“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
[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 Signatures- Tips for Creative Use of Interstitial Time
07/12/05 by Jay Alllison
At 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.
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“.)
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.
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…
[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.
[Brady Wiseman is a friend, programmer, state legislator for my hometown of Bozeman, and a Big Picture guy. We previously posted a couple clips from an intervu w/ him. I think people should hear what he has to say; so here’s the audio and transcript of the long vers…]
Audio: Montana State Representative Brady Wiseman (D- Bozeman) Jan 2009, Helena MT — over pints at the Blackfoot Brewery (15:13 mp3):
Transcript: My name is Brady Wiseman. I am a software engineer by profession. I live in Bozeman, Montana. I have a hobby which is serving as a citizen legislator in the Montana Legislature. So I’m spending the next four months in Helena, Montana acting as a public servant as a member of the Montana House of Representatives.
As people become less and less well off, as our standard of living continues to decline, people will self-organize into different modes of economic activity.
I believe that the economic catastrophe were in is a five act play and we’ve just come to the close here in early January, 2009, we’ve come to the close of Act One. We’ve got four more acts to go and it’s a tragedy. So, as it plays out, the ability of the National government to change itself will become apparent as being inoperative.
National politics is not subject to change because there are too many powerful forces behind it. So the change is gonna come from the grass roots. As people become less and less well off, as our standard of living continues to decline, people will self-organize into different modes of economic activity. And it won’t be directed from the top, it will simply happen from below.
And we still, at this point, have a wonderful advantage and that is the existence of the Internet to help transfer the knowledge of grass roots change, self-organized change happening in one place to another. And, so, we may be able to see a sweeping difference in how America operates, quite rapidly, but it will happen from the bottom, I believe, and not from the top.
Wall Street has their people in place in the new Obama Administration. It’s the same people who developed the system in the Clinton administration that is now collapsed.
The Obama Administration, right now, is committed to maintaining the status quo and they have proven themselves to be the servants of Wall Street, already, before even taking office, they had proven themselves to be the servants of Wall Street just like every Administration before them, going back to Franklin Roosevelt, who was the last President to buck the powers that be because they fell flat on their face and he was able to. He had to.
Well, if they fall flat on their face now , they still have control over events. They have their people in place in the new Obama Administration. And I don’t have to say the names, the names are well known. But it’s the same people who developed the system in the Clinton administration that is now collapsed.
So, I don’t expect them to do anything other than to take care of the people at the top, and nobody’s talking about taking care of the people at the bottom. And that’s what I’m here to do in my job as a Citizen Legislator is to look out for the people at the bottom.
How do we heat our homes? How do we turn on the lights? How do we put food on the table? These are the essential problems of life and they are becoming more and more apparent as the remaining four acts of the five act play play out.
There is no chart for the waters that we’re in now. There’s no map for the territory on the other side. That’s where the self organization come in. People will simply cope. When the Soviet Union collapsed, there was nobody there to tell the people how to take care of themselves but they did. They managed it, they figured it out and I believe as things continue to decline — and economically I’m convinced they will — then our people will figure out how to make things work for themselves. And my job is to help that along as well as best as I am able from the level of State government. More…
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.
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.
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…
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 “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.
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.
“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).
Lorenzo 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”).
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.
“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.”
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
[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.
[Carmen Delzell lives in Mexico, travels to India, and does occasional audio essays for us. Here’s the first of what we hope will be a series of posts & pix she’s calling the Bag Lady’s Guide to What’s Left of the Planet. This one’s from India…]
Today I took my regular rickshaw to Mother Theresa’s house to see if there was anything I could do to help or just see the poorest of the poor. I was expecting to be horrified by all the suffering but it wasn’t really as bad as I had expected. When I say it wasn’t as bad I mean it wasn’t as bad as the miserable beggars I see everyday on the streets of Delhi and Jaipur. At least at Mother Theresa the people I sat with were clean, comfortable and most of all smiling.
