Randi Hacker doesn’t often come into KPR’s studios, but when she does, she has the whole world in her handbag.
Hacker, the Outreach Director for the Center for East Asian Studies, is the voice for Postcards from Abroad, a short radio show that gives KU’s international studies centers a chance to showcase compelling stories and funny quirks about their areas of expertise.
Postcards from Abroad airs twice weekly, Wednesdays at 8:58 p.m. before Jazz in the Night and Saturdays at 1:04 before The Jazz Scene.
The show brings a local’s familiarity to exotic places like the Merry Cemetery in Romania, famed for its colorful tombstones adorned with cheerful poetry, or the 2014 Santa Winter Games, an event that exists exactly as you think it does.
“We offer our listeners an enticing glimpse of our respective cultures, from the contemporary to the ancient, from the exotic to the familiar, and we want to do that within a historical context,” said Adrienne Landry, outreach coordinator at the Center for Russian, Eastern European and Eurasian Studies.
Landry helped with the recent expansion of the program; it was known as Postcards from Asia for its first eight years and dealt with China, Korea, Japan and Mongolia. Last year, Hacker endorsed free trade and opened the show up to KU’s other international centers. Hacker had always wanted the show to be an international one and after eight years of increasing listenership, it was finally the right time.
Now, instead of only hearing postcards from East Asia, listeners have the chance to learn about Russia and Eastern Europe, Latin America, Western Europe, the Middle East, South Asia and Africa. The KU International Studies program mission is to develop cross-regional programs.
Hacker co-founded the show with Dr. Bill Tsutsui, then the Director of the Center for East Asian Studies and now the president of Hendrix College in Conway, Ark.
“You want to capture people’s attention, you want to make them think and you want to leave them smiling at the end,” Tsutsui said. “The Postcards did a nice job of telling stories that stuck in people’s minds but also taught them some lessons as well.”
Tsutsui credits Hacker with being the one who made the show tick.
“Randi has this ability to take a story, to distill it down to its essence but to make it interesting and to end with a great punchline,” he said. “Randi is just a genius when it comes to writing short format pieces.”
In addition to providing a glimpse into some exotic locations along with a history lesson, Hacker takes a lighthearted approach to the show, hoping to entertain her listeners as well as provide them with a little perspective on our place in the wider world.
“I believe that they laugh when they hear it,” Hacker said. “My hope would be that they take away from this a greater knowledge of the fact that we are all flawed as human beings on this planet. That no culture is above a critical and benignly humorous look.”
One memorable Postcard informed listeners of the recent explosion of the plastic surgery market in South Korea, where patrons request surgeries for creating double eyelids from a single one or mother/daughter matching surgery. Another Postcard told listeners of a controversy in Russia where an increasingly conservative parliament attempted to ban a naked picture of the god Apollo from their 100-ruble banknote.
While that may seem like a lot to ask for only a 60-second radio clip, Hacker has honed her art and delivers vivid imagery and precise wording for her Postcards, usually recorded on the first take. Her distinctive voice and delivery make the show instantly recognizable. Her shows also always end with the fitting tagline, “Wish you were here.”
“It amuses me that in a world of tweeting and Instagram, the radio can still provide something no other medium can, which is that you listen to it and it engages your imagination,” Hacker said. “You must use your own brain to picture what is going on. I love it.”