as much as they can about who they should put on the air.

BROADCAST-READY By 4:30, I’m in the guest room turning on the Comrex, which is an expensive machine WNYC had to provide those of us who have to be live on the radio. It connects us to the transmitter at the top of the Empire State Building, so we can broadcast to the region. I joke with Jedd about that: “OK, we’re connected to the Empire State Building now. The house is being broadcast.” Actually, I feel bad because it’s a source of anxiety for him. I need to get an on-air light for outside the guest room so he doesn’t have to tiptoe around as much.

IMPROV On the air, the irony is that almost none of the script I wrote is going to be relevant, because you’re live and the idea is to be fully present. Sometimes the conversation takes a different direction, and it leads to a different place. Those are the most magical shows, even though I’ve got these words on a page in front of me.

EXHALE At 7, when the music plays and you know your mike’s clear, the team just sort of decompresses. The best way I can describe it is, “ahhhhhh.” We’ll exchange notes on pluses and minuses.

GOLDEN HOURS I’m quite a wino, and I’ve managed to dress it up as a hobby. While Jedd is finishing dinner, I’ll open a bottle. Then it’s dinner and wine and TV on the couch with Jedd through the night. “Golden Girls” is comfort food in our house. We’ve watched the whole run of it more than once.

Sunday Routine readers can follow Kai Wright on Twitter @kai_wright.