Neighbor Jeff Whittington reveals the magic of KERA’s ‘Anything’ show — both on and off air

Jeff Whittington: Photo by Danny Fulgencio
Jeff Whittington: Photo by Danny Fulgencio

“Information,” Maya Angelou once said, “helps you to see that you’re not alone.” Certainly, in our world of Google and Siri, there’s no shortage of information. Have a question? Search for it. Curiously enough, though, not everyone goes the high-tech route. Tune in to KERA 90.1 at noon on Fridays, and you’ll see.

The popular “Anything You Ever Wanted to Know” show, hosted by neighbor Jeff Whittington, is an audience-driven question-and-answer forum that some might say reflects our fundamental need to connect with another human being.  Unlike search engines, we humans can react and respond and laugh. Throw in an affable, infinitely patient host and the thrill (for most of us) of being on the radio — being “famous” for a minute or two — and you have the perfect recipe for a show.

Jeff Whittington: Photo by Danny Fulgencio
Jeff Whittington: Photo by Danny Fulgencio

Whittington, a resident of the Caruth Terrace neighborhood, has fielded questions on the program since 2005, the year original host and creator Glenn Mitchell died. Mitchell’s first show in this format was happenstance: The scheduled guest on his talk show was a no-show, so Mitchell threw open the phones to any and all questions. Listeners loved it, and it soon became part of the station’s lineup, with the tagline “All Questions Answered, All Knowledge Revealed.”

And indeed, you’re bound to learn a thing or two if you listen in. Whittington, as host, claims no expertise, leaving it to “The Smartest Audience in Radio” to offer answers to incoming questions. “In the last few weeks,” Whittington says, “we’ve had questions about where to get an antique sausage grinder restored, where to take beginner knitting classes, and someone asked for a brief explanation of E=mc2 — part of Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity.” (Note to self: check archived podcasts for answers.)

Listeners always step up, eager to help. On a recent Friday, Philip in Irving wondered about recycling foam; Cathy in Allen suggested a location. Richard in Fort Worth needed repairs for a thrift-store trumpet; Brandon, Kelly and Mary (from different cities) knew of repair shops. Caleb from Arlington, an Iraq war veteran, was desperate to retrieve photos and videos of his deployment from a crashed hard drive “so I can get some Army nostalgia back in my life”; almost immediately, Mark in Dallas, a data recovery specialist, called in with an offer to personally help David regain his precious military memories.

Whittington sets the tone, one of community and inclusion. A recent caller, Bill in Fort Worth, explained he had just moved to Texas and was searching for good used oak furniture. Instead of rushing the call, Whittington asked where he had moved from.   Wisconsin was the answer, and the two engaged in a short but friendly comparison of the obvious weather differences.  Whittington ended their chat with a “Welcome,” and Bill said he loved the show: “Keep it up!”

“I’ve had a number of jobs at the station over the years,” says Whittington, “but being able to talk every week with engaged public radio listeners about almost anything that comes up is even more of a thrill — especially when I can get them to share a story about why their question is important or about the history behind their answers.” He adds, “In our age of instant gratification and ever-faster access to information, there’s something a little old-timey about this show and just talking with people for an hour.”

“In our age of instant gratification and ever-faster access to information, there’s something a little old-timey about this show and just talking with people for an hour.”

The “Anything” show gets its fair share of quirky queries — a recent discussion of fox urine for pest control comes to mind —and most questions make it on the show. But calls are indeed screened, and some are deemed inappropriate for the air.  Whittington recalls a fellow who emailed the question “How do you fix a broken heart?” Whittington says that for questions such as these, with no easy answer, he reaches out personally, offering as much encouragement and support as he can.

Another memorable call came from a woman whose brother had died the previous year. To hear his voice, the family had been paying the monthly cell phone bill just so they could call his number and hear his message. The family sought to transfer the brother’s voicemail greeting onto a CD. “This was a really simple thing to do, so we just did it for her ourselves,” Whittington says. “She sent three homemade pies to the staff as a thank-you.” When was the last time you sent a pie to Google?

Imagine: Real live people helping each other, learning from each other, offering advice. “It’s a constant education,” Whittington reflects, “from information about bee removal to where to get railroad ties in Fort Worth. We’ve learned why fire hydrants need to be opened from time to time and about different kinds of radar units at DFW airport. I’ve also learned that people still need each other. We’re often alone at our desks, in our cars or at our computers … but radio can still bring people together.”

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