He wants to hear your voice. Whatever you have to say, whatever your viewpoint, political stance or cause — if you are working to better your community, Keith Roe wants to hear your story on Monday Night Live.
Every Monday at 7 p.m. from a tiny studio in downtown Kalamazoo, Roe and his small crew of Anthony Arent, William Lindemann and Roger Pacific produce the community television show. It is broadcast by the Public Media Network on Channel 96, with reruns at 7 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 1:30 p.m. Sundays on Channel 97.
Like many of its guests, the show has its own story. Monday Night Live began in 1991 under the name My World Today and was hosted by Jim Amos, a retired Western Michigan University professor. How Roe came to be host is another part of the story.
Roe grew up in the small town of Wakefield, England, in the district of West Yorkshire. His British accent and genteel manner belie his roots. “It was a small, industrial city, and we lived in a Victorian cottage,” Roe says. “My father was a steam locomotive engineer, what people then called the respectable working class. In the 1930s, that was an important distinction.”
The Bible, says Roe, was the most important family possession, and his father sometimes preached on Sundays. “That earned us a respectable air. I was the only child, and my mother nearly died when I was born at 7 months, four and a half pounds, and (spent) 27 days in intensive care.”
Roe’s mind works that way: Details hold, history intrigues, intellect hungers for more. He was coddled and spoiled as a child, he says with an arched brow, but then tells how cleaning windows was one of his household chores at age 7. He recalls a world of post-war Britain, bankrupt and showing the scars of battle, but education was free, he says, as was health care. These are points that to this day stick in his mind and make it to the airways on occasion as well into the discussion groups he so enjoys.
Roe studied physiotherapy at the West London School of Physiotherapy, manipulative medicine at St. Thomas’s Hospital, in London, and hydrotherapy at the Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases, in Bath. The Upjohn Co., predecessor of today’s Pfizer Inc., hired Roe at its United Kingdom subsidiary in 1959. In 1980, married and with a family, Roe moved to Kalamazoo to help develop a worldwide strategy for Upjohn’s pharmaceutical business. He earned his master’s degree in industrial psychology at Western Michigan University and in 1990 retired from Upjohn.
“It was only after retirement that I discovered this community,” Roe admits. Until then, he says, it was all Upjohn, all work. With more time on his hands, he began to take part in discussion groups and found that he enjoyed discussing with like and unlike minds the lessons of history and how they might apply to today.
“History shapes us, but what can we do to keep from feeling helpless? What can I do in this community?” Roe asks. “As Voltaire said, we must cultivate our own garden.”
When Amos died, Roe took over, unwillingly at first, as host of the show now known as Monday Night Live. He had been a guest a few times, but in 2005 Roe went on the air to share stories of Amos, as a memorial. He’s been hosting and producing the show ever since.
The topics and guests are as varied as Roe can make them. Politicians are welcome, he says, but he discourages party politics. Gloria Tiller, owner of Kazoo Books, is a regular, talking about new books and literary movements. Recent show topics have included the Kalamazoo River Cleanup Coalition, Kalamazoo Public Schools, the Kalamazoo Air Zoo, the history of the Kalamazoo Psychiatric Hospital, the Loaves & Fishes food drive, communicating via social media, tax reform and millages, drug abuse and chemical dependency, and a new book by Kalamazoo College professor and volleyball coach Jeanne Hess.
“Every time you learn something, you build a new synapse,” Roe says, tapping a finger to his temple. Monday Night Live, he emphasizes, “is an amazing idea. No censorship, live and unedited. No wealthy donor pushing us around. My favorite moments are when my guests lose all track of time because they are so passionate about their topic.”