A Texas Native is Covering the Campaign Trail for National Public Radio

Familiar Voice

A Texas Native is Covering the Campaign Trail for National Public Radio
Photo by Hugo Rojo/NPR

Sam Sanders is a Texan transplanted to Washington D.C. where winter is a real season and politics are everything.

He says he misses great barbecue, refreshing iced tea and nice people.

"I think that there's a certain charm that you can't really find elsewhere," he said, during a free moment from National Public Radio's world headquarters in the nation's capital.

Sanders was born in Seguin and grew up Converse and Schertz before graduating in 2007 with a double major in political science and music from the University of the Incarnate Word. By 2009, Sanders earned a Master's degree in public policy, with a media and politics focus, from the prestigious Harvard Kennedy School. These days, he spends his time out on the campaign trail following a circus of Republicans and a contested Democratic race for the presidential nomination for NPR.

"I've spent a good amount of time following [Donald] Trump and [Bernie] Sanders, a little on Ben Carson, and spent some time at Rubio events," he said.

If you're a news junkie, you've probably heard his voice while listening to the radio to get the latest on this hilarious — but frightening — new Broadway show the pundits are calling the 2016 Republican nomination process.

"I've been to these Trump rallies. They're like a Taylor Swift concert," Sanders says, describing the New York City real estate mogul's screaming fan base. "There in the moment, this campaign takes on a reality show vibe. It's crazy."

While the FM broadcast band is a natural and traditional fit for Sanders, NPR is no different than any other media organization: The Internet ushered in a wild frontier and anyone who is not trying new platforms to entertain, educate and report will be left in the dust.

And with the rise of popular podcasts like Serial or This American Life, Sanders is carving his own niche with the NPR Politics Podcast that he hosts, which launched in September 2015, where Sanders explores the intersection of culture, pop culture and politics.

And he likes it. A lot.

"I think what you hear on the podcast is like being with reporters behind the scene," he said. "It's more conversational. Basically, it's me and my colleagues at the bar shooting the shit after hours."

In the last episode that aired before deadline on Super Tuesday, March 2, Sanders hosted remotely from Vermont, where he was covering Bernie Sanders, with guests Ron Elving, editor and correspondent, and campaign reporters Scott Detrow and Asma Khalid.

So far, he says, the podcast has been resonating with listeners and is growing in popularity.

"We're getting great feedback," Sanders said, explaining that the podcast is consistently in iTunes' top 25 podcasts with lots of downloads.

But the news business isn't about one platform anymore and that's no different for podcasts.

"We post to our website, play snippets on our Facebook page, excerpt portions of the podcast and air them on All Things Considered," he said. "It's nice to see the entire institution take what we're doing and push it out in different ways. This is not your average podcast."

However, for a podcast about politics, which can often be stuffy and insider-y, to resonate like NPR Politics Podcast has, it needs to be relatable, entertaining and easy to understand.

And Sanders says he has a couple tricks for that, including listening to other podcasts, like NPR's Planet Money, Pop Culture Happy Hour or The Read, which is not affiliated with NPR and hosted by Twitter celebrities Kid Fury and Crissle who talk about pop culture.

"It's definitely not safe for work, but a lot of their banter and style and the way they have fun, I try to keep that in my head because my whole thing, and I do it well, is to make conversations about politics relatable and fun and easy for folks to understand," he explains. "So many times, in these episodes, I see myself as the useful idiot ... ask the dumb questions so everyone can understand."

That's because many of the people on his show have covered politics for decades, which "lets him be the guy to ask the dumb questions."

And it's also about tying politics to pop culture, a topic most Americans are in tune to.

"Politics are everywhere," Sanders says. "That's why it's not just about politics, but about culture."

Asked if he had any advice for aspiring journalists reading this article in San Antonio, he offered up a story about the time he recorded the first episode of the NPR Politics Podcast.

"I would just say be yourself. I had to do the intro before we started talking. Basically, they had me scripted to say hello and welcome and I ended up saying 'Hey, y'all,'" he said with a laugh, adding that he asked his producer whether that was too Texas. "And then, the next week, for the next round, the producer wrote y'all out for me."

Listen to the podcast by searching for it on iTunes or searching for NPR Politics Podcast in your web browser.


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