Blogs 2012

Clear Diction Keeps a Fast-Paced Train on Track

“Insane.”
“This can’t be for real.”

These were the first thoughts I had while listening to “Santa Fight Club”, by Josh Bearman on This American Life. Imagine a group of Santas, the first national Santa convention, a coup, and Santa fights caught on camera. Sounds absurd? This is the story of Santa Nick and Santa Tim, two bearded Santas caught in a political schism. When all the power of Christmas goes to one man’s head, chaos ensues… I was completely enraptured, listening to it.

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Blogs 2012

Kuleshov Spielberg

We don’t usually talk about movies on this blog, so roll with us on this one: sometimes it helps to venture outside your medium to find new inspiration/perspective.

In my freshman year of college, I learned about this thing called the Kuleshov Effect – it’s a Russian experiment from the early days of cinema, and it’s amazing.

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Blogs 2012

Hats Off To Final Salute

I have a 3” binder of creative nonfiction stories, and I open it up every time I need some inspiration. There are so many amazing stories in the world… the binder is gluttonous. Well-organized and gluttonous.

Many of these stories cry out to be adapted into radio stories. One example is “Final Salute“, about the families whose loved ones will never return from war, and the Marine officers whose job it is to tell them.

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Blogs 2012

What Happens at Dos Erres Does Not Stay in Dos Erres

Last May, my boyfriend Jon and I drove from Guatemala City to Petén, the northernmost region of the Guatemala. When you reach Petén, you instantly become swallowed up by the jungle. The air is thick and humid, animals and insects cry out in the night, and everything is green; the moon is barely visible through the thick branches and leaves of the trees. At one point, we stopped at a dingy gas station and got out of the car. I remember staring into the immense darkness and thinking, this is the jungle, and it has so many secrets.

A week after I got back to California, I heard episode 465 of This American Life, “What Happened at Dos Erres.” Produced by Habiba Nosheen and Brian Reed, this podcast tells the horrifying story of a military orchestrated massacre that took place in 1982 in the area I had just visited. The amazing thing is that his story, while horrifying, finds a way to inspire listeners.

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Blogs 2012

An Advantage of Awkwardness

To my ears, Love + Radio has one of the freshest sounds of any radio show around. The episode “The Wisdom of Jay Thunderbolt” (warning: not kid friendly) is a perfect illustration of how to make radio that feels immediate. It’s an interview with a man who runs a strip club from his house, and it’s a lot more.

This piece does a lot right, especially in its use of music, and in the intensive re-shaping of recorded sounds, through editing.

There’s one neat trick in particular I want to focus on: This piece makes excellent use of a difficult/awkward interview, and it does so by keeping the producer in the story.

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Blogs 2012

Laughing on the Radio

I love listening to Jad and Robert laugh on the radio, because it brings out the smiley, laughey part of myself, and I like that part of myself. I don’t think I’m the only one who feels this way. Consider Car Talk. It’s a nonstop laugh-a-thon, masquerading as a car repair show. And for a while it’s been the most popular show on NPR. It feels good to laugh with the people on the radio.

If there’s one lesson radio producers can take from this, it’s this: apply generous portions of laughter, especially when engaging in some kind of back-and-forth. Now, to discuss this further, let’s look at the “Laughter” episode of Radiolab.

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Blogs 2012

Returning to the Scene of Inspiration

The summer before my freshman year at Stanford, my entire class read three books: Mountains Beyond Mountains, The Kite Runner, and a collection of literary short stories. In the scheduled book discussions that we freshmen had with our RAs, the first two books had the floor. Paul Farmer, we had read, would walk four hours through rural countryside to treat a single cholera victim. Many of us felt we should become doctors. The Taliban, in Hosseini’s novel, was gut-wrenchingly evil. We would go into politics, or international relations. The third book didn’t make nearly so powerful an impression on our ambitions – or at least, my ambitions.

It is surprising, then, that I became a writer. The storyteller’s life doesn’t seem as noble as the life of the other two aspirations. Even though I love being a working writer, sometimes I feel uncomfortable with it. Am I actually having a positive effect on the world? Do stories really generate the kind of change that medicine or politics do?

This American Life recently aired a story that changed my mind about the significance of stories. The story, which is part of the episode “Crime Scene”, is called “A Criminal Returns to the Scene of the Crime.” It is about a man named Bobby. Bobby is a recovering drug addict, a former thief and con artist. In this story, he returns to his old neighborhood, the same place where he stole things and tricked people, to coach a Little League baseball team.

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Blogs 2012

Subjects as Collaborators

“Subject” is a documentary-related word with which I consistently feel uncomfortable, especially when it refers to a person. In a documentary Q&A I might hear someone ask, “What effect does this film have on its subjects?” and it sounds like the people in the story have been tested for a scientific study. Yuck. Is that what they signed up for?

But the word ‘subject,’ when I think about it, actually denotes a person with a role to play. It’s the object that’s acted upon – the subject, grammatically speaking, is an actor.

Many of my favorite documentaries are the ones in which producers stay out of the way and let the true subjects do their thing. Radio Diaries does this well, and uses a unique formula for doing it. Check out Weasel’s Diary: Deported. It’s the story of a man who was deported to El Salvador, even though he only barely remembers ever having lived there as a child.

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Blogs 2012

Embracing Your Inner Oliver

In the old days, radios and record players were such novelties that people would sit around them and just listen. We don’t do that so much anymore. But Edgar Oliver’s storytelling is so much better than anything I’ve ever heard, his voice so thick with intrigue that it enraptures my entire attention; nothing, not even Facebook competes.

In Apron Strings of Savannah, Oliver masterfully dramatizes both the hyper weird and the mundane. Listening is like sitting on an old velvet couch my distant relative has been storing in an attic since the 1950’s. Oliver’s story, like the couch, kind of made me cringe. His voice can best be described as Transylvania homeboy. Instead of letting the shock of Oliver’s voice distract me, though, I took a short pause and realized the basic fact that I’d been entranced. How did I get so quickly captivated by someone who sounded so little like Ira Glass?

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