by Sydney Widell
When talk show host Larry Meiller ventures up to the Northwoods, it’s usually to camp or fish. But on Wednesday, June 6th, the legend of Wisconsin airwaves spent the evening with Science on Tap-Minocqua at the Minocqua Brewing Company, where he reflected on his 51 year career at Wisconsin Public Radio.
Meiller may be best known across the state as host of the weekday Larry Meiller Show on WPR, and true to form, he spent most of the evening taking questions from the audience and spinning long yarns. The conversation drifted from reminiscences of the old days at WPR to practical jokes in the workplace to his fabled lime tree, Limey.
“I’m quite good at cocktail parties because I know a little bit about a whole lot of things,” Meiller laughed. “I don’t know a whole lot about anything.”
What started in the 1960s as an agriculture talk show for Meiller slowly became the program listeners love today, complete with classic features like Garden Talk, the Weather Guys and Wildlife Updates.
Meiller’s call-in talk show reaches people across the state and across the world, with listeners tuning in from as far away as Germany.
“Our community of listeners is not just Wisconsin anymore,” Meiller said. “It’s a broader audience — a smart, lively [group of] people who are connected to the web.”
But when Meiller is not on the air, he is in the classroom at UW-Madison, teaching the next generation of broadcast journalists the tricks of the trade.
One of his biggest tips? Smile — people can hear it.
As a UW-Madison professor, public radio is something that Meiller said connects him to the Wisconsin Idea, the school’s guiding partnership philosophy based on the premise that the boundaries of the university should the boundaries of the state.
“Our first responsibility is always to you, Wisconsin residents,” Meiller said. “I’m certainly a Wisconsin guy and I love working with the people who live and work in Wisconsin.”
Through his show, Meiller said he has been able to connect his far-flung audiences to resources across the state that they may have otherwise not have known they had access to. Whether he is interviewing medical professionals or farm safety experts, Meiller said that his program has helped listeners gain wisdom in everything from finance to computers to gardening.
For Meiller, conversations with his callers are just as valuable as interviews with experts.
“The fact that listeners call in really helps everyone gain from this show,” Meiller said. “I really like the fact that my guests have been able to help a lot of people over the years.”
Over the course of his lengthy career, Meiller estimates that he has conducted over 10 thousand interviews, something that he believes has helped him build trust and relationships with his listeners.
“Maybe as a result of this, listeners get to know me, think of me as a friend. That’s one of the enjoyable parts of being on the air,” Meiller said. “I like the sense of community we develop with our call-in program, the ownership listeners feel for Wisconsin Public Radio.”
Meiller’s appearance was part of the Science on Tap series, a partnership between UW-Madison’s Trout Lake Station, UW-Madison’s Kemp Natural Resources Station, the Lakeland-Badger chapter of the Wisconsin Alumni Association, the Minocqua Public Library and the Minocqua Brewing Company.