Advertisement

You will be redirected to the page you want to view in  seconds.

Southern Remedy

Broadcasting Good Health

Jan. 2, 2013
 
Susan Margaret Barrett
Show producer Jenny Wilburn / Susan Margaret Barrett
Dr. Rick deShazo at the mic / Susan Margaret Barrett
Co-host Dr. Allyn Harris / Susan Margaret Barrett

More

On a recent Wednesday morning, MPB producer Jenny Wilburn signals to radio co-hosts Dr. Rick deShazo and Dr. Allyn Harris; they’re in the studio discussing a listener’s question on-air and have to go to break in 30 seconds. In the control room, another staff member logs in calls, the queue of names, locations, and topics visible to both producer and hosts.

It’s a familiar scene repeated every week, one popular with a statewide audience that also includes followers in Memphis, New Orleans and Mobile.

Dr. Rick, as he is known to his listeners, leans into the microphone, “Welcome back to Southern Remedy on MPB Think Radio. I’m Dr. Rick deShazo, your host, and I’m here with my co-host, the lovely and charming Dr. Allyn Harris, who, thankfully, is helping me get through this program while I recover from the flu, given to me by one of my grandkids.”

Wilburn laughs and says that when he called on Monday to discuss the focus of this week’s program, she noted it was the monthly Open Topic show. “I told him you can talk about whatever you want, and he said, ‘good, I want to talk about the flu  I’ve had it all week.’”

Southern Remedy is Mississippi Public Broadcasting’s flagship wellness show. It is aired live each Wednesday at 9:00 a.m. and rebroadcast on Sundays at 5:00 p.m. on 91.3 FM. The radio show invites listeners to call in or e-mail with their medical questions. It covers a vast range of topics from smoking cessation to sore throats in toddlers and regularly features medical experts talking about specific topics.

The success of the radio program has led to an expansion of the Southern Remedy label.

MPB has also produced two television series under the Southern Remedy brand. Southern Remedy: Mississippi’s Big Problem is a four-part series on obesity in Mississippi, and Southern Remedy: Premature Parenthood is a five-part series exploring our state’s teen pregnancy crisis.

And this spring, MPB TV will begin airing monthly, news-style Southern Remedy episodes, addressing a variety of health issues facing our state.
But the idea for the program itself was born in the aftermath of Katrina.

(Page 2 of 4)

Partners With A Vision

Rick deShazo is passionate about the health of Mississippians. Professor of medicine at UMMC since 1997, he is as highly thought of in academic circles as he is by his listeners and patients. He says the idea of a radio show grew out of a discussion between the medical center and MPB on how to collaborate to improve health literacy.

He recalls what happened next: “Public broadcasting in Mississippi and University Medical Center have had a relationship for many years. When Katrina hit, we had large numbers of displaced Mississippians with no medical facilities available on the Gulf Coast. So we stepped in to do a live radio program to provide health care and first aid information. It oriented us to the need. We still focus on the everyday needs of people.”

The program has evolved in the years since, but its mission is still the same  to provide easy access to health care information and resources. In fact, callers to the program can request follow-up health information, available from the medical center, by e-mailing Southern Remedy.

UMMC provides an unrestricted grant to support Southern Remedy, and deShazo is grateful both for the support and the freedom to address a variety of topics.

Tom Fortner, UMMC chief public affairs and communications officer, concurs, explaining that it is important for MPB to have editorial control of the product.

Fortner meets monthly with the Southern Remedy crew. He is impressed with deShazo’s encyclopedic knowledge of medicine.

“At the same time, he has a talent for communicating that knowledge in a simple, accessible way. He's very respectful of his listeners and answers their questions with great compassion,” says Fortner.

According to deShazo, adding Wilburn to the team as producer took the program to the next level. “Jenny is a native Mississippian who had been very successful at CNN. She cared about people and had the skill set we needed. It was a blessing, an answer to a prayer,” says deShazo.

With the medical center as partner, MPB hired Wilburn to produce the Southern Remedy radio and TV programs. Fortner explains, “Jenny was a godsend to us. She knows how to make compelling television, and she is fearless in pursuing the story. She could be successful at any of the major networks, so we're lucky to have her at MPB.”

(Page 3 of 4)

Point Counter-Point

The atmosphere in the studio is comfortable and homey, sometimes light-hearted, but there’s a deep commitment to answer each call-in question clearly and compassionately. Often deShazo will use one listener’s question as a springboard to share other health care tips.

Given his recent bout with influenza, on this day he’s interested in all the over-the-counter drugs available for coughs, colds and fever. He tosses the question to his co-host, Dr. Allyn Harris, who adeptly runs through each. The discussion between deShazo and Harris turns into a quick primer on the correct treatment for each symptom.

Harris joined Southern Remedy about a year ago. A Jackson native and former teacher, she went back to medical school, was a chief resident and is now doing a sub-specialty training in pulmonary medicine. As chief resident, she previously worked on the program as a researcher and fact-checker.

Looking to expand the audience, Wilburn recruited her as co-host. “I kind of wanted to shake things up a little bit,” she says. “And Dr. Rick is great  but I wanted to add something to the program. He has a strong personality, so we needed somebody who would be just as strong, who wouldn’t be bowled over by him. And she is not.”

It’s been a great addition. Says Wilburn, “I love having her around. She loves being here, and Dr. Rick loves having her here, because she gives as good as she gets. And they have great chemistry. And she is equally as capable as he is at answering the questions.”

Safe Haven

The calls come in all varieties, and they do hear from listeners with serious medical issues. Because the waiting callers and their questions are displayed on the monitors, deShazo and Harris keep an eye on the list. If they see something that looks like a medical emergency, they jump right to that call.

Harris adds, “We sometimes have people who will call in with a scary diagnosis. Or they have a piece of paper from their doctor and just didn’t understand what they were told, because they were in shock or embarrassed to ask questions.”

(Page 4 of 4)

They often hear back. According to deShazo, “We get a lot of really sweet e-mails and notes from people. We don’t share them over the radio, but it’s one of the reasons we’re still here. People really appreciate having some access to health information. And to be able to pick up the phone and just call somebody is powerful.”

Documentaries And More

The decision to expand to include a documentary format was a natural next step. As deShazo explains, “We realized that there were some disease problems that required more than we can do with this call-in radio show.”

The obesity epidemic is a prime example. Citing the economic impact, deShazo says, “Thirty percent of our population will be diabetic by 2030. That means that a significant number will be disabled. We have young people with sleep apnea and diabetes, and we just can’t sustain an already weak economy with those numbers.”

Southern Remedy: Mississippi’s Big Problem aired in four episodes earlier this year. It is at times eye-opening and heart-wrenching, yet also compassionate and cautiously optimistic. As with the radio show, there’s a remarkable balance of serious science and light-hearted humor, along with a deep affection for the people of Mississippi.

They’re on the World Wide Web, too.

Back in the control room during a break, Wilburn has chastised deShazo for not mentioning the Southern Remedy Facebook page yet. This is a slow-pitch for Dr. Rick. Back on the air, he grins and says, “By the way, I was told to remind you that we are on the Facebook.” Turning innocently to Harris, he asks, “What is Facebook?”

She laughs and says, “Everyone knows what Facebook is, so go to the Southern Remedy page and ‘Like’ us.”
It’s not hard to do.