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The Measure of Everyday Life brings big questions to radio

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How do I find a job? Should I get a mammogram? How do we help prisoners re-enter society?

Each week, "The Measure of Everyday Life," a new radio show and podcast on WNCU 90.7 FM, tackles these essential questions. Through conversations with local social science researchers, host Brian Southwell hopes to share this work with the public to improve the human condition.

"A lot of social science research is a lot more compelling than we give it credit for, but it's not usually accessible to the public," Southwell says.

The topics are diverse and sometimes unexpected; the unscripted conversations are taped live. The show's debut episode focused on human trafficking, and since its first airing, the podcast has covered other serious issues such as fracking and campus sexual assault. A more recent episode on home energy use wandered into the area of pragmatic advice.

In general, the show's creators have tried to keep the podcast relevant without being too tied to the news cycle. "We've structured the show around timely and important topics, but they don't always have to be ripped from the headlines," Southwell says.

Before "Measure" launched, Southwell, the director of RTI International's Science in the Public Sphere program, tried to connect social science research with public understanding. The radio show was a natural extension of his work at RTI.

The collaboration with WNCU, which broadcasts from Durham, has been a "perfect marriage," says Southwell, who also teaches at Duke and UNC. Historically known for its jazz programming, the North Carolina Central University station had been looking to expand its public-affairs programming, and viewed the show as a prime opportunity to do that.

Bryan Weiner, a professor of health policy at UNC and a former guest on the show, admits he was initially nervous about being on the program. "There's something different about speaking in a recording booth with a huge microphone in front of you, knowing that you're going to do one take only," Weiner says.

Lisa Macon Harrison, a professor of global health at UNC, echoed Weiner's experience. "From the practice and research perspective, it's really nice to share and translate to a greater audience what we're doing."

So far, response has been positive but measured. The show is still waiting for listenership data, but Southwell says he has received feedback from local fans of the show as well as listeners as far away as Spain. "It's been a wonderful experiment so far," Southwell says.

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