Inside Story

   

In The Passenger Seat By Melina Walling. Cars on the highway. A deep breath. The beep of the GPS. The crunch of the police officer’s boots on gravel, the jangle of his keys. The sharp intonation of his voice as he asks for the vehicle registration. As you listen to the fiction podcast Carrier,…

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Rules Can Set You Free I was originally drawn to creating radio because of my inherent trust in voices. Sound is an incredibly intimate medium, and that intimacy sometimes allows me to entertain the illusion that radio stories are happening in real time. The storytelling becomes a conversation. I too wanted to make something that…

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Play It Again, Roman! It’s easy to forget about all the little sounds, the pops and rustles and scratches and clicks that surround me in my everyday life. I’m constantly filtering through, focusing past, drowning out all these sounds. And this is especially true with my daily devices. Gone are the days of clacking…

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How to Spook Your Listener I heard a story once about a professor who had trouble getting enrollment in a course, which was titled something along the lines of, ‘Representations of the Mythopoetic in Prose and Poetry.’ So few students enrolled that the course was nearly canceled. The following year he taught the exact same…

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Can You Give Me a Hypothetical? A great story is like a hidden fossil -- except instead of buried in the earth, stories are buried in people. Like an archaeologist, the interviewer must map out where to search, determine the outlines of the story, and ever-so-carefully bring it into the light. Retrieving just one story --…

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The Comfort of Consistency On the occasional days I got out of class early in high school, I would listen to The Writer’s Almanac, a minuscule daily segment that ran from 2:55 to 3 p.m. on my local public radio station. The Writer’s Almanac, narrated by Garrison Keillor, whose melodious and calming voice is…

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Tell Us How You Got There In 2010, This American Life hit their 400-episode milestone. To commemorate, TAL staff decided to take on a challenge: produce stories pitched by their parents. Ira Glass shared an awkward story about losing his suit on a train, Nancy Updike came up with a jingle about the Erie Canal, but…

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The Virtuoso of Multitasking What do you get when you combine a ragtime piano performer, classical symphonies, and a neuroscientist? A feat that pushes the boundaries of the human mind. Radiolab’s "A Head Full of Symphonies" left me breathless with its lush sounds and tight reporting. I have forever been enthralled by feats of…

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I Want to Be a Millionaire So far this blog has been about great stories and how they work. Each blogpost has focused on a craft element of a story that we love. But with winter in the air, we’ve decided to open up "Inside Story" to discussions of storytelling in a broader sense. We will…

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Enhancing the Magic of the Interview   I recently sat with my grandfather and asked him to tell me his life story. It only took about an hour, but that hour was perhaps the most significant hour of our entire relationship.   It’s an honor to interview another person, and there are a million little things…

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Unexpected Logic I’ve listened to hundreds of podcasts, and I can count on one hand the ones that have brought tears to my eyes.   The first time I listened to This American Life’s ‘Kid Logic’ was back in February. I was walking around Stanford, streaming it on my iPhone. The first…

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Hanging Out at Warp Speed When I listen to Radiolab, I feel like I’m in the studio with them while they tinker, banter, and generally have a good time, and for years I’ve been perplexed by how they can accomplish this; they take their stories to some of the biggest and smallest places in the…

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Promises, Promises Some people have superpowers, and Ira Glass's superpower just might be framing and introducing stories. We have been so awed by this superpower over the years that we finally decided to concatenate a bunch of Ira Glass intros, listen to all of them back-to-back, and see what kinds of lessons…

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The Most Engrossing Horrible Vacation The infamous story of Typhoid Mary has been told and retold so many times that many people believe they understand the whole story (that she started the outbreak of a disease she didn’t even experience). However, in “The Most Horrible Seaside Vacation,” the Radiolab team paints a new picture of…

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How to Tell a Heartbreaker This country’s history is filled with stories that are difficult to read. I’ve been trying to finish Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee for a year and a half now, and can only get through one chapter before I have to set it down. It takes me a month or…

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Studs’ Nova Sometimes you don’t really get to know someone until after they die. Sometimes a person’s death can be like the nova of a star, an explosion that broadcasts the star’s existence to places that had never seen it before, right before the star’s light goes out forever. It’s kind of…

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Timelapse Niece I was ten the first time I ever saw an imax movie. At the beginning it did one of those timelapse cityscapes, where the cars become blurs, flying through the city’s streets like blood cells through veins and arteries. It was meant to “wow” the audience and get us settled…

