Q&A with Nelson Price: His radio show doesn’t sugarcoat history

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Nelson Price, host of ‘Hoosier History Live’ (IBJ Photo/Eric Learned)

A former columnist and columnist for The Indianapolis Star, Nelson Price now works as an author and historian specializing in the characters, events, and culture of Hoosier. In addition to writing books and articles, giving presentations and leading tours, Price hosts the weekly radio show “Hoosier History Live” on WICR-FM 88.7.

Created by producer Molly Head in 2008, the show features live, in-depth discussions of Indiana luminaries, events, places and trends. Over nearly 600 episodes, it has evolved to include a weekly email newsletter and the ability to listen to episodes as podcasts.

Nelson is a fifth-generation Hoosier and has never owned a cell phone, although he has embraced email.

How do current events affect the topics you choose?

Bouncing off the headlines is a great gateway to exploring history. I’m not sure “popular” is the right word, but some of the most popular shows on podcasts recently have been about the outbreaks in Indiana. We’ve done a few shows about the 1918 flu epidemic, the most recent being about the second and third waves. All of those shows had medical historians on them.

Our approach to Indiana history is not to water it down; otherwise, you have no credibility. Thus, we explore all aspects of our heritage. Another successful podcast show was the one we did last year about the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana in the 1920s. People continue to be intrigued and rightly appalled by this, with questions about the reasons why this happened.

Were there any episodes that thrilled listeners?

We’ve done countless shows about our basketball legacy, and one of them had to do with an ongoing controversy over where Hoosier’s first home-court basketball game was played. . … And we did a show last year on the Confederate memorial in Garfield Park when it was in the news. We had Civil War historians and an African American historian and a civic leader among my guests. Some callers clearly felt passionate about certain aspects of this monument, which was removed from Garfield Park and placed in storage. But we pride ourselves on having civil discussions. I don’t remember a screaming game on air.

Are there any topics you won’t cover?

If something is grossly exaggerated about Indiana, I tend to steer clear of it. On a slightly similar note, I consider there to be three major myths about Indiana. The first is, “Dillinger robbed us.” If you go anywhere in the state, there’s a tavern, restaurant, or bank that John Dillinger is certain robbed them of. In truth, he was only free for 14 months. Another great myth is that a house, church, or tavern stood on the Underground Railroad. We’ve done shows on the Underground Railroad, and our expert guests have said that if all the places in Indiana that claim to be part of it really were, there wouldn’t be any slaves left in the South. The third is that we all live on farms, when in fact since 1920 a much larger percentage of our population lives in cities.

Why don’t you have a cell phone?

I certainly understand how useful they can be. But I’m usually on waves of deadlines, so I’m always grateful for emails. A phone call is always an interruption by one party for the other. It’s a diversion. It’s so much better when we can set a date over the phone, like we did with this Zoom call.•

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