Category: Pubradio/Archives

Readings about radio and other public media.

Reality Radio- Coming Home

The publshers of Reality Radio have allowed to post a bit of their book. From John Biewen’s Introduction:

The goal is to bring together producers with distinctive, powerful, and richly varied approaches to their craft. Some of our essayists call themselves audio artists. They push the boundaries of journalism to the breaking point—okay, beyond the breaking point—in the service of an aesthetic vision but also in pursuit of a different (higher?) sort of truth. Others describe themselves primarily as storytellers, drawing mainly on the narrative power of the spoken word. Still others see themselves as journalists; on the surface, at least, they emphasize information over formal innovation. But the journalistic documentarians, too, give careful attention to form and, in fact, employ plenty of (conventionally sanctioned) artifice along the way.

Here’s an excerpt of the essay “Coming Home,” by Katie Davis:

A boy rumbles by on his skateboard, says his name is Julio and asks to pet the dogs. Sure. Another twelve-year-old bellows like a carnival hawker, “Hey lady, you got a tire patch?” Sure. And I give Joaquin ten dollars to run to the bike store to buy three patch kits, one for him, and the rest I’ll keep for other kids. The super from the building down the street notices the cluster of kids and lugs up two old bikes he found in the alley. And this is how, without planning, I start a recycle-a-bicycle program on my front porch. Everything takes place on my front porch for a long while.

I become known as the “bike lady,” the lady who always has granola bars and time to sit and listen. After a year, I form a youth group called the Urban Rangers and begin raising money to pay for bike parts and snacks. Two teenagers ask me start a basketball team. Sure why not? And then as I explain my philosophy to the guys, that winning is not important on this team, and everybody will get to play in every game. “No, no,” the boys interrupt and begin coaching me on how to be a coach. The dialogue is funny and that night the rusty part of my radio brain begins chanting, Good tape. Good tape.

So, I call an old friend at NPR and float the idea of writing an “essay with tape” about my team. I warn the show producer that the story will be personal, like a diary, that I break the rules of journalism in every paragraph. I write in the first person and I have not kept any objective distance from these boys. I give money to two brothers because I know they are hungry. I hire another kid’s father because they are struggling on $12,000 a year. The boys hang out at my house, they come to tell me about problems. I no longer wanted any distance between me and these neighborhood kids. NPR solves the issue of my status by calling me a commentator. My transition from reporter to commentator took four years of neighborhood porch sitting and trouble shooting and is distilled into this one word.

From Reality Radio: Telling True Stories in Sound, edited by John Biewen.
© 2010 by the Center for Documentary Studies.
Used by permission of the University of North Carolina Press.

Ka

Pubcasting Act

President Johnson signs the Public Broadcasting Act, November 7, 1967
President Johnson signs the Public Broadcasting Act, November 7, 1967

The Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 established the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. “Independent producers” and “independent production” are mentioned sixteen times, including, “a substantial amount shall be distributed to independent producers and production entities…”

Some of my other favorite phrases:

The Congress hereby finds and declares that —

It is in the public interest to encourage the growth and development of public radio and television broadcasting, including the use of such media for instructional, educational, and cultural purposes;

Expansion and development of public telecommunications and of diversity of its programming depend on freedom, imagination, and initiative on both local and national levels;

It is in the public interest to encourage the development of programming that involves creative risks and that addresses the needs of unserved and underserved audiences, particularly children and minorities;

The Corporation is authorized to —

Facilitate the full development of public telecommunications in which programs of high quality, diversity, creativity, excellence, and innovation.
Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, as amended

More…

Radio in Net Age

Radio Electronics magazine coverI read these things so you don’t have to: a 30-page essay, “IP Radio – A vision of radio in the Internet age” (Jan09 pdf), by Pierre Bellanger, CEO of Skyrock, the French radio & popular social net. Within are history and prognostications on all things digi-radio-future, but few new perspectives (“Radio, like the written press, the music industry and television, is changing”, etc.).

Did find a few entertaining morsels, like this (pg11) on the singularity and un-CG-ability of the human voice:

Just as a penguin can recognise another among thousands, since time immemorial we have been able to discern a wealth of incredible nuances and emotions in the human voice. We owe our survival to our brain’s ability to decipher the details of the voice, further heightening the effect of visual absence.

Pixar’s digital masterpieces such as Toy Story or Ratatouille reproduce the most complex visual experiences like wet fur or the shine of bodywork with a computer, while the characters express their emotions as well as human actors. Despite these wonders, for the voices the studio uses actors, such as Tom Hanks or Paul Newman. A voice is more complex than an image.

And this historical radio data (pg19) — unsourced, so can’t vouch for validity:

Radio experienced an auspicious period in the United States between 1980 and 2000. In 1995 radio represented a little over 10% of media advertising investments, or $12 billion. Prosperous radio stations generated results equivalent to 30% of their turnover. In 1995 regulations on ownership of several radio stations in the same market were relaxed. This 20 allowed the Clear Channel group to carry out a number of acquisitions; today, it owns about 900 stations with combined revenue of $3.5 billion in 2005.

