What To Expect From New Show 'The 21st' Coming To WNIJ

May 11, 2017

Niala Boodhoo, host of "The 21st."

Niala Boodhoo wants to give you a megaphone. Go ahead; take it.

Call her talk show The 21st and tell her your thoughts about the budget gridlock in Springfield. Air your environmental concerns. Or tell her about an artist you think the rest of the state should know about.

Starting Monday, WNIJ listeners will join audiences in Champaign-Urbana, Springfield, Peoria and Bloomington-Normal who've been hearing The 21st for a little more than a year.

Illinois Public Media launched the program last March, broadcasting from the University of Illinois campus.

Host Boodhoo says it's important for Illinois residents to have a platform when most news outlets are based in New York City, Washington, D.C. or Los Angeles. "We're providing Illinois news, we're connecting communities across the state," Boodhoo said, adding that people face big challenges as state government approaches two years without a spending plan.

"Being informed about what's happening locally and regionally is essential," she said.

During the one-hour program, Boodhoo typically gets an update from a reporter covering the statehouse. Then she interviews experts on everything from healthcare to immigration policy, followed by a conversation with an Illinoisan directly affected by that policy.

Nearly every show includes an arts-related feature. Last Friday, she devoted substantial parts of the hour to the African Children's Choir which performed live in her studio.

Boodhoo says she conducts her interviews differently when she's speaking to an artist as opposed to a politician.

"When someone is a public elected official, they have certain questions that I feel are really important for them to answer because I'm asking on behalf of their constituents," she said. "When I'm having a conversation with someone in a creative arts industry, I'm approaching that to try to understand more about what they do, and help us get a lens into their creative process."

She admits her favorite interviews are with authors of fiction or non-fiction. "I'm talking to someone about something they love," she said. "They've been in that world they created, and I just find it fascinating to enter that world with them."

Boodhoo has experience as a talk show host from her time at WBEZ Chicago, where she hosted "The Afternoon Shift" for three years. She also was a reporter for The Miami Herald.

Boodhoo, 41, will broadcast from Chicago again this summer where she'll receive treatment for breast cancer. "That was found during my first mammogram," she said, adding that doctors give her a good prognosis because of early detection.

Boodhoo says her temporary studio belongs to the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, where she earned a Master's Degree. "They just built a beautiful newsroom right on Wacker Drive," she said. "There are lots of people who are coming through Chicago that might not come through other parts of the state, so they can be in the studio with me."

Boodhoo says she'll continue monitoring the budget stalemate during her show. "We've been talking to different stakeholders -- foster care agencies, domestic violence shelters, K through 12 education -- we're going to continue those conversations," she said.

"On a fun note," she says, "I'm really excited about a couple of people we're going to have on the show this summer, including Neil DeGrasse Tyson."

WNIJ begins daily broadcasts of The 21st at 11 a.m. next Monday, May 15. Boodhoo has more on how you can be involved with the show in the audio link at the top of this article.

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