The Transom Review

Volume 2/Issue 1

Larry Massett

March 1st, 2002 | (Edited by Sydney Lewis)
Larry Massett, his mother and Aunt Grace, from "Travels with Mom"

Larry Massett, his mother and Aunt Grace, from “Travels with Mom”

Whenever I suspect I might be getting too sanctimonious or preacherly, as is my wont, I’ll think about what Larry Massett would say. If I were to ask him outright, he’d drag on his Raleigh, and without any change in expression, nod, “uh-huh.”

Larry and I got into radio at the same time in DC in the mid-70s. He did the music for a Brecht play I directed in a storefront theatre. I was living in his basement, by the furnace. His dog slept on the floor next to me. Ruined my rug. One night a friend of Larry’s, Keith Talbot, came over and told us about this new thing in town: National Public Radio. Keith loaned us tape recorders – Sony 800B open-reel portables (same as Nixon’s, by the way). We stole supplies from NPR and went through a lot of tape. We spliced our masters.

Twenty-five years later, here we are – still in public radio. Larry and I founded SOUNDPRINT together a long time ago, and Larry became its host. Right now, he’s Senior Producer for Hearing Voices. Over the years, he has made a singular assortment of strange and remarkable pieces, many still referenced today, usually with the introduction: “Why don’t we do anything like that anymore?”

Larry’s work has had a strong influence on those who’ve sought it out. He was an early encourager and producer of some of public radio’s most distinctive voices – Scott Carrier, Joe Frank, Barrett Golding, Andrei Codrescu. Larry encouraged Transom too, when it began, dropping by to pitch into our conversations and see if he could hear something new. Sometimes, he’s been gratified. Other times, he’s exhaled smoke.

In his unpretentious way, Larry Massett has helped keep alive the very idea of a Fringe in public radio when the trend has been steadily toward an emphatically finished seam.

Please welcome him. Find out what he’s been listening to lately. Jay A

In Search of Aliens

As a small child I used to watch my grandfather listen to the radio. His favorite broadcasts- indeed the only ones he followed- were the local election returns. He’d pull up his rocker and stare mesmerized at a wooden floor radio roughly the size of a medieval cathedral, while a ghostly voice crackled: “Smith 4, 501 votes, Jones 3,480 votes… blah blah blah… Smith 4,601 votes, Jones 3,589 votes… blah blah blah… Smith 4,721 votes blah blah…” on into the night.

This was incredibly boring. His other hobby was squirrel-hunting, which in the dense Georgia woods meant the two of us standing around peering at moss-tangled treetops intently, for hours, as if waiting for local election returns. The advantage to hunting was that now and then -BLAM!- for no particular reason -BLAM!- you could let loose -BLAM!- with your shotgun (“All right, son, now that’s enough” ) while with radio you were just plain stuck.

I still listen to the radio only when stuck. Researchers claim most of the public radio audience is stuck: stuck in traffic jams, stuck washing the dishes, stuck in the middle of Wyoming a hundred miles from the nearest Blockbuster. In these circumstances radio does seem like a reasonable alternative to masturbation, once in a while anyway. Yet people grow maniacally attached to it.

At a dinner the other evening I wound up seated next to an NPR maniac. Far from being stuck, he was an advertising photographer who spent half his life jetting off to shoots around the globe. Nonetheless he had committed to memory the names of every single NPR staffer, including the ones mentioned in a rush at the end of a show, the way dead fish are jettisoned when a trawler docks. He wanted to hear all about them. How old is X? Is Y funny in real life?

The polite thing to do in a conversation like this is to lie. Nothing to it if you’ve had a few glasses of wine. X is no longer with us- yet fortunately, while on death row, managed to record all the words in Webster’s dictionary, which the editors now combine as needed. In real life, Y sobs incessantly. And so on. But for some reason I answered his questions soberly, as best I could…..until he got to (insert commentator’s name here.)

“Why do you care about (commentator)?” I asked. “Isn’t (commentator) completely predictable?”

“Sure, ” said the aficionado. ” (Commentator) hasn’t said a word in twenty years I couldn’t guess ahead of time.”

“Well then….”

“But that’s why we like it, don’t you see? Don’t you get it?”

Oh all right, I get it. For a lot of people radio is a family thing, a communal experience. I happen to feel this way about movies. You haven’t seen a film till you and your popcorn-munching buds pile into some megaplex on opening night for twelve bucks a pop. Community is swell. And people who come into public radio after growing up with it naturally want to reproduce what they’ve loved; in this way the memes of ATC and Garrison Keillor and Dave Isay and Ira Glass spread across the airwaves. This ensures continuity and… oh all right, community. So let’s call producers of this ilk the Communists.

Then there are the Anarchists. These are producers who backed into radio from hearing tapes. At least this is how it worked for me and a couple other producers who’ve popped up on Transom: a friend plays you a tape or a DAT or whatever, and it’s a weird fish that’s not music, not journalism, not (so far as you know) anything that’s got a name. Yet it’s done with spectacular care for sound and time and nuance, and it seems true. So you make one of these oddities yourself. You share it with friends. Somebody somewhere calls it a “documentary” and sticks it on the radio, but that’s trivial to Anarchists. They mainly listen to tape. Or the Net.

Finally there are Aliens. Disguised as housewives, school kids, poets, convicts, bag ladies, or even stockbrokers (Aliens are endlessly inventive), these folks have something to get off their chests. They don’t give a rat’s ass about the art of documentary but they’re dying to unload. Aliens may go so far as to learn Protools in order to be heard, and from there…who knows?