The Clear Channel policy targeted profitability by standardising and homogenising programmes. Audiences considered risky and insolvent, such as adolescents, were abandoned. Further, morning shows, already attacked by influential puritanical groups and repeated fines from the authorities, were sanitised.

As a result, radio stations were reduced to simply playing lists of tried and tested hits aimed at an audience aged from 25 to 49 and hosted by DJ-robots. These flows were burdened with a maximum of advertising slots. Like a plane whose engine is shut off to save fuel and keeps flying for a few moments, the system seemed to work.

Then it began to show the first signs of weakness at the very moment when the younger generation was seizing the musical offer exploding on the Internet: the number of 18 to 24 year olds listening to the radio has dropped by 20% over the last ten years and 85% of adolescents now find their new music on the Internet.

In 2007 radio’s turnover was $20 billion and still represented about 10% of the media advertising market but it is a decreasing trend. For now, the years of generous cash flow are over.

However, despite everything, according to the Institut Arbitron radio audiences continue to grow (93% of the population listens to 18.5 hours a week on average!) but the length of listening time is dropping.

Finally, this possibility for targeted per-user radio ads based on IP address and other online info (pg24):

The half a million listeners who listen instantly to Difool’s morning show on Skyrock correspond to various characteristics. The same station can attract very different people which is how a large station becomes successful. The addressing process of IP radio means that people listening to the same programme can hear different adverts which correspond to their needs. Such multiple, simultaneous targeting is good news for advertisers which can concentrate their investments on suitable targets, for radio stations which can better serve their clients and are therefore more attractive, and for listeners who will hear adverts which are more relevant to what they are interested in.

IP radio combines radio’s power as a mass media with the advertising precision of the Internet.

How can an IP address be qualified, as it is occasionally random on some machines? Identification of the machine can be reinforced via a small file left on the hard disk (cookies) or through a code entered by the user at the start of the session (login) which identifies the individual. Moreover, the generalised spread of mobile terminals and their use for telecommunications will increase relevance between user and machine. This is currently the case with mobile telephones which are even more individual than PCs.

Even creepier targeted-ads could combine radio w/ the user’s web access data (pg26): “Someone listening to the radio just after looking at an automobile website could hear an ad
hoc advert via the radio.”

Don’t think it’s possible? Think again: “Even without cookies, a browser leaves a trail of crumbsArs Techica | Panopticlick EFF research project.

via Technology360.

Interviewing 3.0

Virtuoso Voices has compiled interviewing tips from pubradio personalities Bob Edwards, Susan Stamberg, Kurt Andersen, Lisa Mullins, John Diliberto, Lynn Neary and others. It’s all in a 25-page Interviewing 3.0 pdf (296KB).

David Schulman’s (of MITOW) thots on interviewing “feng shui” are revalations. Below are some excerpts from “Interviewing Performing Artists… and Others: A Practical Guide”…

Bob Edwards (The Bob Edwards Show):

Think of it as a conversation and not an interview. If you do an interview, it will likely SOUND like an interview. How do you talk to a friend over a beer? First you LISTEN—and you react to what you’ve heard. If someone tells me something really interesting, I’ll simply say, “Really?” or “No!” Those are little words of encouragement that signal the speaker to continue—and to expand on previous remarks. If your guest is truly confusing, try “Huh?”

Indulge yourself. Ask the question you’ve always wanted to ask. “What’s that lyric about?”

Susan Stamberg (NPR):

Listening to answers is more important than asking the question.

Best question is often the simplest: WHY?

John Diliberto (Echoes:

Don’t be afraid to ask the hard question. They aren’t your friends and you don’t have to worry that they won’t like you or walk out. Although occasionally they do.

Don’t be afraid to ask the obvious question. I got this from listening to Terry Gross, who, besides being a probing interviewer, also knows where the good stories are and isn’t afraid to query into known terrain, because a good story is still a good story, even if it’s been heard before. Chances are, most people still don’t know it. Then find a different angle on that story.

More…

Finding Our Voice

by Jay Kernis 2006-12-19 (Presentation to NPR Stations)

It’s an exciting time to be in public radio — as we all try to figure out how we will become public media.

For more than a year now, under the New Realities banner, the public radio community has been talking about everything from how to use new technology to share stories from the past and present — to creating a new business model to fund public radio — to articulating our mission in a media world that offers so many choices. A new world where the biggest challenge is just getting the attention of the audience.

Here’s one provocative statement from these discussions — a challenge — that really got me thinking:

“NPR has found its distinctive SOUND.
It is now time for NPR to find its true voice.”
–Quote from an NPR reporter (February 2006)

To me, that reporter was saying: it is time for us to discover what we truly want to become.

Because if we fail to do so, audiences will go elsewhere. If we fail to do so, we will be prey to the others who will define us. The others who call us “liberal” or “effete” or “boring.”

The statement by the reporter differentiates between our sound and our voice. I’m going to talk about both for a few moments.

To help us find our true voice, I asked NPR News to make a few what I called “tweaks” — SIX OF THEM actually — most of them involving the issues we’ve been discussing for years. Decades, actually.

First, I told them that when people tune to an NPR program, I want them to hear reports and interviews and essays that inform them, of course, and that ask them to question preconceived notions — but that’s not all.

