The Kenwood Press
News: 10/15/2016

NPR alums land in Sonoma, launch speaker series

Alec Peters

two white men
Former NPR journalists Alex Chadwick (left) and John McChesney have launched the Sonoma Speaker Series, kicking off Oct. 17.

All you National Public Radio (NPR) junkies have heard of John McChesney and Alex Chadwick. They are now your neighbors. Both have set down roots in the area, and are partnering with others to start up the ambitious Sonoma Speaker Series.

Patterned after City Arts & Lectures in San Francisco, the first event is scheduled for Monday, Oct. 17, with NPR veteran newsmen Ken Rudin and Neal Conan, who will be interviewed by Chadwick about the current election. The discussion starts at 7 p.m. at the Hanna Boys Center Auditorium.

For about six years, McChesney has lived with his wife and fellow Sonoma Speaker Series founder Wendy von Wiederhold in the Sonoma Mountain area. But his affection for the beauty of the area goes back decades when he would visit his uncle, a well-known abstract impressionist painter, Robert McChesney, at his home atop Sonoma Mountain.

“It took me a while, but I got back here,” said McChesney. In the interim, he had a long, award-winning NPR career, holding positions that included developing NPR’s first national desk, creating NPR’s first foreign desk, being a technology correspondent during the rise of Silicon Valley, and eventually ending his career covering the war in Iraq. He wrote and reported a major investigative piece for NPR, reporting the CIA’s torture and killing of an Iraqi detained at Abu Ghraib prison.

Chadwick worked for many years at NPR, starting out as a reporter in the 1970s. He is a co-creator of Morning Edition, and was a host of that program as well as All Things Considered. He was the chief correspondent for the Radio Expeditions series from NPR and the National Geographic Society. He was also the host of the Los Angeles-based Day to Day for a number of years starting in 2003. Chadwick has won numerous journalism awards throughout his career, including an Emmy and a Peabody.

Both McChesney and Chadwick were victims of NPR budget cuts in 2008.

Chadwick still lived in the Los Angeles area until March when, with some prodding from his friend McChesney, he relocated to Sonoma. The move has fit him just fine.

“Sonoma is a real community,” said Chadwick, “It’s the kind of place in America I always imagined I would live.”

While the interviewing and journalistic talent comes from McChesney and Chadwick, the energy behind the genesis and operation of the Speaker Series comes from the now-retired founder of the Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance, Kathy Witkowicki, and von Wiederhold, a clinical psychologist.

Witkowicki has received numerous accolades for her work at the Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance, a nonprofit that provides one-on-one mentoring for at-risk youth in Sonoma Valley, with more than 1,700 youths served since 1996.

von Wiederhold is the interim executive director of A Home Within, a national organization which provides pro bono psychotherapy to current and former foster youth.

Both organizations will be the beneficiaries of any proceeds from the Speaker Series.

The goal of the Speaker Series is to bring interesting people from all walks of life to Sonoma. With the contacts McChesney and Chadwick have made over their decades of journalism, the program has a running start in attracting engaging and thought-provoking speakers.

After the Oct. 17 event with Rudin and Conan, the next Sonoma Speakers Series date is Dec. 5. That evening, McChesney will interview Randy Thom, an Oscar award-winning sound designer whose portfolio includes The Right Stuff, The Incredibles, and The Revenant. Thom is currently the director of sound at Skywalker Sound.

To find out more about the Sonoma Speaker Series and to buy tickets, go to Tickets are $35, or $75 for VIP tickets, where you can meet the speakers at a reception starting at 6 p.m.