Okay, we now have enough Arbitrary Categories to reach a conclusion: Public radio needs Communists. Listeners like them. They’re good citizens. Yet because Communists tend to repeat themselves to a degree which, eventually, even the audience will notice, radio also needs Anarchists. Just a few, thanks. Anarchists are trouble and the system can only stomach a few at a time. So the great need is for Aliens- for people no one would expect to hear.

The question is how to find them.

It’s worthwhile, I know, looking below the poverty line. Radio should give voice to the imprisoned, the oppressed, the marginal- to all those who live, as Andrei Codrescu puts it, “on the wrong side of the television screen.” Still, as an Anarchist, I fear this has become a Communist strategy. It’s downright mainstream. What self-respecting Anarchist wants to agree with the majority just because they’re right?

So, another strategy is to poke around randomly. Forget washing the dishes. Take a walk in the woods. Listen. Wait. Sooner or later something unlikely may fall from the sky, like ….why, like a squirrel dropping from a Georgia treetop.

Here now are some squirrels, I mean Aliens (Commentator: sadly, the writer has lost control of his metaphors), I mean unexpected voices I’ve encountered in the last few months:

Foreign Ladies dot com

Ned Dantes is a television producer, a manic depressive, an old friend. Recently he began sending me emails so strange I begged him to read them on tape. The story starts with him trying to find a mail-order bride over the net and ends with a scary bout of electroshock therapy. (This Hearing Voices series is no longer online).

Ned is pure Alien. He could produce his own pieces in a snap if he cared to; but he doesn’t care, so I took a whack. As a game, I tried to include a whole cut from his band’s CD in each episode. That’s why the music goes on so long. It’ll have to be redone if these things ever make it to radio broadcast.

The Theory of Everything

The Theory of Everything
Chris Langan I don’t know personally, I think a friend of a friend of his brother told me about the site. Apparently the guy is a self-taught genius employed as a nightclub bouncer. In his spare time he’s worked out a “Cognitive-Theoretic Model of the Universe.” It explains absolutely everything, from quantum mechanics to consciousness. Does it explain why Drew Barrymore married What’s-His Name? Dunno. Can’t make head nor tail of the theory yet. But Langan looks suspiciously like an alien. And as a night club bouncer he should be, you know, personable. Worth checking out.

Mark Allen Cam

Mark Allen cam
At last count there were 476 gadjilllion webcams running on the net, mainly soporific porn. is different. Mark Allen describes himself as a former go-go dancer and underground celebrity who retired from the stage after a bout with cancer. Though his cam never seems to be working, you can read the journals he writes now and then when he decides to get the hell out of New York and drive “to the middle of nowhere.” His take on the American hinterland is like nothing you’d expect. Okay, maybe it’s exactly what you’d expect from a retired go-go dancer, but still….Somebody (not me necessarily) should grab a mic and go with him on his next road trip.

Other potential Aliens crop up on the message board. Trucker John is a gay truck driver who keeps a detailed diary of his routes. From what I’ve read, he’s very, very interested in the mechanics of truck engines. If someone with a mic rode along it might be fascinating, though. The carburetor problems could be edited out later.

By the way, Mark Allen hosts a “live radio program” from his site every Monday. Never heard it, but the image is intriguing: one person, one mic, a computer, and- voila!- a radio show. If it’s this easy why don’t we all have our own radio stations? Or maybe we do and I just don’t know it yet?

This is about what I know on this topic at the moment. Out there in cyberspace, any thoughts? Other ideas?

Larry Massett Audio Pieces

About Larry Massett

Larry Massett with his Mother

Larry Massett with his Mother

Larry Massett is a senior (ie. ancient, hideously experienced) independent radio producer.

His documentaries on a wide range of topics – the oil industry in Louisiana, deforestation in Nepal, retirement communities in Florida, the Sarvoydaya movement in Sri Lanka, elephant trainers in Arkansas, virtual reality in Los Alamos – have appeared on All Things Considered and other vehicles.

His documentary about the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Laboratory, On the Edge of Reason, won the l993 AAAS-Westinghouse science journalism award. His 13-part CPB/Annenberg series on the modernization of China and Japan won an Armstrong Award. He produced several of Dupont-award-winning DNA Files programs.

His work has been supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Ford Foundation, the Town Creek Foundation, the United Nations Development Programme, UNICEF, and others. He was, with Jay Allison and Bill Siemering, one of the founders, and for many years the host, of the award-winning documentary series Soundprint.

96 Comments on “Larry Massett”

  • Sydney Lewis says:
    Some things I’d like to hear about

    I have questions….I didn’t find my way to NPR till about 1993. Before that, radio to me was one or another music station, or way back in high school, Knick’s games when they weren’t broadcast on TV. I didn’t know from air docs.

    When I first dabbled in NPRness I’d get my news hits in the morning and late afternoon. I’d heard a few radio documentaries, but didn’t follow the field. I’m new to this world and while your name is familiar to me, I don’t know much about your work.

    I know if you’re not in the mood it can be boring to talk about pieces you’ve done in the past, but would you? Something you’re still pleased with, can’t now bear to hear….or if you’d prefer, something you’re working on this wintermore recent.

    Also, in your experience, are radio anarchists more irritable than aliens? And if anarchists become increasingly net dependent, aren’t they going to get goofy in the head from lack of oxygen?