Years ago when I was at Mother Theresa in Calcutta a traveler girl told me that the ladies loved to be touched and hugged and patted. So I did that and I sang to them and I started to dance my version of Bollywood style movements waving my arms and undulating my hips. They were delighted… all of them old ladies or very brain damaged young women. More…
Listening to the two’s work on the new NPR Planet Moneypodcast and blog reminded me how damn good they are. AdamD‘s the econ extraordinaire guy for NPR. And AlexB of TAL and NPR, well, I gotta ask…
Is Alex Blumberg the best reporter on the planet?
His little asides make a story, like from this report on SEC Chair Chris Cox and the stock-trading practice of Naked Short-Selling:
“It gets confusing, as it often does, when you get to the naked part.”
“Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, despite having names a child might give a puppy, are… well, were…”
Planet Money “Naked Short Selling, Meet Moral Hazard” (27:27 mp3):
And there’s this AlexB blockbuster: “What’s In A Number?” The TAL topic was a report on Iraq civilian casualties. Alex transformed it into an insightful portrait of both the science and humanity in statistics.
“One of the remarkable things about the report is the absence of evildoers…”
“Market appetites for anything that resembled a mortgage pushed loan standards down: ‘No income, no asset. You don’t have to state anything. Just have a credit score and a pulse.’ (Mr. Blumberg pointed out that the pulse thing was optional: 23 dead people in Ohio were also approved.)”
Alex/Adam also just offered this cheerily titled story:
Last week’s Bernake/Paulson/Cox C-Span Congressional Extravaganza left me impressed w/:
• SEC’s Cox’s extremely educational testimony on what his agency can/can’t regulate (according to current law).
• FedRez’s Bernake’s insight on foreign banks are intertwining w/ those in USA.
• Congressional questioning, whether from D or R, seeking some/any clarification on procedures for the “proposed purchase of troubled assets”.
• Was particularly proud of my own Junior Sen. Jon Testor’s (D-MT) understanding of the implications and history of this year’s gov bailouts, and his pointing out how in past, the Fed/TreasDept has said all $X-Billion of the loan appropriation might not be used (as they’re saying now), but in fact every penny was.
Sec. of $s Paulson, otoh, met every request for clarity w/ a variation of: “We want the money and we want it now.” Heard no evidence this guy has any clue what he’s doing, what he’s going to do, or even what he did.
I gave him the benefit of doubt, tho — maybe he was hiding details in hopes of expediency. So I looked elsewhere for some sign this guy’s even mildly competent.
Found none. But along the way did run into lotsa illuminating info. What follows is an audio and url annotated travelogue of my trip thru the web. More…
[Mr. Massett explains why the media explanations of the mortgage crisis explain nothing.]
When the US credit markets began to blow up last year, every newspaper in the country served up two explanations for the mess: “sub-prime mortgage” and “collaterized debt obligation,” or “CDO.”
A sub-prime mortgage sounds bad on the face of it, so no problem there. But CDO has no obvious meaning. Only a few days ago I watched an NPR journalist try to figure it out from the words themselves (“let’s see, ‘collateralized’ refers to ‘collateral,’ so there must be a thing like a house or a car someplace, and ‘debt’ means, well, debt, and an ‘obligation’ means, um, you have to do something, right?”) The usual fudge is to drape the riddle with adjectives like “opaque,” “complex,” and “hard to understand,” as if these were explanatory principles. The phrase “complex and opaque financial instruments known as CDO’s” doesn’t tell you anything, really, but at least it sounds bad. Dern near as bad as a sub-prime mortgage. Moving right along, in other news…
The trouble is CDO’s were never meant for the average investor, or the average journalist. They are Wall Street inventions designed for the big players, investment banks like Citi or Merill or Bear Sterns. To understand them you have to think like an investment bank. This is no harder than thinking like a Martian. More…