I want the air to SING. I want programming that carries listeners to new places — intellectually and emotionally; programming that awakens you, that keeps you in your car to hear the ending, and that makes you want to tell a friend about what you heard. That makes you want to tune in again and again. Programming that soars — and sings.

But, the six areas I want us to pay a lot of attention to — right now — are: More…

Cage Silence

Listen : John Cage – in love with sound / silence -01

Transcript of the interview with John Cage in the film “Ecoute” (Listen) by Miroslav Sebestik:

[part 1]
When I hear what we call music, it seems to me that someone is talking, and talking about his feelings, or about his ideas of relationships. But when I hear traffic, the sound of traffic, here on 6th avenue for instance, I don’t have the feeling that anyone is talking. I have the feeling that sound is acting. And I love the activity of sound. What it does is it gets louder and quieter, and it gets higher and lower, and it gets longer and shorter. It does all those things.

I am completely satisfied with that. I don’t need sound to talk to me. We don’t see much difference between time and space. We don’t know where one begins and the other stops. So that most of the arts we think of as being in time, and most of the arts we think of being in space. More…

Cowboy’s Sonic Capture

“From the opening moments, “Cowboy” seizes the heart and soul of the listener for an extraordinary hour. Josh Darsa’s strong story vision and great writing, combined with John Widoff’s brilliantly clear and intimately warm recordings and mix, produced a radio experience that remains unequaled to this day. Listen to “Cowboy” and think about what went into it: planning, attention to detail, patience, and the faith and confidence that the highest standards are both achievable and worth all the work they require. A masterpiece that has endured for decades already, and surely will for many more.”
–Alex Chadwick, June 1998

“This was the height of my career at NPR. It was a combination of everything… the music recording, the production sound recording, interviews… every single thing that I had ever done for this company all came together in this show. This was probably how Walt Disney felt when he made Mary Poppins. It was a dream come true for me to build something like this. ‘Cowboy’ is the kind of show you would listen to in a darkened movie theatre. The writing is spectacular.”
–John Widoff, May 1998

NPR.org: ‘Cowboy,’ a Study in Radio Tale-Telling
Hearing Voices episode: “Cowboy

Cover of Cowboy CD from NPR Engineering Master Series

[The following liner notes  are from the 1998 CD of “Cowboy,” Volume 1 in the NPR Engineering Master Series:]

In 1980, journalist-producer Josh Darsa, technical director and recording engineer John Widoff, assisted by Miles Smith, Dave Glasser and shop technician Bob Butcher, collaborated on Cowboy, a project that has become a classic of radio journalism. Cowboy was originally broadcast on October 4, 1980 on a series called The Mind’s Eye. In an interview with Mike Starling, Vice President of NPR Engineering, John Widoff describes their unique effort.

Mega Decks, Mega Mics, Mega Mix

JW: While we were at the rodeo, Josh Darsa wanted to record multiple vantage points of a single scene. For instance, I’d have a Nagra tape recorder on the roof of the grandstand and Miles Smith, a freelancer out of New York (currently Boston), would have a Nagra in the chutes where the riders would bust out for their ride. Then we would have a freeorunning Nagra III on the rodeo announcer. We ran them in sync kinda like you would do in video with multiple cameras. This gave us three different vantage points. During the show you hear the perspective change through cross fading which is a result of these different but simultaneous perspectives. More…

Sonic IDs

Sonic Signatures- Tips for Creative Use of Interstitial Time

07/12/05 by Jay Alllison

Microphone and Cape Cod signAt our radio stations (WCAI/WNAN/WZAI for the Cape and Islands in Massachusetts), we have been experimenting with interstitial time since the day we signed on. By interstitial time, I mean the cutaways, the hourly breaks, all the little moments between programming blocks, the cracks in the sidewalk.

We use that time to create our station signature, to declare our sensibility in 30, 60 and 90 second bursts.

Sonic IDs

Our first experiment is something we dubbed, “Sonic IDs,” an odd name that stuck. These are little community vignettes — portraits, anecdotes, oral histories, overheard conversation, short poems, jokes, slices of life — that end with our call letters. They are sudden narratives or images — like photographs for radio. Some are pure sound preceded by our favorite word: “Listen.” Others are simply the unheralded voices of our neighbors telling something about life. Our test of these surprising, non-standard moments, the way we know they work, is if the listener turns and looks at the radio when the come on. (Current article: “Bursts of lush and local life are new stations’ trademark“.)

Sonic ID– “Couldn’t Buy Hard Tack” (1:00 mp3):
More…

Confessions of a Listener

Magazine coverContinuing our historical Pubradio writs—

The Nation magazine devoted an entire issue (2005-05-23) to Radio Waves. Here’s an excerpt from a featured article, “Confessions of a Listener” by Garrison Keillor:

What I want is to be surprised and delighted and moved. Here at the low end of the FM dial is a show in which three college boys are sitting in a studio, whooping and laughing, sneering at singer-songwriters they despise, playing Eminem and a bunch of bands I’ve never heard of, and they’re having so much fun they achieve weightlessness — utter unself-consciousness — and then one of them tosses out the f-word and suddenly they get scared, wondering if anybody heard. Wonderful. Or you find three women in a studio yakking rapid-fire about the Pitt-Aniston divorce and the Michael Jackson trial and the botoxing of various stars and who wore what to the Oscars. It’s not my world, and I like peering into it. The sports talk station gives you a succession of men whose absorption in a fantasy world is, to me, borderline insane. You’re grateful not to be related to any of them, and yet ten minutes of their ranting and wheezing is a real tonic that somehow makes this world, the world of trees and children and books and travel, positively tremble with vitality. And then you succumb to weakness and tune in to the geezer station and there’s Roy Orbison singing “Dream Baby” and you join Roy on the chorus, one of the Roylettes.

