How journalist Jenn White changed the way we see Oprah.

They say you should never meet your idols, but for Oprah fan, TV and radio broadcaster Jenn White, that’s exactly what her job required her to do.

White is the host and co-creator of the captivating Making Oprah podcast, a show which sprouted from Chicago-based radio and podcast production house WBEZ.

The podcast was created to celebrate the 30th anniversary of The Oprah Winfrey Show, and, despite the talk-show host’s enduring legacy and fame, no one could have predicted just how popular a three-part podcast series tracking the making of Oprah’s show and her ratings rise would be.

Along with gathering an immense amount of behind-the-scenes anecdotes and yarns from long-serving staff of The Oprah Winfrey Show, White also managed to score a sit down chat with the queen of daytime talk shows as well, which led to a slew of revelations about what Oprah both remembers and regrets about her time on the small screen.

For example, on the podcast Oprah tells White that she greatly regrets the now iconic “wagon of fat” episode, which is in fact one of the most-watched episodes in the shows’s history. On the podcast, Oprah said she finds that episode “hard to watch” because “you can see that my ego is on flamboyant display. I’ve had to pay the price for that moment over and over. I literally handed to the world on a fat wagon platter the story of ‘Is She Fat?’ ‘Is She Thin?'”

She also spoke about a particularly controversial episode, one that nearly made her quit. It was aired in 1988 and centred around cheating husbands.

The Oprah staff gathered a wife, husband, and his girlfriend on stage, and then the husband revealed that his girlfriend was pregnant on live on air.

“The look on his wife’s face to this day–to this day–I will never forget,” Oprah told White. “I said that will not happen to me again. I will never be put in a position again where I cause that kind of humiliation and that kind of harm to another human being. And if I have to do it, I will get out of this business.”


While Oprah has not shied away from talking about her career since the show wrapped, it’s rare that she dives into this level of detail about the day-to-day workings of her past. So, how did White manage to get her idol to spill so much about her life directly into the microphone?

“Harpo Studios in Chicago was being torn down, and it was just this iconic media building,” says White, while explaining how the idea for the project first came about while in Australia for OzPod. “And then we realized that it was the 30 year anniversary of the show’s national launch and we started to discuss the success of the show and it’s roll in media. It got us thinking that there was a story there to be told.

“One of the stories that was most surprising to us was why Oprah actually built Harpo Studios. And hearing her talk about this theory of how she had to be smaller, in terms of her success and her personality, when she first started her career. That was why she took the opportunity to build her own studio and her own show. That was not a story I had heard before.


“We had to reach out to her through the regular press channels, to say that were we working on this project and we’d love her to be a part of it. We didn’t get a ‘no’……but we didn’t get a ‘yes’, either. And so, what we did was just stay in contact as we were getting more and more interviews. So, by the time we reached a point where we really needed to know, we could say ‘hey, every voice that was a part of this evolution, except for hers, we have’.

“And, because so much of this story is her story, it be great if she was able to tell her own story in her voice.”

For the interview with Oprah herself, White was left with no sense of disappointment that the women she had looked up to for so long was not who she thought she was. When the interview was first set up, White and her team were only promised thirty minutes of time with the lady of the hour, but sensing their need for more content to fully tell the story actually gave them two hours of her time across a few days.

“I approached our interview just thinking of her as a person, so I didn’t get star-struck at all,” White says, although she also adds in that she was extremely excited, getting both a  pedicure and a new dress for the big occasion. “The thing that is really fascinating about her is that she is just like the person you see on TV. The person you see in interviews, that’s really her.


“She showed up to our interview the same way as she showed up on TV. It didn’t change my perspective of her, it just made me more confident that this is real and who she is.”

Jenn White, host and co-creator of Making Oprah.

There's a lot to love about Making Oprah, from the memories of the immense behind-the-scenes team to the revelations from Oprah herself. Like the time she herself explained to a TV executive who first suggested she syndicate her show nationally in 1986, “I’m black. And I’m overweight" to which he then replied that he could see that. Or, when she revealed the catch-all name Oprah and her team used to describe her viewers (it was 'Susie', by the way).

Making Oprah offers a fascinating insight into the world of The Oprah Winfrey Show and the woman behind the podcast is just as interesting. Add it to your "Must Listen" list.

You can listen to the full Making Oprah podcast here, along with bonus episodes from the podcast.

Jenn White was in Australia for OzPod, the annual Australian Podcast Conference hosted by ABC Radio.

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