BOZEMAN — Brian Leland didn’t care that he had to wake up around 2 a.m. Friday in order to watch a live broadcast of National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” at Feed Café.
Wearing a T-shirt that proclaimed he was a part of “The Green Coalition of Gay Loggers for Jesus” and brown Carhartt jeans, Leland said he attended to represent a cross-section of Bozeman.
“This is a group I formed in response to the Tea Party in 2009,” Leland said. “And I figured it would be fun to listen and see the production of the show and all that goes into it. Listening to politics in the West is a fascinating subject; it’s the ultimate big-tent organization.”
NPR’s Montana visit is part of an ongoing series, “A View From Here,” in which the radio hosts venture away from the rarified air of Washington, D.C., to talk to voters across the nation. They want to take NPR listeners to places where people are grappling with complex issues that inform their view of the government.
Serena Rundberg at Feed Café said an NPR representative called a few weeks ago asking if the broadcast could be made from the year-old Main Street restaurant, whose exterior still looks like the original big red barn but whose interior smells of fresh coffee and pastries. She was somewhat blasé about hosting the show until she realized it was “Morning Edition.”
“When I heard it was ‘Morning Edition,’ something clicked and I knew it would be a big deal,” she said, adding that by the end of the show she had been contacted by people in New York and Connecticut thanking her for providing the venue. “It was our first-year anniversary on the fourth (of May) so it was a nice gift.”
After the caffeinated standing-room-only crowd raucously greeted NPR listeners, “Morning Edition” co-host David Greene told the nation that Montana “is a good place to explore the really big American issue, which is the debate over the role of government.”
During the live broadcast, Greene was joined at times by Sen. Jon Tester, Montana State University Political Science Professor David Parker and Yellowstone Public Radio News Director Jackie Yamanaka. After the broadcast and its subsequent question-and-answer session, he noted that the show was exactly what they wanted to produce.
“We wanted to bring our listeners around the country to a place to know not just who are you voting for, but more about what’s on your mind as a community, so we can understand the context of the political votes,” Greene said. “To actually see people and interact in a place gives the show a whole different vibe and sound.”
Parker noted that Montana’s relationship with the federal government is complex.
“Montanans, like most Westerners, have a love/hate relationship with the government, particularly the federal government,” he told the nation during the live broadcast.
Greene said one thing he learned is that Montanans don’t like to divulge who they’ll favor at the polls. He told Tester that asking people who they’ll vote for is similar to asking ranchers how many head of cattle they own.
“Someone told me that’s off limits to ask how they’re going to vote,” Greene said.
“We are kind of libertarian when it comes to that,” Tester replied with a smile.
Yet Greene, who had never before visited Montana, said he was overwhelmed with the friendliness of residents and the beauty of the Treasure State.
“When we went to Winifred, the whole town knew we were coming just because of our hotel reservation,” he said. “They made pizza for us in the bar, we went to a branding, and they even walked us to the hotel to make sure our room was OK. You could feel how important community is to them. In the rural areas, people explained about how this election is about protecting a way of life; you don’t hear that in too many places.”
The Montana segments, as well as the rest of Morning Edition, can be listened to online at http://www.npr.org/programs/morning-edition/.
Eve Byron is a freelance journalist based in Helena, Mont. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow her on Twitter @EvebFoloMoney.