HAYS — It's been quite a year for Valerie Brown-Kuchera.
The Quinter woman started a new job at Fort Hays State University teaching English composition and a doctoral degree program, and took on a new challenge with "Little Spouse on the Prairie," her humorous sketch show airing each Sunday morning on High Plains Public Radio.
And now she can call that show award-winning. "Little Spouse" received an honorable mention award in the Kansas Association of Broadcasters commentary category for medium markets in September.
"I was pretty thrilled because I'm being compared to all the commentary shows in the state, non-comedy ones," Brown-Kuchera said. "There's a lot of serious news commentary, so I was up against things that weren't really in the same genre."
The award also came when the show had been on the air for less than a year. She and HPPR celebrated its first anniversary last month with an event at the Garden City studios.
"We're excited and wanting to set our sights on first or second for next year," she said.
A radio show wasn't something she had set out to do, though.
She had been working with HPPR as a discussion leader for its book club, when a couple of the staff members told her that her writing was lively and entertaining and asked if she had any other material.
"I said, 'Sure, I've got all kinds of stuff,' which was true in a creatively interpreted way," she said with a laugh.
HPPR was looking for more regional productions, specifically a comedy to help break up the hard news of NPR's "Morning Edition" and "Weekend Edition" programs.
Brown-Kuchera happened to have her laptop in her car with some of that material on it, but it wasn't anything she had written with an audience in mind.
"I had written these middle-of-the-night essays when my husband was snoring and I couldn't sleep. I was just angry, so I was venting on these little humorous essays that I didn't even remember exactly what I had written," she said.
"I read a couple of them, and they were just dying laughing," she said.
In the five-minute show, which can be heard at 8:35 a.m. Sundays during "Weekend Edition" on HPPR, Brown-Kuchera offers up a glimpse of her rural life with her family -- husband Joel and children Clementine, 5, Dashiell, 12, and Millicent, 15.
But despite the name, you won't find recipes or lifestyle tips like a "Pioneer Woman" copy. Brown-Kuchera said she was aiming for a different type of audience.
"There are a lot of modern women living on the High Plains in the rural areas who don't fit that down-home, farm-wife mold. It just so happens that many of them are public radio listeners," she said.
"A lot of my style reminds me of Erma Bombeck," Brown-Kuchera said of the newspaper columnist and author who chronicled her Midwestern suburban life from the mid-60s to 1990s. "She's an inspiration."
Brown-Kuchera has dished on topics like her aversion to cooking, home improvement projects, and her love of vintage things, which, she jokes, includes her husband, 12 years her senior.
"I tell my husband, 'I like old things and you should count that as a lucky thing,' " she said.
Her husband is a frequent source of the humor on her show, a fact she initially thought might limit her audience.
"At first I thought men are going to hate this show because I poke a lot of fun. Hopefully people can understand it's not this deep-seeded misandry, but it's just, this is life," she said.
But that hasn't proven to be entirely true, as Brown-Kuchera tells a story of her mother visiting with an acquaintance, a younger woman, who, when she learned Brown-Kuchera was doing the show, said her father enjoyed listening to "Little Spouse" while out on his tractor every Sunday morning.
Even a few of her FHSU students have heard the show, even though the 20-something crowd isn't exactly in the target audience.
Initially, Brown-Kuchera would make the drive to Garden City to record the shows, but now works with Ron Rohlf, assistant editor of informatics, in Hammond Hall on the FHSU campus.
"Typically Ron and I will record two, three, four shows a sitting, so we can get ahead," she said.
Writing for and recording audio are new for Brown-Kuchera, and she said she's grateful for feedback from Rohlf and HPPR staff like Angela Haflich, director of regional content.
"It's fun to see the reaction when we're recording and Ron will be cracking up. That helps give my voice more energy," she said.
Brown-Kuchera said even though she's got a lot going on personally and professionally, she has goals for "Little Spouse."
"A dream would be to get Kansas Public Radio to pick it up," she said.
"I want to keep this show going really strong. I want to have fresh material all the time as I complete this PhD. As soon as I get done with that, I'm going to be hitting the sidewalks and getting it marketed to bigger areas," she said.