  • Susan Jenkins says:
    Mic-ing Moms


    What a fantastic take you have on things. I didn’t know who you were when your name came up as the special guest, although I just this week put together in my head a posting you made on the Street Dogs discussion and your piece on the Hearing Voices, i.e., ‘gosh, that’s the same person..’ Listened just now to the piece you did with your Mom before hopping over here, all this a long way of introducing my rather boring technical questions that came up during the listening.

    I have been taping conversations with MY aging Mom since last summer as an open-ended project and talking about all the places she lived as a kid, what it was like to live in DC during the War, for instance, and driving a little bit to old haunts in Pennsylvania. I was just wondering how you mic-ed her for the car travel parts, the in-the-house preparations (like when you’re going through the cooler) and when you were at Aunt Grace’s and they’re talking about the dances.

    Also, was this all taped during one trip/visit? And lastly, what was the music you used at the end, when your mom and Aunt Grace are talking about dancing at Tybee (I’m an oldies fan, haven’t heard that recording).

    I’m working on another project with Jay and Transom’s support, interviewing construction workers while they’re on the job at the WTC site and have been using a remote lav on (some of) my subjects plus a handheld…just wondering if that’s what you used with your Mom.

    It is a lovely piece and I like the sense of wonder that comes through. I think the Anarchists have the Wonder arena cornered, whereas the Aliens just pull the rug out from under ya.

  • beedge says:
    Mom, Aunt Grace & Tybee Island

    Larry at 9Larry's mom near 90soundfilesTravels with Mom by Larry Massett

    (13:10) These days, taking mom for out for a day-trip doesn’t involve going very far in distance, as it does back in time. Tybee Island, Georgia, now and in the 1920s, as seen by Mrs. Massett. Premiered on PRI/MPR Savvy Traveler.

  • Jay Allison says:
    Also, "Neurotica"

    We want to post a copy of Larry’s "classic" Neurotica here on Transom, but I can’t find my DAT copy in all the confusion that comprises life around here. Larry, do you have an extra?

  • Turbo Biscuit says:

    Earth to Larry.

    I hail from the claustrophobic TAL discussion boards. But I’m not diggin’ this Feng-shui.

    There are things to discuss.

    Please return.

  • larry massett says:
    Mic-ing Secret

    Susan, that Mom piece was recorded in one two-day visit. I used a special mic-ing technique, which was to have Barrett Golding come along to play engineer (we were travelling together on another project at the time.) This always works. Maybe Barrett can tell you what equipment he had. I can tell you I would have had a hard time holding a mic and driving a car at the same time.

    The music was from a CD called "Guy Lombard: All Time Favorites." Forget which cut; actually I hate this music and would be happy to give you the CD

  • larry massett says:

    Has vanished from my house, but I thinking is living in DAT form at Barrett Goldings and/or
    Scott Carrier’s

  • larry massett says:
    old and new pieces

    Sydney, the old piece I like most is "Neurotica," which Jay is trying to lay hands now. The humor is dated but the structure (people wandering around at a nightmarish cocktail party) still works. When it first aired in, oh, nineteen-eighty-something, people at NPR advised me never to do anything else. "Just do that over and over," they said. If only I’d listened.

    What I like most right now is the "foreign ladies dot com" piece posted at It’s unfinished, maybe that’s why it’s still fun to think about. And I have a big docu-drama piece in my head, a courtroom drama based on the true story of a tatoo artist accused of incest; not one bit of it exists on "tape" yet. Radio anarchists are not only irritable, they’re lazy. Anyway the piece has an obvious structure (from the beginning of the trial to the end) but I haven’t figured out what the point is. Assuming there is one. Sometimes radio pieces are just about mood, aren’t they

  • Susan Jenkins says:
    Radio anarchists are not only irritable, they’re lazy.

    ah, not lazy, just good at procrastinating.

    If only Barrett Golding came in a box…just add water.

  • Turbo Biscuit says:
    internet vs. radio

    Larry, Hi

    I’m so glad you’re on this site.

    I had no idea you and Jay Allison started Soundprint. What was it like in your day? What do you think about it now?

    Do you think the internet is exonerating Program Directors in a way from airing more eclectic stuff or would there otherwise be nothing interesting or different circulating? Would it make a difference to you, for instance, if Neurotica had only been showcased online?

    And–has there ever been a show or a piece that you’ve heard and thought ‘I wish I had done that?’ or ‘Man, if only I could get my hands on that….’

    thanks for your time.

    Fondly, TB

  • ben says:
    hi larry and everybody

    Larry, do you listen to the radio? If so, which shows do you like? If not, why not?

    When was the last time you heard something that floored you? What was it and what was so great (or, more pessimistic ally, so awful) about it? (kinda similar to the last q.)

    Also, did you see Alan Hall’s presentation at Third Coast? He did a whole hour and a half on "sound art" as he called it and played some nice pieces. Then somebody asked him about news and the relationship between news and all this "sound art" he was talking about. He said something to the effect of "Well, sound art is well and good, but I like my news to be news." The implication being — never the two shall meet.

    That was really disappointing to me, but it creates a question for you, Larry: is there a place for Anarchists in the NPR newsfeed? What about in the first 20 minutes of ATC?

    Then the inevitable follow-up: where? or, better yet, how?

    see you later. happy new year everybody!

