This summer brought a new voice to the weekday morning broadcast of KQED Public Radio’s The California Report. John Sepulvado joined KQED from Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB), where he’d been the local host and executive producer of the flagship NPR weekend news program Weekend Edition.
One month in, John sat down to answer some questions and give a lesson on mixing metaphors.
Are you a morning person?
That helps! So what attracted you to KQED? Your gig at OPB was pretty—
It was plum.
Was it that KQED is a much bigger station, with a bigger audience, or was it something more than that?
I think the hiring of News Managing Editor Ethan Lindsey really made me look at KQED. Also Executive Editor Holly Kernan. And I want to make it clear, I don’t suck up to my bosses, but Holly is someone who, when you look at what she did at KALW and you look at the staffing resources and the budget resources, you think, “How do I not want to be part of this?”
I love Portland. I love Oregon. It was a really difficult decision, but I’m a native Californian. This feels like home in a way that Portland, as much as I love it, just didn’t. Not only that, I care about California greatly. Every day I’m allowed to help tell stories from the state and to bring up issues that perhaps might not be told elsewhere. That’s a really big responsibility. I’m up for the challenges.
What are the challenges?
Well, the first is time. I wish I had more time. The show is seven and a half minutes long. Trying to decide what stays in a story and what doesn’t is the professional equivalent of trying to decide which child you like better. I have to “pick children” really, really quickly, early in the morning.
The second challenge, and the reason I want more time, is that there are so many interesting characters, stories and narratives in California. Then, on top of that, there are really complex issues to cover. It’s been challenging to figure out how to distill all that down and best tell it in seven and a half minutes.
Honestly, I wish I had two hours. I think we could fill it. But seven and a half minutes is a good start.
What’s your vision for your role as The California Report host?
Well, one thing that must be recognized is that this is the house that Scott Shafer and Ingrid Becker built. Very early on in my career, I worked as the morning host at KAZU in Monterey, and I remember Scott coming on live and that there was a feeling that if he was saying it, it was important. I want to find a way to keep that feeling going.
And if we continue this house metaphor through, we must acknowledge that this house was built largely on policy and politics. I love policy and politics. I also love the arts. And tech. I’m a tech nerd, and I think that we have an obligation, given that big changes in humanity are probably going to come through Silicon Valley, to enhance our coverage there.
There are a lot of other stories that don’t necessarily have to do with straight policy, but that are incredibly important threads in the quilt that is California.
So, you have about six metaphors there you can choose from, but to get back to my original point, I want to see how we can add these other things without losing the policy and the politics that people have come to rely on. We’re looking toward that.
Is launching a podcast something you are talking about?
I think that great content will find its way to the proper medium. Right now I’m focused on getting my hosting chops down and establishing a rapport with our core listeners. That said, I have a background in show production. I created CNN Newsday, which was a very successful podcast. In fact, it was so successful that it drove itself out of business, which just shows the lunacy of CNN. And that is on the record! I’m also really proud of a show I created about the music industry called The Future of What, which has become the go-to podcast radio show for the music industry. My point is that, when that time comes, I feel very confident we’ll be able to execute a podcast, but right now, that’s not my focus.
Is there a recent KQED story that’s stuck with you?
I think the story that really shows the power of KQED, encapsulates why it’s important to be a member of KQED and why it’s important that members’ contributions help employ really talented journalists and strong editorial leadership, is the Rape on the Night Shift series. It really opened my eyes to both the necessity and the promise of our reporting. I don’t have something of mine to talk about, and I’m fine with that. Right now I’m looking at my colleagues and thinking, “Holy heck, I’d better up my game.”
It’s like if you’re playing a sport with people who are more experienced or better than you are, you have to step it up or you’re not going to play.
Yeah. You’re going to sit the bench. I’m not about to sit on the bench, in this house, under a quilt that is California.
With your least favorite child! Okay, last question. Do you have a guilty pleasure?
My guilty pleasure is that in the mornings, while Brian Watt and I are bantering back and forth, I will set him up to say something dumb in front of everybody. Because we are going back and forth so quickly, I leave him in a space where he has to say something that he didn’t mean. I enjoy getting his goat.
There are four of us who come into the KQED newsroom every day between 4 and 5am, and there are a lot of quick jokes, a lot of things that you might not find in a more populated office setting. There’s a guilty pleasure in the teasing and the ribbing that goes on. It’s cool to be a part of that team, and I like to tweak them a little bit, here and there. I guess I shouldn’t say that though!
Also, Taylor Swift. I listen to Taylor Swift.
My brother is a music professor, and he believes that Taylor Swift, specifically her chord progressions, is ruining America. On his wedding day, he went into this rant about Taylor Swift. I was on the fence about her. I shook it off sometimes, but after that day I knew that if he didn’t like her, that’s what I needed to be about!