I don’t worry about the right-wingers on AM radio. They are talking to an audience that is stuck in rush-hour traffic, in whom road rage is mounting, and the talk shows divert their rage from the road to the liberal conspiracy against America. Instead of ramming your rear bumper, they get mad at Harry Reid. Yes, the wingers do harm, but the worst damage is done to their own followers, who are cheated of the sort of genuine experience that enables people to grow up. The best of what you find on public radio is authentic experience. It has little to do with politics. The US Marine just returned from Sudan with lots of firsthand impressions of the crisis there; the journalist just back from Falluja, where he spent three months; a firsthand documentary about life aboard the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis in the Middle East–that’s what Edward R. Murrow did from London in 1940, and it’s still golden today. It’s the glorious past and it’s the beautiful future. (Thanks to the Internet, the stuff doesn’t vanish into thin air. You can go to thislife.org and get the story of the Houston woman or the aircraft carrier documentary. You can find the Sudan and Falluja interviews at whyy.org/freshair. More and more people are doing this. Nobody cares what Rush Limbaugh said two days ago; it’s gone and forgotten, but the Internet has become an enormous extension of radio.) That’s why public radio is growing by leaps and bounds. It is hospitable to scholars of all stripes and to travelers who have returned from the vast, unimaginable world with stories to tell. Out here in the heartland, we live for visitors like those. We will make the demented uncle shut up so we can listen to somebody who actually knows something.

—Garrison Keillor “Confessions of a Listener

Also in The Nation: Radio Waves was Rick Karr (of NPR) with “Prometheus Unbound” (about the Prometheus Radio Project), and a mention of a Scott Carrier TAL piece in the Diary of a Mad Law Professor column.

Power of Sound

Poster for the SALT Meet Me Anywhere event[Rob Rosenthal, host of the SALTcast, and Radio instructor at the SALT Institute for Doc Studies, begins each semester with a talk about…]

The Power of Sound

In the womb, our first connection to the outside world is through sound. Heartbeats. Voices.

When we’re born, our first impulse is to make sound.

Some creation myths say, in so many words, in the beginning there was sound.

Our voice starts deep within us and moves out into the world and into another person. Touch at a distance someone once said. And yes, sound enters us — all the time. We can’t help but hear. We don’t have earlids, as producer Jay Allison likes to say.

Our voice is a mixture of the air and our thoughts. They mingle together.

And this is a new thought to me. I’m still working on it. But, humans make sound. Think about it. We don’t make light. We don’t make taste. We don’t make touch, per se. Okay, I suppose you could aruge we make smells but that’s not something we fully control. But sound…we can create sound. We talk. We sing. We’re able to make noise with our bodies and because of our bodies — that’s how we’re constructed. That’s unique among the senses.

Have I gone off the deep end yet? No? Well try this.

Radio taps into something ancient. Something primal. Long before the printed word. Long before pictures and film. Waaay before Facebook, we communicated in sound. It’s all we had. We’ve been passing along information and telling stories sonically for about a bazillion years. At this point, it’s just how we’re wired. Radio plugs right into that.

With radio, the listener is a co-author. Radio engages the mind like a good book and we paint our own pictures. Television, which I know is an easy target, but for comparison, television tells you everything you need to know with its combination of pictures and sound. Radio lets you think.

Radios are inexpensive and ubiquitous — most homes have a good half dozen. You can be illiterate and ‘get’ radio.

There’s something magical about the radio. How the hell does sound get into that little box? If you talk to old school radio engineers, they’ll tell you the “M” in “F. M.” Stands for magic. I’ll let you guess what the “F” stands for. In fact, when radio was first discovered, it was thought that we tapped into a mysterious atmospheric element, the ether. I actually like to believe that’s true. More…

Audiography

[John Rieger’s three-year bi-weekly late-night experiment in radio programming, Artifacts: KPFA-Berkeley 1985-1987, introduced the idea of “audiography”…]

“Artifacts” is an experiment in the esthetics of non-narrative audio figuration and thematic organization. The sound recording media have produced figurative works primarily in such narrative forms as journalism and drama. Non-narrative audio composition has been understood as a musical enterprise rather than a figurative one. The poverty of this accepted wisdom is suggested by the analogy with photography. While painting begins with “stuff” — paint, the elementary color stuff — photographic composition begins with what might loosely be called “semantic” elements, visual records of world objects which contain a world reference. Photography has a passive or receptive moment which painting does not; for while painting may be a wholly abstract enterprise, photography must at least begin from the figuration which occurs when the film receives the light image from the world object.

