While listening to the radio, some residents might recognize a familiar voice on a certain station.
2005 Verona Area High School graduate Kat Lonsdorf now works for NPR’s “All Things Considered” as a behind-the-scenes producer and occasional on-air reporter.
In that wide-ranging role, she’s covered everything from Zimbabwe to the impeachment hearings for President Donald Trump that resulted in charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress this week.
Lonsdorf said that often, when one of her stories runs on the air, she will hear from someone in Verona who was listening, including one of her favorite high school teachers who was “excited” to hear her voice on the radio.
“It feels like a small world, reaching back to people I knew in Verona,” she said in a phone call to the Press.
In late February, she’ll go to Japan for six months to report on the aftermath of the 2011 nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, the second largest nuclear disaster in history, as a fellow for the international Above the Fray Fellowship. Applicants pitched their own ideas for what country and topic to cover.
Lonsdorf’s coverage of Fukushima will seek to answer lingering questions about health and safety ahead of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. The 2011 disaster, caused by a tsunami, resulted in thousands of residents being evacuated and numerous cities placed into an exclusion zone.
Now, with the Olympics approaching, Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to lift the evacuation orders in the exclusion zone, allowing thousands of people to be able to return home for the first time in eight years, a controversial issue Lonsdorf will cover extensively.
For Lonsdorf, pitching a story about Japan was a natural progression for her career. She has been a Japanophile from a young age.
Lonsdorf started learning Japanese as a child, by attending a Japanese language immersion camp in Minnesota called the Concordia Language Village program. She attended the camp for one month every summer for 10 years, from ages 6 to 16. By her own admission, “it was super nerdy.” At the end of a decade in the program, she had earned a high school language credit. After her tenth summer there, she decided to be an exchange student.
Lonsdorf was an exchange student in Okinawa between her junior and senior years of high school. During that time she wrote occasional dispatches from Japan for the Verona Press.
After graduating from VAHS, Lonsdorf attended Occidental College in Los Angeles from 2005 to 2009, where she studied diplomacy and world affairs. While an undergrad, she lived abroad in Jordan for a year, studying Arabic at the University of Jordan.
Straight to NPR
After her undergraduate studies, Lonsdorf decided she wanted to be a journalist, so she enrolled in the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in the Chicago suburbs. She landed an internship with NPR right after grad school and got hired to work for “All Things Considered” right after the internship.
Lonsdorf says it’s a hard job to describe, as her assignments are different every day.
“Generally, on a daily basis, I’m producing one or two of the many newsmaker or expert interviews on whatever the daily news is – finding a farmer to talk to about soybean tariffs or an expert to talk about sanctions in Iran, for example,” she said.
Lonsdorf pre-interviews sources, then writes a script for the conversation that sources will later have with the host of the show. Lonsdorf then cuts down the 15 minute interview with the source into a four minute conversation listeners hear on air.
The nature of the job and the show is that she becomes a “rough expert” on a new topic every day, Lonsdorf said.
“They throw you a new thing to report on every day. You can nerd out on topics, but don’t have a deep beat on anything, so you can never dig deep, which is why I am so excited to take a little break and go to Japan and focus on one topic,” she said.
Covering the impeachment
When it comes to impeachment hearing coverage, Lonsdorf said “it’s a bit of a zoo right now.”
The difficult part of covering the impeachment is making sure that NPR provides listeners with the best clips out of 10 hours of daily hearings.
Lonsdorf said NPR is still figuring out their process a little bit as covering an impeachment is new for many of her colleagues.
She listens as the hearings are happening, identifies the most important clips, then confers with reporters to decide what goes on air.
“Our show is a huge group effort. There’s a staff of about 30 or 40 in the newsroom,” Lonsdorf said. “What we all do has an important role, I’d hate to make it sound like I’m more than just part of a team.”
From listener to coworker
Lonsdorf’s favorite segments to produce for the show are typically the non-newsy non-daily assignments where there is not as much of a quick turnaround deadline.
“For a lot of the daily stuff, I feel like you do it, get it on air and immediately forget you did it, for better or worse,” Lonsdorf said.
The longer form productions she worked on this year included the “Let’s Talk About Sex” series and a piece on pornography.
“The series on sex pushed a lot of boundaries,” Lonsdorf said. “I went out and covered a porn shoot in L.A. It took a lot of work, we put a lot of things on air that had never really been on air before.”
She also enjoyed producing a piece on Mountain Dew mistaking the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for Wisconsin, and interviewing Chinese-American singer-songwriter mxmtoon on her debut album.
While she didn’t know much about radio production before starting at NPR, Lonsdorf said, it’s “cool” to have an audience of 10 million and work with people she grew up listening to on the radio.
“Now I am really getting to know them as people and journalists,” she said. “When I first started working here I was like, ‘I recognize that voice,’ but now these are my coworkers.”