PASCO -- In an era when celebrities and conflict seem to dominate the news, National Public Radio's StoryCorps looks to tell the story of the common man -- the unassuming friend or neighbor, aunt or uncle, who is part of the fabric of America's living history.
"The most powerful stories can come from the people just down the street," said Kerry Swanson, station manager for Northwest Public Radio in Pullman.
StoryCorps arrived at the Mid-Columbia Libraries branch in Pasco this week, and on Thursday started recording a series of more than 100 personal interviews with Tri-Citians about their lives and connections to their towns, their families and the past.
StoryCorps will interview seven sets of participants each day on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays starting at 10:30 a.m. through Aug. 21. Recordings also will be made Saturdays and Sundays starting at 9:30 a.m.
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Although the initial batch of reservation slots were filled, a new batch opens at 10 a.m. today. Sign up by calling 800-850-4406 or online at storycorps.org.
Interviews last about 40 minutes, although participants sign up for hourlong appointments, and can be on any topic the participant wants.
Often people will start talking about one thing and in the course of a conversation end up discussing something totally different, said Virginia Lora, one of the interviewers traveling the nation in StoryCorps' MobileBooth -- an Airstream trailer outfitted as a roaming recording studio.
Each participant gets a CD copy of the recording, and a copy also is sent to the Library of Congress and the American Folklife Center. Interviews also will be archived online at storycorps.org, and selected interviews are broadcast nationally on NPR's Morning Edition show on Fridays.
Northwest Public Radio will broadcast Tri-City interviews Wednesday mornings from 6:35 to 8:35 a.m. on local stations until all of the interviews have aired. In the Tri-Cities, interviews will air on KWWS 89.7 FM.
Participants can choose not to have their interviews broadcast and only archived, but Lora said most people opt to have their recordings considered for the radio.
The purpose of the program is to collect oral history -- the kinds of stories grandparents tell to grandchildren that aren't always captured effectively by a stranger.
"The idea behind StoryCorps is that everybody has a story to tell," Lora said.
The project was started in 2003 by radio documentarian Dave Isay, who was inspired after working with teens in Chicago.
Isay gave the teens recording devices and told them to go record conversations in their neighborhoods. When he heard the results, he realized they had captured material he never would have gotten as an outsider asking questions, Lora said.
Often the StoryCorps interviews involve a couple of family members or friends just talking to each other and asking questions, although Lora is there to help them along with questions if needed.
The first Tri-Citians to record their stories were Jack Briggs, retired Herald publisher, and Ken Robertson, the Herald's recently retired executive editor.
Briggs and Robertson talked about how the Tri-Cities have changed since they arrived -- Briggs in 1960 and Robertson in 1976.
During those decades, they saw highways built, and populations and new industries boom. The cumulative effect is that the Tri-Cities have evolved from a collection of farming communities -- and one government town -- separated by open fields of crops into a contiguous, if not always unified, metropolitan area of more than 200,000 people.
One notable shift is the change in the political demographic, the pair said.
"When I came in 1960 ... you couldn't get elected dog catcher in Franklin County if you weren't a Democrat," Briggs said. "Benton County was a little more bipartisan, but not much."
He compared that to the current political climate, in which all but one elected official in both counties, and all of its state representatives, are Republicans.
Robertson said he finds the shift from blue to red puzzling, given the region's reliance on government for its growth and prosperity -- from the government-built transportation systems that allowed the Tri-Cities to become a regional hub to the irrigation network and farm subsidies that allow local agriculture to thrive.
And, of course, the federal money supporting first the creation of Hanford and now its cleanup.
"And yet, we've become this bastion where two-thirds of the population are staunch Republicans," Robertson said. "It's a bit of a head-scratcher, that changeover."