So we may compare sound recording with musical composition. Music begins with the elementary sound stuff, whose fundamental property, we shall say, is timbre. Sound recording, however, begins with the passive or receptive moment which we noted in photography, where in this case the audio image of the world object is received and recorded. Sound recording is “audiographic”. But while photographic figuration has long since freed itself from the compositional constraints of the narrative tableau and the news photo, audiographic figuration still serves almost exclusively the dramatist and the journalist. Only by considering the audiographic record as sound stuff (musique concrete) have we managed to break these narrative shackles; but in so doing we have lost the reference to the world object and so destroyed the audiographic image qua image.

Surely, then, we have not yet exhausted this remarkable medium!

Audiography records only the mystery. Radio journalism has fought against this mystery, doing appalling violence to what is subtle, ambiguous and profound in the name of clarity, and strapping the unruly “actuality” into a straightjacket of anemic literalism.

Consider the richness of the audiographic image. Unencumbered by the superabundance of banal visual information against which photographers and filmmakers have had to struggle to uncover what is mysterious in the Thing, audiography records only the mystery. Radio journalism has fought against this mystery, doing appalling violence to what is subtle, ambiguous and profound in the name of clarity, and strapping the unruly “actuality” into a straightjacket of anemic literalism. (Or perhaps it is the journalist who wears the straightjacket.) Radio drama, with equal violence, reduces the audiographic image to a sound “effect”, playing a perpetually supporting role, and coming and going by the servants’ entrance. Should the image then seek the seductive embrace of musique concrete it will find only the ultimate subjugation, its destruction.

“Artifacts”, then, is the audiographic annunciation of the Thing. It heralds the esthetic of the blank stare. It calls upon us not to subjugate the image, but to receive it as it is for-itself; for within these audiographic artifacts objects lead lives of their own, revealing in their gravitational attraction one to another the unconscious mass, the hidden psychic substance which sustains them. They are to be approached not with a will to mastery, but with an attitude of reverence and humility befitting one on whom a thing of mysterious beauty has been bestowed.

–John H. Rieger, June 17, 1985

Riegs on: New American Radio | DNA Files | Hearing Voices |
Science and the Search for Meaning

The above Audiographic essay was performed live on-air by the author, with Catherine Stifter and Steve Tokar, on their KPFA program, “Artifacts: Manifesto, 1985” (7:58 mp3):

Radio Dog

Some more Lorenzo Milam, Sex and Broadcasting: A Handbook on Starting a Radio Station for the Community (available: Prometheus Radio Project | Amazon):

A Brief History of Radio

Radio was discovered some 50 years ago by a dog named RCA Victor. RCA Victor discovered radio accidently by looking into a horn, and discerning the voice of his master. Ever since then, RCA Victor has been a tradition, and many have capitalized on his cocked ear and puzzled face.

In the early days of radio, there were many exciting inventions. The Father of The Tube was Lee DeForest. He evacuated a bulb left by the Gardener (coincidentally, a friend of RCA Victor) and stuck his in his thumb and pulled out some mysterious little bugs called electrons. When he put the whole thing in a wall-socket, he said “Yreka.” And he heard the voice of London Calling. The voice said, “This is London Calling!”

Radio grew apace after that. There were modifications of DeForest’s evacuated tube. One of them was put together with some verve by Maj.-Gen. Edw. Armstrong. He called it the Heartstrong receiver. He was able to hear Trenton on his receiver. He also said ‘Yreka!’ which was a favorite quote of radio inventors.

Television also grew apace. The first signal was a picture of Howdy-Doody sent from Seacaucus N.J. to Weehawken, N.J. The effect was electrifying. Howdy-Doody was seen from as far away as Bayonne. CBS then was invented to steal patents from RCA Victor and his friends.

There were many suits. More…

Backyard Radio

Here’s a notion I picked up while visiting KWCW in Walla Walla WA, the radio station of Whitman College. “Inspirational Quote” from Eli Hansen (former KWCW General Manager,’99-’00):

Q: What function do you believe the college radio station should serve on campus?

A: When I was a little kid, the house I lived in had a pond in the backyard. My friends used to come over to look at it, then I’d usually end up pushing them in.

The pond wasnt very big, maybe five feet across at its widest point. It had a few fish in it — town rumor held that during the winter, they’d freeze right along with the water. This meant you had to be careful during the winter, cause if you broke the ice, you were liable to break the fish as well.

One time, a friend dared me to put my face in the pond and then go kiss my mom. I had a good time, but I don’t think my mom found it as funny as I did.

Anyway, the way I see it, our radio station is kind of like my old pond. Sitting in the backyard, providing some good solid down-to-earth entertainment whenever necessary. Like the pond, the radio station is a good place to take a dip and find your bearings. Something to take seriously, but not get too worked up about… it’s just a pond.

—Elias Hansen fmr KWCM GM, now Artist

PubRadio- A Short History

In 1996 Sue Schardt (now AIR exec) wrote this concise “Public Radio- A Short History” for the  Christian Science Monitor. Her article starts in the 1920s, then moves toward our current pubradio sys:

By 1967, national leaders recognized that noncommercial broadcasting was being held back by its lack of a network structure. Stations were on their own, with little way to share programming of national interest. With the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967, Congress provided for ways to build a national financial and distribution infrastructure for noncommercial television and – oh, yes! – radio (added to the legislation at the last minute).

