One-on-one with CBC Radio’s Piya Chattopadhyay

After years of being a guest host on other people’s programs, Piya Chattopadhyay finally has a show to call her own.

CBC Radio One audiences will recognize the veteran journalist from her fill-in stints on Q, The Current, The World at Six and Cross Country Check Up, as well her TV guest-hosting duties on TVO’s The Agenda.

Her new one-hour show, Out in the Open, will air weekly on Radio One starting May 28 and will examine, in-depth, one big topic chosen by Chattopadhyay and her team of producers. In advance of each program, the topic of the week will be teased in a podcast, inviting listeners to contribute their own stories.

During an interview in Toronto, Chattopadhyay comes across as down-to-earth, enthusiastic and plain-spoken. There’s a warmth to her, which translates well over the radio.

“I love having one-on-one conversations,” she tells Popjournalism. “I’m a caring person, so maybe that’s where it comes from. I don’t know. People say that and it’s a huge compliment to me.”

She describes herself as “super-interested in what people think and why.” She’s ready to listen and to hear what her audience has to say — out in the open.

So here you are, with your own show.
Yeah! This is great for me. It’s my own thing and I’ve never built something from scratch before. I was a news reporter for many years, I lived in the Middle East, then I came back to Canada and I filled-in hosted here. This process has been exciting and really eye-opening. It can be really frustrating creating something new, but I think the biggest payoff for me is that it’s really forced me to ask who am I, what do I believe in, what do I want to do professionally, and how much am I really willing to share.

And it’s good to know that in advance, because once you get going, it’s hard to put the brakes on.
That’s true, but I don’t mind sharing. I’ve got some ugly sides, we all do. I’ve got some bumps and bruising, but I’m ready to share.

What’s Out in the Open going to be like?
To describe the show in its simplest form, it’s one topic, once a week, one hour. But the range of topics is so diverse. I think it’s super-compelling to be able to really dig into it, one topic at a time, from a bunch of perspectives. I think some people might go, “I don’t really care about that issue.” But what I’m hoping is that they’ll come back next week because there’ll probably be an issue they really do care about. I think this show will play to certain communities every week, and I think that will change up every week. It’s a bit risky. I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging, but people just tell me things. I think I’m smart enough, and I’m a good journalist and all those things, but more importantly, people want to feel listened to and respected, and if you treat them with kindness and understanding, we can have these great conversations and you don’t have to be like “You’re wrong and I’m right.” In my personal life, I’m super-interested in hearing why people think the way they do, not in a judgmental way, but I need to ask them “How did you get there? Why do you think that way?” So I can maybe push them a bit, because then I can understand fully where they’re coming from. I’m not about winning!

And you’re not afraid to have the difficult conversations.
I think that started in my home. My parents are immigrants from India, they came to Canada in 1967. My dad is the most straightforward guy, he’ll ask you what you’re thinking, believe me. We don’t have polite conversations in my home, we argue and debate and tell each other what we think, for good or for bad.

The show will also have podcast different from the radio broadcast. Why did you want to do that?
The great thing about podcasts is that we’re not confined by time. With a radio show, we’ve got to fill that hour, but with podcasts you put your best stuff out there. I’m probably not going to listen to an hour-long podcast, because I see that number on my phone and think, I don’t have an hour to spare. You give me 30 minutes, 25 minutes, I’ll go for a walk, go for a run, my commute in to work — I’m like, perfect. So the hope is that the podcast will be short and accessible. We’ll put out the highlights of the show. If you like it, you can turn on the radio or stream it after that and check out the whole show. If it’s enough, Bob’s your uncle.

You had such a strong, loyal audience when you were doing Q. They were vocal about wanting you to continue there. Was that disappointing that you didn’t become the permanent host?
Sure, of course. Not going to lie. But I understand why that decision was made, and I think Shad brings something totally different than I bring. You suck it up and move on.

And now you’ve got your own show. So it all worked out for the best.
Totally and I’m very excited.

What would you like to say to potential listeners?
I think you’re going to get something different out of this. You’re going to get a different Piya, a more honest Piya. If you’ve listened to me, you’re going to find more shades of me. And I think you should tune in because we’re going to be talking about things you talk about and think about every day. No matter what labels and what boxes you check off in your identity, there’s going to be stuff you think about, and we should be thinking about collectively. And I mean that beyond ethnic identity. There’s national identity, and race and gender and power, sexuality and all kinds of things. And all those things are individual things, but they also say a lot about us collectively, and I think, let’s get these things out in the open, let’s just do this thing, right? Let’s lay it down, let’s talk about it, let’s try and figure out where we can come to together. That’s the hope.

Out in the Open premieres Saturday May 28th at 3 p.m./3:30 p.m. NT on CBC Radio One

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