  • larry massett says:
    internet vs. radio

    Dear Mr. Biscuit

    When Bill Seimering was run Soundprint, it was a great vehicle for long documentaries of all kinds. Bill kind of preferred big social themes ("why can’t we get a good piece on affordable public housing?" he’d say) but he had a good ear, and if a piece was well-made he’d like it no matter the topic. The current Soundprint I haven’t listened to in years. I heard they got some NASA money to do space science stories.

    Interesting question about the net- I don’t picture Program Directors saying "Well, we don’t have to bother running that because it’ll be on the net." As a rule I imagine them just trying to figure out what audiences want, and discovering over and over that what’s wanted is a copy of the last successful thing. It’s not their bent to take chances, is it (unless, of course, a show called "Taking Chances" has been a big hit for twenty years running)? So the net is a life-saver. It’s sort of like self-publishing: no money, lots of bores and maniacs, the odd gem.


  • larry massett says:
    listening to radio

    Ben, I really do listen to radio only in the car, and then just as a form of white noise. It’s well-known how a good piece forces you to pull off the road in order to listen. But good shows never seem to be on the air when I’m in the mood to listen, so when friends tell me about something exceptional on TAl or ATC or whatever I go find it on the web. As a result I think of invidiual pieces, like "so-and-so’s essay on feral lice," rather than what shows orginally broadcast them.

    Didn’t catch Allan Hall at Third Coast. If he thinks "news" and "sound art" are not likely to meet cheek-to-jowl in the first twenty minutes of ATC, he’s no doubt correct. You can approximate the effect by surfing channels very rapidly; the sudden juxtaposition of the Brookings Institute with the Backstreet Boys and The Lord’s Message and ads for Ruinous Home Mortage is fascinating- exactly what ATC is hoping to avoid. And of course you get the same thing by bouncing around on the web. Some friends of mine and I have been working up pilots for a kitchen-sink sort of radio show, but of course stations would call that "comedy" or "experimental art" or something, and try to find just the right slot for it. It’s puzzling.


  • Jackson Braider says:
    No money, lots of bores and maniacs…

    So here we are on net, talking and thinking and thinking and talking even though there’s no one paying us for the bristling insights (well, I *did* get a tee shirt here once, and Larry is probably getting — oh — a per diem that will cover him at McDonald’s for this month) we (I am belatedly joining this conversation) have to offer.

    I am only now beginning to realize that iif inertia is in fact a force, institutional inertia is a force unto itself.

    Personally, I am a longtime fan of Vantage Press and their weekly ads in the New York Times Book Review (which leads Vantage, in turn, to describe their publications as "having appeared in The New York Times").

    Which leads me to a question, Larry: Has there even been a piece you would have done, you wanted to do, you might have done, if only there had been some entity to pay you?

  • larry massett says:
    the undone piece

    Jackson asks " Has there even been a piece you would have done, you wanted to do, you might have done, if only there had been some entity to pay you?" An unfunded idea bubbles up about every ten minutes, so it’s hard to remember them. Oh wait, I recall I once thought it would a neat idea
    to stage a radio drama based on Balzac’s "Splendeurs et Miseres des Courtisanes," with a cast of children. Gee, why was that such a hard sell? Truth is I’ve been pretty lucky over the years at
    writing grant proposals so nebulous I can do pretty much any old thing. The hard part is
    finding a program to run it.


  • Jackson Braider says:
    Well then…

    Thank God there’s the Radio Exchange.

  • Sydney Lewis says:
    tattoos and incest

    Thank you Larry, for not being too lazy to answer our queries. So this docudrama in your head sounds fringe-like all righty. Was this some news item you spied? A trial you attended? Are you going to cast this thing or track down the people or what?

    I look forward to hearing "Neurotica" when it surfaces.

    If the folks at NPR would stop doing things over and over we wouldn’t be so desperate for fringe…..


  • ben says:
    Well then …

    let me rephrase my question.

    Should there be a place for Anarchists in the first 20 minutes of ATC, or in the NPR newfeed?


    Is there a way to do breaking news other than:

    Larry, dotcha ever wanna cover the News?


  • larry massett says:
    incest and tattoos

    Sydny, the tattooist in this story was the subject of Jay Allison’s first radio piece way back when. I went with Jay on the taping, and found out the guy- call him Mr. S- had written a book he wanted to publish, an hodgepodge of old sailor’s tales and tatoo jokes. Trouble was S wrote it longhand, and was sure somebody would steal his ideas if he sent it off to be typed up. So I started haulilng my portable typed down to the tattoo parlor on Friday nights. While S drilled his customers, I typed his book.

    Ever since he’s considered me a friend. I guess why he kept in touch after he closed the parlor and moved to the country. And I guess that’s why, after a silence of some years, he began writing from prison. He wouldn’t say why he was there, but in the course of helping him with his lawyer, I wound up with the complete transcripts of the trial.

    Now, it’s hard to deciding who’s telling the truth from reading the trial. ( Probably noone – the whole family was a mess. ) The case was all he said/she said. And when you ask people to read the lines, it depends on how the reading comes out. The tone of voice, the pacing, the pauses, make all the difference. There’s just no way be to sure- I suppose that’s the point. One idea is replay the same scene a couple of times with different reads. Sure, I’ve thought of tracking the people down (I still correspond with Mr. S) but I know they’ve tried to forget the whole business; and if they stuck to their guns you’d still never sort it out, would you? This sounds just like Rashamon, I know, but it’s more the impossibility of reconstructing of history if you weren’t there yourself. And even if you were, who knows? One of Mr. S’s more inventive explanations is that the supposed crimes happened only in fantasy. His family was fond of eating the unripe mulberries growing on their farm, and these are hallucinogenic, he says. Oddly enough he’s right; you can look it up in any plant book.