The Act created the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to serve as a conduit for federal financial support of local radio and television stations, nationally produced programming, and interconnected services. With regard to radio, it was concluded (after a year of study) that most noncommercial radio was either student-run, or religious in nature, and therefore did not fit the criteria for funding. Consequentially, two important strategic decisions were made with regard to administering radio. First, a set of criteria was devised for funding. Unlike television, virtually no on had the capacity to produce sustainable, quality programming on a national level. In 1970, National Public Radio (NPR) was created as a national production center for news/information and cultural programming. NPR was to also serve as the coordinator for national program distribution. NPR began its national program service in 1971 with production of “All Things Considered”, a daily hour of in-depth, primarily national, news. The distribution infrastructure was completed in 1979 with the launch of public radio’s own satellite system which, for the first time, allowed local stations to send and receive programs among themselves. Between the years of 1970 and 1982, NPR was funded almost entirely by the CPB (stations paid $100 to join NPR).

Community radio also formalized itself during the ’70s. Fifteen stations and license applicants, several from Lorenzo Milam’s original group, formed the National Federation of Community Broadcasters (NFCB) in 1975. In general, the ’70s and early ’80s were a period marked by dramatic growth across the spectrum in public radio… the independent producers community emerged, the number of public radio stations tripled, minority participation grew significantly, Morning Edition from NPR (the a.m. sister to All Things Considered) went into production, and university stations moved to redefine their community outreach beyond simply acting as “classrooms of the airwaves”. More…

NPR Purposes

In 1970 National Public Radio’s first program director wrote a “mission statement” to define the aspirations for this new network and its first daily program, All Things Considered, which debuted May 3, 1971. Here’s some prime cuts from “National Public Radio Purposes” by William H. Siemering:

Because National Public Radio begins with no identity of its own it is essential that a daily product of excellence be developed. This may contain some hard news, but the primary emphasis would be on interpretation, investigative reporting on public affairs, the world of ideas and the arts. The program would be well paced, flexible, and a service primarily for a general audience. It would not, however, substitute superficial blandness for genuine diversity of regions, values, and cultural and ethnic minorities which comprise American society; it would speak with many voices and many dialects. The editorial attitude would be that of inquiry, curiosity, concern for the quality of life, critical, problem-solving, and life loving. The listener should come to rely upon it as a source of information of consequence; that having listened has made a difference in his attitude toward his environment and himself.

There may be regular features on consumer information, views of the world from poets, men and women of ideas and interpretive comments from scholars. Using inputs from affiliate stations, for the first time the intellectual resources of colleges and universities will be applied to daily affairs on a national scale.

Philosophically, time is measured by the intensity of experience. Waiting for a bus and walking through an art gallery may occupy the same time duration, but not the same time experience. Listeners should feel that the time spent with NPR was among their most rewarding in media contact. National Public Radio will not regard its audience as a “market” or in terms of its disposable income, but as curious, complex individuals who are looking for some understanding, meaning and joy in the human experience.

Most of the ideas in Siemering’s doc still seem sound; many remain untested. For instance, here’s NPR’s hopes for “cultural programs.” Notice the use of the term “radio art”… perhaps the first and last time NPR expressed the concept: More…

The Lengthening Shadow

A London-based writer published in a Danish journal this history of the U.S. experiment in direct listener support: “The Lengthening Shadow: Lewis Hill and the Origins of Listener-Sponsored Radio in America” © 1992 John Whiting. Sez he, “I suffered, I was there…” Here’s an excerpt:

The “radio voice” was established early: it demanded a norm of intonation, inflection and voice projection which was as absolute in its rules as the BBC’s so-called “standard English”. Deep chest tones, bland assurance, total lack of hesitation or error were essential, so as to convey that ineffable, indispensable quality-Sincerity. This exaggerated diction also helped to compensate for the primitive equipment and the bad reception in “fringe” areas…

(1948) FM radio was just being launched in America. Therefore there were open channels available which were not yet worth a great deal of money, since there were very few receivers and only a small audience. The new medium was especially suited to the kind of broadcasting Hill intended, which was to achieve a high technical as well as intellectual and artistic standard. A few years earlier there would have been only low-fidelity AM channels, prohibitively expensive to acquire; a few years later FM would also become expensive, though not in the same league as AM, whose broadcast radius and therefore its audience were much greater. In the meantime the asset, a greenfield site, would become also a liability as KPFA struggled to reach an audience without FM receivers….

Having established two totally revolutionary principles — absence of commercial sponsorship and indifference to a mass audience — Hill went on to describe in detail some of the attributes of a broadcasting medium which would conform to these criteria. The very fact of non-commercial broadcasting led at once to two interlocking principles: there was no time-ownership and no need for commercial breaks:

On examination of the tradition and uses of second-hand timing in commercial radio, it appeared that this practice had an entirely economic origin and meaning. Since at best it poses an obstacle to programming freedom, there appeared no reason whatever for its continuance in educational radio not engaged in the sale of time segments.

