Posts about radio

This American story-telling

This American Life’s Ira Glass, who oversees what we journalists think is one of the last great hopes for “long-form journalism” (as it is so haughtily called), doesn’t necessarily call what he does journalism at all. From a Times Q&A leading up to his new Showtime video version of the show:

Q: How do you think your work differs from traditional journalism?
A; We’re taking the tools of journalism and applying them to people whom you wouldn’t normally apply them to — people who aren’t famous, people who aren’t powerful, people just like you and me.

Q; What are you talking about? Journalism has always had human-interest stories.
A; But a newspaper probably wouldn’t run an article where a cop remembers one weird incident with a squirrel when he was a rookie. That’s too far from any kind of normal news hook.

I’d say that’s false journalistic modesty. If journalists are storytellers, Glass & Co. are the masters of the craft.

Fair Game

Faith Salie has the most endearing voice on radio. Click below and listen to her on Fair Game, a new show aimed at a younger audience, and you’ll want to propose.

It’s not a voice or, for that matter, a personality we hear on public radio news shows, where the tones are stentorian and authoritative (hear: Nina Totenberg). Salie is relaxed and funny — though, as her radio bio emphasizes, she’s not dumbing down NPR stations; she’s a Rhodes scholar and Harvard graduate. I’ve been listening to her on my iPod, fascinated by the show’s attempt to liven up public radio (especially after visiting NPR last week). So I was delighted when a call came to appear on Fair Game and doubly delighted that it was to talk about my new endeavor, PrezVid.

Before I got on, they were talking about the Jesus bones, not afraid of rattling the cultural safety latch, doing a shtick about a Jesus Jurassic park with cloned Messiahs and speculating with a theology professor about how hard it will be to get Jesus DNA (Salie guesses that a communion wafer probably won’t do the trick).
It was daring without acting daring and what I liked best was that the intelligence comes out in the wit.

I wanted to video the interview but with Salie as a TV personality, that caused complications. So here’s just a snippet from the control room below. And here‘s the interview.

Audio on audio

Andy Carvin at NPR put up podcasts of part of last week’s discussion there about social media — two hours at an open session with NPR staff. Part 1. Part 2.

What should local radio be?

At last week’s meeting of the minds at NPR, there was much discussion about the difficult position local stations find themselves in as the value of their distribution diminishes. And it was said, as an article of faith or perhaps reflex, that going local is the answer — the same answer given for newspapers these days. But as I thought about it on the train ride back, I wondered what that really means.

Obviously, it’s not easy for a radio station to get hyperlocal; it has just one big pipe and no resources to cover a market broadly. It’s not easy for newspapers, either, but they clearly have a headstart with a larger staff of reporters and the ability to slice their products into local zones. So I asked myself what the strength of a radio station is and the answer’s apparent: promotion. A station can drive a sizable audience to something new online. But what do they get when they get there? And what content on the radio station continues to draw the audience to give it that promotional power? Not easy questions.

I’d start and the end and say that a local radio station must stop thinking of itself as radio. It has the power to develop local communities of news, information, and interest. It can use its promotional power to drive people there. It could, for example, get people in a market to record every damned school board and town council meeting and put them online, served by the station. It could create the meeting place where people share news and information, competing with or even in cooperation with local papers. It could be a home for talk about local issues and news.

So what is the on-air content? It’s not hyperlocal. But it could be a meta version of that: talk about the issues that cut across the region with reporting from the best of the local communities. It could feature the best citizen critics giving you reviews of local arts and entertainment. I don’t come up with much here. So I’d say that the station has a limited time frame in which to use its promotional power.

Here’s Zadi Diaz’ take on the same issue out of the same meeting:

So why listen to radio?

There will always be a need to connect in real-time. To know that there is another person on the flip side that can give you perspective on the present and can communicate back to us. It’s a living, breathing thing. And in a world that becomes progressively automatic, the need to connect on a deeper level will grow.

People like to be social. Twitter is proof of that. To me twitter is the text version of a well-oiled ham radio. People sending out ideas, and questions, and mundane little things that may only be of importance to a handful. But it’s that instant live connection that makes it so special. You know what someone is doing at that very moment. And in a sense, it puts you there with them.

People also love to tell their stories. To each other. Conversation. The thing about Twitter that makes it electric is that there are multiple conversations going on at once. You become a receptor, a connector, and a storyteller all at once. I feel this is the key to the future of live broadcasting:

Becoming a converstation. No misspellings there.

Creating a converstation within NPR can only benefit everyone involved. Maria Thomas, who invited us to the panel discussion spoke about how NPR was born of storytellers. It immediately conjured images in my mind of people sitting around a campfire and sharing their stories. Around that campfire there is the storyteller and the people listening. The storyteller isn’t in a vacuum, there is ambiance, they occupy space, they are also listening to the listeners. The storyteller is the independent producer who is an expert in the story they tell. NPR can build small campfires and enable those storytellers to begin and ultimately develop the grandest story of all.

Local member stations+storytellers= campfires

Campfires can especially grow in a beautiful way online. The use of a website becomes less about providing news (we have feeds for that), and more about being a social hub where people can go to connect. There is a reason why there are so many social networking sites. Why can’t organizations think of their websites like they do their buildings?
– You have your reception area where the receptionist answers your FAQs
– Office spaces which are only accessible to employees
– Conference rooms where you hold meetings
– Mess hall where people from inside can congregate and speak to each other
– Lobby where people from the outside can talk to each other and to the employees
– Etc.. play room?

If you’re not afraid to open up your building to the public, there should be no fear of opening up your web site to a little one-on-one communication.

So what you end up with is an endless number of little radio stations making their own connections. The old radio station is some collection of the best or widest of that.

I’m still not satisfied that there is a great answer for local radio. But if the Siriux, XM merger (below) goes through, I think that creates more opportunities for local NPR radio. The rest of radio — from the big companies and from satellite — will be national. NPR member stations can be the last outpost of local radio. They can’t afford to get more local on their own but they can do it in partnership with their listeners.

: Zadi was nice enough to note:

– just googled the word “converstation” and realized Jeff had blogged about the word a while back. How funny.

Satellite heaven

It’s great news that Sirius and XM have agreed to merge — and the FCC has every reason to approve the move. Without this, one of them would likely fold anyway. With it, we get the best of both their talent and technology and they can compete with terrestrial radio — which, Lord knows, needs the competition — and iPods. I’m a Stern fan and Sirius stockholder and satellite user and I’m all for this.