KCRW’s new one-hour program, Life Examined, is devoted to finding meaning in the modern world through discussions with big thinkers in the sciences, philosophy, and religion. | Credit: Andrew Hill

Los Angeles–based public radio powerhouse KCRW has been broadcasting in Santa Barbara at 88.7 on the FM dial since 2014. Although KDRW, as it is known to the FCC, began as a repeater station principally responsible for amplifying the KCRW signal so that people in our region could listen to such popular shows as Morning Becomes Eclectic, a small staff works every day in a studio at Antioch College to give Santa Barbara its own hosts for NPR’s flagships, Morning Edition and All Things Considered, along with other local news content.

It wasn’t until the pandemic hit in March of this year that KCRW Santa Barbara finally became a source of nationally oriented public radio programming. That ceiling was broken by Jonathan Bastian, the live host of Morning Edition in S.B., who now produces another show at the studio here called Life Examined. This new one-hour program is devoted to finding meaning in the modern world through discussions with distinguished guests from the sciences, philosophy, and religion, and it airs on all KCRW affiliates during the enviable 9 a.m. Saturday morning time slot between Weekend Edition and This American Life.

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Bastian had a proposal for the program sitting in a folder on his hard drive when, in response to the initial phase of the governor’s stay-at-home order, KCRW program director Paul Bennun sent the staff an email looking for ideas about how radio might address life’s biggest questions — who are we, what are we doing here, and why? Meditating on his experience living in Carpinteria, Bastian realized that our region had an identity that was both underappreciated and a potential source of great radio. “Santa Barbara is known for certain successful exports,” he told me, “such as the food and wine, and of course surfing, but I think we sometimes forget that one of the great components of this community is its philosophical, spiritual core.” Citing the Vedanta Temple in Montecito, Ojai’s historical connection to Krishnamurti, and the wealth of sophisticated thinkers associated with UCSB, Bastian claims that Santa Barbara makes the same kind of sense as the home for his show that Chicago, land of Studs Terkel and Ira Glass, does for This American Life.

The title Life Examined comes from the dramatic moment in Plato’s Apology when Socrates accepts his death sentence for impiety in front of the Athenian court. “The unexamined life is not worth living,” he says, implying that he would rather give up his life than abandon the pursuit of higher truths to which he has devoted it. If there’s a figure who serves as the Socrates to Bastian’s Plato, it would have to be Pico Iyer, who was both the program’s first guest and thus far its only repeat appearance. A beloved moderator and superstar interviewer in his own right, Iyer plays off of Bastian’s relaxed style with an otherworldly eloquence and range of reference. Other prominent guests in the initial run of the show include Deepak Chopra, Brian Greene, and Timothy Egan.

Perhaps the most thrilling episode thus far aired on July 25, when Bastian interviewed three experts on the role of spirituality and prayer in the Black Lives Matter movement. After Howard University’s Yolanda Pierce delivered an engaging account of the history of the black church in America, two founding members of BLM’s Los Angeles chapter, Melina Abdullah and Hebah Ferrag, described such fascinating aspects of the group’s process as the libations ritual that’s performed at the outset of every Black Lives Matter meeting. Santa Barbarans will want to tune in on Saturday, August 8, when Bastian’s guest will be Britt Merrick, heir to the Channel Islands surfboard company and a founding pastor of Reality, the worldwide Christian movement that was born out of a Carpinteria bible study group made up mostly of surfers. It’s airing on 88.7 and at kcrw.com.

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