This had two highly pragmatic results: (1) the absence of commercial breaks meant that broadcasts could assume whatever attention span was required by the subject matter; and (2) this could be extended to its logical conclusion; i.e., a program could be as long as necessary or appropriate.

(From “The Lengthening Shadow: Lewis Hill and the Origins of Listener-Sponsored Radio in America” © 1992 John Whiting, published in “Cracking the Ike Age”, The Dolphin No.23, Aarhus University Press, Denmark)

One of the many sources Whiting cites is: Lewis Hill, Voluntary Listener-Sponsorship: A Report to Educational Broadcasters On the Experiment at KPFA, Berkeley, California. Berkeley, CA: Pacifica Foundation, 1958. If anyone knows where I can get a copy, please holler.


More Whiting’s Writings on radio:

Pacifica in Vincula The Life and Death of Great American Radio.

Matthew Lasar: Pacifica Radio: The Rise of an Alternative Network. Review for American Studies in Scandinavia, 1999.

War in Heaven In Uneasy Listening, Matther Lasar continues his encyclopaedic history of KPFA and Pacifica Radio.

Theory of Listener-Sponsored Radio

Pacifica poster: Free Speech“In a crisis grow. That’s the only creative possibility, take a risk and expand.” —Lew Hill

Lewis Hill co-founded Pacifica Radio (then KPFA & WBAI), based on “The Theory of Listener-Sponsored Radio.” In this taste of his 1951 treatise, he describes the commercial broadcast and how it differs from his new idea of a non-commercial radio:

Let me instance the announcer, not only to seize the simplest case, but because he will serve as the gross symbol for the writer, the musician, and all who try to make a living in the program end of radio. You will recall without difficulty, I hope, this fellow’s nightly solicitude toward your internal organs. In his baritone way he makes a claim on your attention and faith which few of your closest friends would venture.

I know of no better explanation of this man’s relation to you, to his utterances, his job, and his industry, than one of the time-honored audition tests given to applicants for announcing jobs at certain of the networks. The test consists of three or four paragraphs minutely constructed to avoid conveying any meaning. The words are familiar, and every sentence is grammatically sound, but the text is gibberish. The applicant is required to read this text in different voices, as though it meant different things: with solemnity and heavy sincerity, with lighthearted humor, and of course with “punch.”

If his judges award him the job and turn him loose on you, he has succeeded on account of an extraordinary skill in simulating emotions, intentions and beliefs which he does not possess. In fact the test was especially designed to assure that nothing in the announcer’s mind except the sound of his voice–no comprehension, no value, no choice, and above all no sense of responsibility–could possibly enter into what he said or what he sounded like. This is the criterion of his job.

The significance of this situation is strangely neglected, as I have said, although the commonplaces of industrial life that best explain it are much discussed. We all know, for example, that the purpose of commercial radio is to induce mass sales. For mass sales there must be a mass norm, and the activity must be conducted as nearly as possible without risk of departure from the norm. But art and the communication of ideas–as most of us also appreciate–are risky affairs, for it can never be predicted in those activities just when the purely individual and abnormal may assert itself. Indeed to get any real art or any significant communication, one must rely entirely on individuals, and must resign himself to accept not only their uniqueness but the possibility that the individual may at any time fail. By suppressing the individual, the unique, the industry reduces the risk of failure (abnormality) and assures itself a standard product for mass consumption.

We know these commonplaces, but it is truly staggering to contemplate what they imply and cause in American radio. Should you inquire why there is no affinity between the serious arts and radio, you will find that this is the reason.

America is well supplied with remarkably talented writers, musicians, philosophers, and scientists whose work will survive for some centuries. Such people have no relation whatever to our greatest communication medium. I have been describing a fact at the level of the industry’s staff, it is actually so notorious in the whole tradition and atmosphere of our radio that it precludes anyone of serious talent and reasonable sanity from offering material for broadcast, much less joining a staff. The country’s best minds, like one mind, shun the medium unless the possessor of one happens to be running for office. Yet if we want an improvement in radio worth the trouble, it is these people whose talent the medium must attract. The basic situation of broadcasting must be such that artists and thinkers have a place to work–with freedom. Short of this, the suffering listener has no out.

The Theory of Listener-Sponsored Radio,” Lewis Hill 1951, from The Exacting Ear: The Story of Listener-Sponsored Radio, and an Anthology of Programs from KPFA, KPFK, and WBAI, Eleanor McKinney, Editor, (Pantheon Books/Random House, 1966).

Also check this address by Pacifica Foundation founder Lew Hill’s son, David L. Moore, of the University of Montana.

Sex and Broadcasting

Poster for KRAB radio stationLorenzo Milam is “the Johnny Appleseed of community radio,” sez Broadcasting magazine. He helped establish KRAB-FM in Seattle in 1962, which grew into the KRAB nebula, a loosely affiliated group of freefrom stations (KTAO, KBOO, KDNA and KCHU — “the wet spot on your dial”).