    Oh sorry, you’ve got me thinking about this project again, which sometimes seems too daunting and too unlikely to make it to air. Thanks.


  • larry massett says:
    strange news challenge

    Ben is asking " Should there be a place for Anarchists in the first 20 minutes of ATC, or in the NPR newfeed? "

    and it’s the "Should" that’s stumping me. I’ve often thought the real message of the news is the calm tone in which it’s delivered- as if to say, "fifty thousand people were killed when a bus went off the road in India today, but do I sound upset? No, so why should you worry either?" So it would be fun to hear the news read in a hysterical panic-stricken voice, or by someone with a fit of giggles. There’s a million ways to do the news. But the only way to do ATC is the way ATC already does it, no? That’s the choice they’ve made….

    So here is a boring news story I’ve made up (actually I’m stealing this from Raymond Queneau’s Excercises de Style- one of the masterpieces of French surrealism):

    "When Harlold Rothman, an international economist at the Brookings Institute, got on the subway this morning, he noticed a fat man wearing a battered hat who was arguing with one of the other passengers, a thin man in a grey sweater. The fat man was accusing the other of stepping on his toes on purpose.

    Later on, after getting off the subway at the L Street sation, Mr. Rothman noticed the fat man in a crowd near Rupert Circle. Or perhaps it was someone else in a battered hat."

    Okay, how many ways can you think of to do that story? Make it sound like ATC, like TAL, like audio art or whatever you can think of….. Either in your head, or for real on tape.
    I will if you will.


  • Viki Merrick says:
    different news

    Larry and Ben trying to bend the news got me thinking about when I heard a radio rookies piece at the 3rd Coast – a young boy who went to question Bush at one of his appearances. his piece was an intimate play-by-play

    The end result was virtually the same as if some established local "authoratative" reporter did the piece – but the voyage, the delivery was absolutely engaging. It was hilarious, real, disappointing results for audience and reporter, but because of the honesty, the realness, it left me actually wondering – what DOES Bush care about?

    This is a lot better than having a radio right next to me during the news and my co-wrker asking – what did they say?
    Huh ?-..I didn’t hear it.

    The formulaic authoritative voice has become, white noise.

  • Alan Smithee says:

    I’m kind of curious as to why so many people I talk to are obsessed with reformatting All Things Considered. It’s a news show, isn’t it? While I would always invite more creative ways to deliver news and perspective, isn’t the real complaint that NPR has few other venues for taking chances, or presenting work that’s more "fringy"? If one show tries to do to many things, it may inevitably succeed in failing to do any of them right.

    I like the idea of incubation on the Web. Larry’s description of listening to the radio in the car because he has no other choice really holds some weight. True, in most cases public radio is the best thing on in the 45 minutes between the war and Rosies bar and brothel, but what’s going to happen when access to media in that venue starts to catch up with the choices we have on the Web? There are enough carny folk out there to keep those bored with ATC distracted.

    Sometimes Carny Folk bore me too.

    I dunno….

  • beedge says:
    ATC = 8M folk

    the reason i like working with, and getting my stuff on ATC is their 8 million listeners. i make stuff to be heard, by as many people as possible. no start-up alt.venue new series will have anywhere near that many listeners, at least not this decade. i think ATC does have room for and has presented it well in the past. it does seem they’re presenting less lately tho.

    (btw, to above Mullet Man: you ever hear the song "Cut the Mullet" by Wesley Willis. it’s a classic. fave lyric: "Go to the barber and tell him you’re sick of looking like an asshole.")

  • Jay Allison says:
    All Things

    >I’m kind of curious as to why so many people I talk to are obsessed with reformatting All Things Considered. It’s a news show, isn’t it?

    Partly nostalgia. When the show began, and was named, it had an embracing nature. Plenty of life beyond news. It was the 70s, after all. In those days, people lamented that the straight news wasn’t very thorough or dependable and they were right. Now they complain that the show can sound joyless and droning. Also right.

    Public radio tends to reflect the general culture, about 10 years behind.

  • beedge says:

    as a producer of a new pubradio series told me when describing his show: "I also borrow Bill Siemering’s original mission statement for ATC: to be a ‘radio magazine of the human experience.’ I figure they’re not using it, so I can."

  • larry massett says:
    Mistaken Things Considered

    At some point in the Seventies before they knew what they were doing, NPR hired Joe Frank to host Weekend ATC. Joe didn’t know what he was doing either. The first time they handed him a headline to read, he supposedly said "Hey, I don’t read other people’s scripts." He did, though, read many of his surreal stories on the air. Judging by the mail, audiences loved it. But the brass soon saw they’d made a huge mistake: a voice hired to announce objective reality was veering off into fantasy! In the same show! Impossible! Why, that’s like hearing Dan Rather talk about the extraterrestial messages he recieves through his hair transplants. Not on the air, Dan- save it for the executive washroom.

    Interesting the brass didn’t care whether audiences liked "All Things Surreal" or not. They only cared about their peers, the other journalists.

