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New Kansas City Radio Show Spreads The Gospel Of Diabetes Care

Alex Smith
Heartland Health Monitor
Jim Nunnelly interviews Black Health Care Coalition President Melissa Robinson during a recent installment of his radio show 'Plain Talk.'

For Jim Nunnelly, being diagnosed with diabetes two-and-a-half years ago was a shock, but almost as shocking was the amount of health information he was suddenly expected to absorb.

“A person like me, getting up in years, got drowned in all that information. I didn’t know what to believe or what to act on,” Nunnelly says.

Information about medications, blood sugar levels, insulin, insurance and exercise – it all made his head spin. Not to mention everything he needed to learn about food shopping.

“If you go in a grocery store, all of a sudden that becomes a pharmacy,” he says.

The 74-year-old is known to many in Kansas City for his community work, both as the head of Jackson County’s COMBAT anti-drug program and as a youth outreach leader. But dealing with diabetes clearly was a more personal challenge.

Nunnelly waded through the mounds of diabetes data and made up his mind to take control of his health. He has since lost around 40 pounds.

“Nobody points out the fact that you really can be a better person and in better health as a result of it,” he says.

Over the past few months, Nunnelly, an African-American, has tried to get critical information about diabetes to a community that’s disproportionately affected by the disease.

African-American men have about a 40 percent lifetime risk of developing diabetes. For African-American women, the risk is nearly 50 percent, and locally rates have been rising.

Nunnelly recognized the community didn’t always get the messages it needed about diabetes. But he also knew from experience how to get people to listen.

For more than 65 years, the Carter family has broadcast gospel music in Kansas City. Carter Broadcast Group, Inc. now operates two stations, urban contemporary KPRS and gospel KPRT, from its headquarters in south Kansas City. 

Nunnelly, who spent years as the host of a Saturday morning youth show called “Generation Rap,” went to the station with a format-stretching idea.

He wanted to bring discussions about diabetes to gospel listeners.

“With Jim Nunnelly, he’s the type of individual, when he focuses on something or he realizes there’s a need or a void that needs to be filled, he’ll do it,” says Rod Carter, vice president of Carter Broadcast Group.  

Carter says that, despite the unusual subject matter of the show, broadcast officials had little trouble deciding to give Nunnelly the green light.

“He’s been part of our family for so many years,” Carter says. “It was his idea. He wanted to do it. We just found the time slot for him and he ran with it.”

‘Plain Talk’

Just after 1 o’clock on a recent Monday afternoon, Nunnelly kicks off a show featuring an interview with Melissa Robinson, the head of the Black Health Care Coalition.

Since “Plain Talk” launched earlier this year on KPRT 1590 AM, the call-in show has explored topics like nutrition and medication with local experts.

But Nunnelly says the show isn’t just about doling out medical lessons.

“If people were going through what I was going through in being introduced to diabetes, I felt like maybe the radio show might be a medium for me to not only share my experience but also learn from others,” he says.

Though much of the station’s content is religion-oriented, Nunnelly says religion as such isn’t part of his message.

Instead, he hopes listeners will find support in the fellowship of people learning to live with diabetes.

“Most of all, people like to share, and they like to know that I’m struggling, and I’m having difficulty, or I have some good things happen to me,” he says. “It’s kind of like a community sharing kind of thing.”

Alex Smith is a reporter for KCUR, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team. You can reach him on Twitter @AlexSmithKCUR

As a health care reporter, I aim to empower my audience to take steps to improve health care and make informed decisions as consumers and voters. I tell human stories augmented with research and data to explain how our health care system works and sometimes fails us. Email me at alexs@kcur.org.
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