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Hello Space, Goodbye Time There’s a strong impulse right now to organize stories by space, rather than time. Check out This American Life’s Story Globe, or the various wings of Localore. It seems a natural extension of our communication technologies to map our environments with stories, and (attempt) to chronicle the fantastic volume of…

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Ditch The Narrator It’s time to get a little bit personal. This week I’m going to write about one of my own stories. I had more fun producing this story than any other story I’ve produced. It’s called People Find the Drum who Need to Find the Drum, and it hails from waaaaay…

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Fresh Air Extraordinaire A while back, I wrote a post about the expert kindness of Ira Glass, where I said that Glass’ gentle touch was the secret to his success in a risky interview situation. But I’d like to revise my argument here, to take into account the tactics of another interviewer par…

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Two Unraveling Characters, Interwoven by Music There’s some magical quality in radio, perhaps the softness of the voice or the raw emotion in every vibration that can evoke a visceral reaction. That magical quality comes out really strongly in “Unraveling Bolero”, by Jad Abumrad for Radiolab. It explores the intersection of creativity and neurology, and the…

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On Repetition in Storytelling From the SSP blogging staff: In preparation for our event this Friday with Coleman Barks and Martin Shaw, SSP blogger Bonnie Swift held an informal interview with Martin Shaw, asking him about repetition in the oral tradition, in the light of Shaw’s telling of the Handless Maiden myth. What follows…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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The Discrete Sound of Skin Color I think of the words "performance art documentary", and I’m not quite sure what to imagine... perhaps some video of a guy doing experimental painting in his studio? Or maybe an audio guide to a site-specific installation in a city? It doesn’t really matter what I picture. The point is…

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Both Showing and Telling There are certain stories that make me ache. Stories, usually, about a person’s suffering, and their ability to accept, endure, or overcome their pain. Sometimes my whole body will flush and I’ll cry. It’s not necessarily sadness, but the entire spectrum of emotions visiting me at once. A good story…

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Tempo When I first started producing radio, I took it upon myself to enlighten my listeners with unusual sound combinations. I would edit my stories so that the fast and the slow were sporadically mixed. Long, slow fade-ins were placed between quick, short speech excerpts. Sometimes I would sandwich five minutes…

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“I never would have thought of that, but now that you mention it…” I care more about voices than words. The textures and emotions and cadences - all of these features, to me, carry the most important parts of communication. But every now and then, I’m reminded of the power of words. When I listened to T.C. Boyle read Tobias Wolff’s “Bullet in…

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Ubiquitous Audio-tastic Material: Learning How to Listen Ever since I listened to this piece of audio, I’ve been a more informed inhabitant of the modern world. That’s because listening to this piece taught me how to listen to the wide array of sounds that are bombarding me from every direction, all the time. In “Hearing,”(act II in…

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Darth Vader Impersonator I do not recommend this piece to children (seriously). I recommend it to basically everyone else, though. I play it for my friends, I’ve played it for romantic partners, and I’ll be playing it long after radio is succeeded by whatever medium comes next. “Darth Vader Impersonator Impersonator” was put…

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A “Cry” Button There’s one radio trick that brings me to tears every time, and it features quite prominently in a 10-minute piece called “This can go on forever,” by Shea Shackelford and Virginia Millington. The piece tells the story of an adopted young man who, after having a child of his own,…

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We’re Out On An Adventure Let’s start with something that’s tremendously obvious. One thing you can do in audio that you can’t do in print is use recorded sound. But producers don’t record sounds for stories just because they can - they do it because a good set of field recordings can turn a regular…

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Good Stories Make Good Lectures Wade Davis is hands-down one of the great storytellers of our time. Holder of the oxymoronic position of ‘explorer-in-residence’ at the National Geographic Society, Davis is best known for his controversial work in the 1980s on Haitian zombies. Since then, he has traveled the reaches of the globe, thoughtfully documenting…

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Tenderness in the Game Show Arena I love to like the characters in a story. When I listened to "Roger Dowds: Millionaire Winner," by Irish producer Ronan Kelly, I immediately got into sync with the protagonist -- when he felt sad, I felt sad. When he felt happy, I felt happy. The listening experience is simple…

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Coaxing a Petty Tyrant out of the Dark I love when This American Life illuminates some tiny piece of some random city that I might pass on the freeway, reminding me how this country's landscape is still rich with stories. I had barely heard of Schenectady, New York, when I listened to Petty Tyrant. In this episode, for…

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