    I’d agree "Public radio tends to reflect the general culture, about 10 years behind" if I could figure out what the general culture is. College professors claim there is no such thing anymore ( what do they know- maybe they’re confusing it with General Custer?) Yet the folks running the public radio system have been there a long, long time, and must be at least l0 years behind
    anything, including themselves . One day they will die off and be replaced by their proteges,
    who will be only 7 or 8 years behind the times, intially.

    My point…where was I…yes, something about the fragmentation of mass media of all kinds….which
    is fine, only how do we make any money? Oh right, we don’t make any money……never mind.


  • operations says:
    Larry Masset’s "Neurotica"

    Listen Listen in Real Audio

  • Alan Smithee says:
    8 Million Barrett Golding Fans Can’t Be Wrong

    I dunno…

    I think the excitement or nostalgia about ATC in the early days was the fact that it really was a little labratory where everyone was trying everything and chances were being taken. I suppose what happens eventually is that observations by the brass or whomever lead to decisions about what formula serves the larger goal, or larger audience. Kind of like Coca Cola. You know it used to have cocaine in it right? Wouldn’t fly today… Well… not with soccer moms. Then again…

    ATC kind of found it’s rhythm. To the satisfaction of the masses and chagrin of those who miss the excitement – Or the freedom that came with it’s old format. It’s a great news source now, my preferred, but you are right, it is not as deep or empathetic as it once was. The news is better though.

    Trying to get off the ATC THE vs NOW thing… it’s kind of like trying to figure out whether you liked M*A*S*H better when Klinger wore a dress… or when Hot Lips was a bitch…

    Dear Mista Massett, I was interested by your comment about listening selectively to individual stories on the Web. Do you think as the technology advances and this becomes more the trend, audio artists and more creative producers may just choose to skip the networks altogether and place their work online where their work is not filling a slot. There are times I’m listening to a program and hear a segment so beautiful, so profound that I wish I could erase everything before and after and respectfully surround the experience by silence. Car Talk’s Click and Clack really choke me up, ya know?

    Do you think the access and ability to be selective at our own convenience will change the way we listen to radio art? Could it change the aesthetic by which it’s created? Will the change only be delivery?

  • larry massett says:

    Alan asks "Do you think as the technology advances and …. audio artists and more creative producers may just choose to skip the networks altogether and place their work online where their work is not filling a slot. "

    Yeah, I think this is already happening. And yeah, I think it will change the aesthetics as people experiment with Flash and other technologies; but it’s too new (and bandwith stil to narrow, and computers too big and heavy) to guess where it will go. One change is predicatable, though: Keith Talbot, one of the Grand Old Theoreticians of radio, used to say everything on the radio appears to be ‘now’- meaning you assume it’s happening in real time as you listen. Remember what it was like when a piece of tape snapped during a a news feed, or someone had edited in the same phrase twice by mistake? A sudden, almost shocking suspension of disbelief for the listener. Obviously you won’t feel that way about a piece you can dial up any time night or day. What this means aestheically is anyone’s guess. And say, why bother speculating? We could just do stuff instead…..


  • Viki Merrick says:

    Alan, are you related to Andy Knight? If you are, please tell him the Transom is looking for him.

  • ben says:
    I think I figured out what’s getting to me.

    >>Okay, how many ways can you think of to do that story? Make it sound like ATC, like TAL, like audio art or whatever you can think of….. Either in your head, or for real on tape.

    I’ve always assumed there’s a best way to do every story. That these arbitrary "styles" are just that — facades, faints. Maybe that’s what’s disturbing to me about when a show reaches for an aesthetic — whether it’s the ATC aesthetic, the TAL aesthetic or the Transom aesthetic (to speak nothing of the Savvy Traveler aesthetic) — it’s always an assumption that a particular style can fit the particular story you’re working on.

    And it can, I suppose. But nine times out of ten, I’m going to suppose again, that’s not the best way to do that story. So you can cover the pentagon press conference and do an ax-and-trax story and get the information across. Sure. There’s a deadline and that’s easy. You can also interview a schizophrenic, or go to the dentist, and do an ax and trax story and everything will be fine.

    I think what’s getting to me is that Larry’s definition of an alien ("these folks have something to get off their chests. They don’t give a rat’s ass about the art of documentary but they’re dying to unload”) should be the definition for everybody, regardless of how we tell our stories, or which of three arbitrary groupings we fall into. I feel like if that’s not your MO and you’re not struggling with the best way to do whatever it is you’re doing, then your not only wasting my time, you’re also wasting your own.

    I think more reporters need to have existential crises. Like, daily.

    Same goes for sound artistes.

  • Jay Allison says:

    >the Transom aesthetic

    Argggh. This is a notion we’ve tried hard to defy. Can you define the Transom Aesthetic? ATC and TAL may have certain stylesheets that they’d be willing to defend, but we want Transom’s style to be governed by the story at hand, as you suggest above. No one should have to FIT anything here. Indeed, that’s the point.

    Pieces here are judged on their own merits. We have no hosts, no themes, no news pegs, no audience expectation, or narrative imperative. Or so we hope. We want individual, distinctive voices to out.

    Have you noticed an over-riding aesthetic creeping in?

    Interestingly the next show (which we’ll premiere any minute now) raises these very questions.

  • larry massett says:
    Ben’s right

    of course- from a producer’s point of view, the only worthwhile thing is try to tell a story you care about in the best way you can possibly come up with. When I suggested you think of how many different ways you could tell the same story, I was pointing – obscurely, I guess- in a different direction. Raymond Queneau, from whom I stole the idea, tells a story so many different ways you begin to suspect ANY way of telling a story is artificial; indeed the whole notion of "story" starts to dissolve. In the end, when he runs out of identifiable genres, Queneau begins mixing up the syllables and throwing in exclamation points according to some cockamamie mathematical formula, dissolving not only "story" but "language" and "sense" as well. I was just funnin’ ya, okay?