Here’s an excerpt from Milam’s seed-planting guide Sex and Broadcasting: A Handbook on Starting a Radio Station for the Community (available at: Prometheus Radio Project | Amazon):

But listen: the fears of the community radio people, I am loath to tell you, come as strongly from within as without. It works like this: people like you and me who are involved with strange and honest broadcast operations have a looseness in the brain-pan. We (you and I, love) operate best through tension, insane schemes, and bizarre fears. We seem to create nests of slander, inwit, neurotic outrage, and mental dyspepsia.

I tell you all this not to cover you and me and the existing community stations with calumny. But rather, to suggest that as you move towards getting your operation on the air, you should also set about defusing the madness inherent in the people who will come to be volunteers or staff for you.

See: commercial radio stations have a built-in defusing process which is make-money. You don’t have that. What you have is a group of dedicated sincere people who want to Do Good and Right. And they are all crackers. Aren’t we?

Choose your fellow workers carefully and well. Get people who are stable and loving and involved, but get people who have a life outside the station. Because they can drive you (and it) balmy.

Listen: the reason KRAB was such a benign operation through its first five years was not just because Seattle is such a benign city where the outrage of free speech has been tolerated up through the ages. Nor is it because for the first Ave years we were convinced that no one ever listened to us: what with our two hour concerts of Korean Temple Bells and weekend extravaganzas of the music of Dahomey. No — it was because Nancy and Gary and Jeremy and James and I were careful to people the station with richly self-contained individuals. Good people, who loved listener-supported community radio, and what it could do for our minds; but, individuals who valued life outside the station.

It was not just that we took a couple of gallons of Mountain Red to the board meetings; it wasn’t that we practiced an anarchistically politically detached wryness in our daily lives: it was, most of all, that we had a loud early warning system which went off whenever ‘political’ types came in the door. And I ain’t talking about communists or John Birch Society members.

You will have hundreds of volunteers. They, and your board and staff, should be apolitical. Apolitical in the most inner sense. Apolitical in that you can only survive through openness, warmth, and a militant avoidance of rumor. You must be a lightning-rod.

—Lorenzo Milam, Sex and Broadcasting: A Handbook on Starting a Radio Station for the Community (available: Prometheus Radio Project | Amazon)

More Milam: Letter to Marketplace | Pacifica Radio book revu |
Whole Earth intervu | KRAB history | Salon crit of NPR

Pubradio Past

Cover of book: Sex and Broadcasting

“A radio station should not just be a hole in the universe for making money, or feeding an ego, or running the worldhellip; A radio station should be a live place for live people to sing and dance and talk: talk their talk and walk their walk and know that they (and the rest of us) are not finally and irrevocably dead.”
—Lorenzo Milam

Public Radio is in transition. CPB and other tri-letteral commissions believe radio must march into a new world order of MyFaceSpace YouTwits.

I’ve never put faith in people’s predictive powers — we humans are remarkably bad at it. But I do think a journey into an unknown future benefits greatly from a grasp of the past. So I spent a sleepless night chasing tidbits of pubradio history, especially from community radio pioneers like Lorenzo Milam and Lewis Hill.

HV kicks off April by posting some excerpts from these early essays and books in our Writs- Pubradio category. We’ll start with the seminal Sex and Broadcasting.

Radio is Dead. Love Live Radio.

“But the spectrum is as big as all outdoors — and there is a niche here, a crack there, for those who care to squeeze some of the art back into radio.” —Lorenzo Milam

Day to Day’s Last Day

[Today is the final broadcast of NPR Day to Day. The show, which has aired so much HV stuff and been a pleasure to work with, has been canceled.]

Much of our news today is like much of our food today.  Heavily processed.  Raised in cages, fed hormones and antibiotics.  It makes us sick, maybe causes cancer.  At least it doesn’t seem unreasonable that you could get cancer from the news.

But we need news, just like we need food.  In order to maintain a civil society we need to stay well informed of the issues at hand, and the news is how we do this.  So what we need is news that isn’t processed, we need more organic news.

In my opinion as a news connoisseur and critic, Day to Day was the cleanest, most ‘wild caught’ program produced by NPR.  Sometimes after listening to the program I actually felt better.  I had more energy and eagerness to go about my life.  I wondered what would be on the show tomorrow. More than anything Day to Day gave me hope of hearing something really fresh and true.  If anything suffers in processing, it’s the truth.

Faced with alleged budget shortfalls last Fall, some of NPR’s 17 vice presidents decided to cut Day to Day from it’s schedule and fire everyone who worked there.  Personally, I would have erased all vice presidents.  When was the last time you heard of a vice president in a news room?  There are people called editors and producers and engineers in a news room but nobody goes by vice president, let alone 17 people who go by vice president all making around a quarter million a year.  Not to mention their secretaries and assistants.  Maybe some country club memberships.

This class of NPR employee apparently doesn’t mind producing and consuming processed news.  They’ve done tests and conducted studies that show the news they produce is made from the best ingredients, assembled by trained professionals, all approved by the Columbia School of Journalism, and brought to you at a surprisingly inexpensive price.  They are marketers and lawyers, and I say they should be gathered together and marched out onto the downtown Washington street on a snowy day and made strip down to their underwear, and then every single one of them should be fired and forced to eat nothing but Big Macs for the rest of their lives.

What a Kroc of shit!

–Scott Carrier