Today, NPR’s “World Cafe” celebrates the 30th anniversary of its first show, which premiered Oct. 14, 1991. The nationally-syndicated program has long served as a key outlet for contemporary music discovery, with a mix of interviews, live performances and specially-curated playlists. To commemorate the milestone, “World Cafe” has launched a “30 Over 30” (30 years over 30 weeks) series of special programming features that highlight its rich history.
“For 30 years, listeners have relied on World Cafe’s deeply human curation to explore content that continually broadens and heightens their music knowledge and enjoyment,” Executive Producer Bruce Warren said in a release. “Over the next 30 weeks, we’ll present ‘deep cuts’ from World Cafe archives – some of the best moments from the last 30 years – along with what we think is happening now, and next.”
Warren has been with World Cafe since its inception, when University of Pennsylvania adult alternative WXPN Philadelphia (88.5) received a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) to design a national program that would attract younger listeners to public radio. Initially distributed by PRI (Public Radio International) to five affiliates, it was carried by approximately 50 radio stations by the end of 1992. NPR began distributing it in 2005, and today World Cafe is carried by 267 radio stations across the U.S. Combining terrestrial reach with online streaming, podcasts, on-demand archives and video content, more than a million music fans engage with World Cafe content each month.
David Dye, original host of the program, spoke with Inside Radio in 2017 about the show’s humble beginnings. CPB, he said, “had pretty grandiose ideas,” for the program. “They thought that with one music show it was going to bring down the aging audience of public radio and make it more diverse. So, we started testing music to see what would appeal to a certain audience and we had this idea—and that’s why the show was called World Cafe—it was going to be a mix of African, Caribbean and all kinds of [world] music. Not taking into account that people don’t like music outside of their language. That really bombed, so we were left with trying to figure out what to do. At that point this idea of Triple-A—an adult acoustic alternative format—was not that well known and we think, we have at least one finger in the development of it as a format as we developed the program.”
Dye stepped away from hosting “World Cafe” on March 31, 2017. He continues as a part-time contributor to the program, which is now anchored by Raina Douris, who is only the third host of the long-running program. Talia Schlanger served as host for two years after Dye stepped down.
“As a crucial part of NPR Music’s programming, World Cafe has introduced its loyal audiences in an integrated manner to talented new and legendary musicians, with exclusive interviews, brilliant performances, powerful conversations and special features,” Director of NPR Music Keith Jenkins added. “World Cafe celebrates its 30th anniversary by offering to remember its great past as it looks forward to the next 30 years with its listeners.”
Originating at WXPN, World Cafe maintains music bureaus in Nashville and New Orleans, and has issued more than 40 “Live at World Cafe” CDs and two World Cafe books. The show’s brand is also reflected in the popular Philadelphia concert venue World Cafe Live, which shares a building with WXPN and licenses the name.