    Of course radio programs want to have- their accountants tell them they better have-a predictable style for the same reasons as McDonald’s. Not so many customers wander into an backalley restaurant with a sign that reads "?" That’s show biz for you; as producers our business is to ignore it as far as possible. Transom may not have a stylesheet but it definitely has a taste for shows that bore me.

    If there was a radio show called "?" I’d listen.

  • helen woodward says:
    your killing us larry…

    Larry says: "Transom may not have a stylesheet but it definitely has a taste for shows that bore me."

    helen says: "ouch"

  • Turbo Biscuit says:
    Namb and Pamb

    Hi Larry,

    In regard to the "shows that bore me" do you ever post on the discussion boards that this is so?

    Ok, so there are a lot of thumbs-uping and high-fiving and not much criticism and analysis. Maybe this is because it takes some effort to be critical–maybe it’s because most of the productions on Transom are "works -in-progress-" so everyone has a tendency to be quite kind. (This of course this leads to the inevitable ‘how can there be any progress without criticism?’)

    How easy it is to write "way to go!" And in the end what does that mean? "Way to go! " It’s counterpart –"this sucks" –no one has ever dared to post.

    So, do you think Transom needs a more rigorous conversation to minimize boredom and static?

    In confidence I remain on the namby-pamby side, TB

  • Alan Smithee says:

    Just kidding… I assume. Are you in any way related to Hyper Crouton? If so, please tell him that he’s late for an E meter reading back at the Center.

    Speaking of backalleys, I think we’re headed towards a butterknife fight… or am I mixing metaphors again? Crap.

    Larry, got around to listening to the "Neurotica" piece, and I am duly impressed. I can hear what you are talking about with the whole "?" thing. It very much borders on art. I hesitate in using that term as it implies AESTHETIC, and we have all seen what a sensitive subject that is around here.

    What I liked most about the piece is it’s multilayered construction – where script, location tape, and a fair portion of playacting are so thinly divided. That the sum of it’s parts implies a larger idea, or playground for a particular range if emotion.

    There is an audience out there that wants to be suprised, that wants a bit more of a challenge, that do not want to be spoon fed. An audience that wants to see radio travel the full distance of aural and psychological experiences we know it’s capable of.

    Then again, what would happen if the unexpected suddenly became cliche’? What would the anarchists be pushing if absolute expression were the norm? Cranberry Recipes?

    I dunno… speculation sucks?

  • larry massett says:
    Why is it so hard to get an enema on an airplane these days?

    See if we put all our offensive remarks in the header, then we can keep the text of the message nice and polite.

    Seriously, Turb, I don’t post about shows that bore me because- as you note- "this sucks" is no more useful than "way to go." Detailed criticism would be helpful, that’s for sure, but I tend to run the other when faced with boredom. Besides, Transom adopts the convention that producers are fragile souls who’d be crushed by a casual remark like "cow poop is more interesting than that turgid smelly pile of platitudes you just laid." Hmm, maybe Transom is right? Maybe there should be two discussion boards, one labelled "Careful," the other "Reckless?" But I think you do see "more rigorous conversation" when a show is good enough to inspire it- look at the discussion of Jake Varga’s piece right now, for instance.

  • larry massett says:
    The First UZI is Free

    Alan asks " what would happen if the unexpected suddenly became cliche’?

    There are these road signs in China that just show a big exclamation mark. You’re driving along and you see a "!" by the side of the road. It means something around the bend is going to be a hell of a surprise- but whether it’s a landslide, a flood, or guerilla warfare depends on the day. The cliche of the sign doesn’t really dimish the the thrill of the disaster. Course if was public radio and we had to crank out a surprise on schedule once a week we’d naturally stark faking it, and audiences would once again long for the thrill of the predictable.

    I dunno.

  • Jackson Braider says:
    The Thrill of the predictable


    You danced your way nicely out of my last query — about, as I recall, an idea that you wanted to pursue but couldn’t pursue for want of funding — but don’t you go a bit far in your response to Alan Smithee? Where do we put the likes of Anne Robinson or "The Chamber" or Survivor or Enron? Not that I am devotee of righteous indignation, but if market-testing says anything, people want to be shocked. It’s up to the shocker to decide what form of shock he/she wants to deliver to the shockee.

    Cynicism and irony are wonderful tools, but they can only work when they propel us forward — not toward a Kincaid villa, complete with atmospheric lighting, but toward a reasonable appreciation of why Kincaid should be such a cultural icon when all signs point to looking left then right before crossing the street.

  • larry massett says:
    What’s a Kincaid villa?

    you lost me there….

  • chelsea merz says:
    Unripe Mulberries Might Help


    This project sounds way too daunting, and potentially haunting. And if you ever finish it, you’ll probably have to broadcast from speakers tied to the roof of your car. I just can’t. Of course, if you could figure out some sort of Afghanistan connection, well, maybe … Or you know, here, on the Transom…. As an anarchist of long-standing, you have a job to do. I’m glad you’re thinking about a seemingly impossible one.


  • Jackson Braider says:
    re Kincaid Villa

    I believe his name is Thomas Kincaid, and he is a "painter" who portrays himself as "the master of light." The "light," apparently, emits from the windows of fanciful cottages he paints in wooded environs (as opposed to wooded enrons), generally in the soft hours of twilight. He’ll do well if he does a Middle-earth series.

    Geez, Larry, haven’t you been to a mall where they personalize Mr. Kincaid’s work? There are artists in situ who will add paint and, I believe, sprinkle dust to your purchase, thereby guaranteeing its singularity.

    Shouldn’t there be a series here, or is it too easy? Kincaid, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, the poet who made top-selling records in the ’60s (Mcluhan?), Laura Bush’s wardrobe advisor, Loreen McKinnon, Leroy Neimann, Chicken Soup for…, This Old House, Antiques Roadshow…

  • Jackson Braider says:
    Be gentle with me, it’s the first time…


    As for the second half of your response to Adam Smithee (is that right?), I agree with you about the gentleness of this place — this place being Transom. I have always been torn between being carrying a hatchet or a scalpel. Back in my days as a singer/songwriter trying to provide a place where other singer/songwriters could ply their craft, I demanded only three things: They not use the words "pain", "love" or "soul."

    I cannot begin to convey how unhappy those songer/singwriters were…

  • larry massett says:
    Kincaid First aid

    Jackson, just did a google image search for Kincaid, and thank goodness it was after eating dinner. He’s perfect for public radio. Puts you in mind of The Old Master, Keane. Do you recall that during their ugly divorce a judge ruled Keane’s wife had actually painted those bug-eyed orphans? She painted one on the spot, in the courtroom, to proove it. Keane was promising to paint one too, but showed up in court with his arm in a cast instead.

    You know, public radio in America started ex nihilo in the ’70’s and groped around for a few years before finding it’s guiding light (demographic polling, just like soap and cereal manufacturers.) In monarchical Europe it was assumed that government radio should play what was good for you whether you wanted it or not. Hence 14-hour series on the history of turnips in medieval civilization. Take it or leave it. Both views have merit, but fortunately there are always folks
    who somehow slip through the cracks and manage to do what they want, more or less.

  • larry massett says:

    Chelsea writes " Of course, if you could figure out some sort of Afghanistan connection, well, maybe…"

    Well, I’ve tried to connect it to Monica Lewinksy, the Mars Probe, the Enron Scandle, but events keep outpacing me. I’m sure there’ll be something when the time’s ripe. I’ll call you up and broadcast it to you over the phone.

  • ben says:
    see #42

    Hey, connect it to the Turks and Caicos and we’ll run it over here.

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg says:

    What was the most effective advice, example, or encouragement that ever came your way?

  • larry massett says:

    Nannette, in the 70’s there was a producer at NPR named Keith Talbot- I’m sure Jay could tell you about him too- who just used to show up at people’s houses with a tape recorder, and insist on playing tapes- European "art" radio, " mostly, which noone else had ever heard. And after duly astonishing you with these sounds, he’d say, "well, you could do that too." And he would give you studio time at NPR and encourage you- nothing specific, just general admiration. (NPR fired his ass, naturally.)

    There’s a lot to be said for general enouragement- maybe the "attaboy" posts aren’t useless after all.


  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg says:

    I wonder where Keith Talbot is and whether he knows or his ears are ringing or itching or whatever they’re supposed to do…

    Dare I ask: would you be willing to revise or expand your ‘jeez it’s boring around here’ comment? As it is, I’m afraid it’s chilling. Everybody must be wondering if They’re the boring one everybody secretly yawns around.

    Jeez the fear of being boring must be strong, at least as strong as your fear of being bored. It’s fear of being insignificant and stupid at the same time. A dumb brain on top of an insignificant body, like the daddylong legs that terrorized my daughter this evening.

    you could name three things you like and one thing you don’t like about each show… or about one show…
    or about your piece.

    I liked that there were various scenes, that it was a party (rarely heard) that I actually learned something at the dentist, that I couldn’t tell whether it was improvisation or scripted or something else, that I really did hear/feel high and that hearing it now was sort of like hearing it then -because it’s ‘naughty’ to talk off-center all over again. But I’d take out the accented psychologist.

  • beedge says:

    > Everybody must be wondering if They’re the boring one

    to all wondering that: yes, you are.

  • beedge says:
    just went and counted…

    …61.6% of transom shows are not boring.
    thank god for transom, which is only boring 38.4% of the time compared to public radio in general which hits peaks of 93.7% on the boredometer.

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg says:

    It would be more interesting to hear what and how your interest is piqued.
    commercial media are afraid of boredom, but the result is shock and sleaze. Here you have a chance to pass along what you’re looking for.
    More than the list of painters and poets you hate "these are a few of my least favorite things…" I’d like to hear what moves you
    as Keith Talbot approached it… It’s much harder to say, I know.

    I’m forever indebted to an artist/graphic designer who explained to me that my first flyer was -er- an abomination. Thank God, he didn’t use that word, nor the dreaded B word. He gently questioned the use of clip art telephone thingies and -shudder- maybe even some other whippdee-doodads and explained how everything could be considered a work of art, with nothing there but what was necessary. It was the only art lesson I ever received past 6th grade, and I gotta think he’s closer to heaven for having saved thousands of my readers from years of clip art instead of just blowing me off.

  • larry massett says:
    Three Things

    "you could name three things you like and one thing you don’t like about each show"

    Usually if I don’t like a show there are just three things I don’t like: the beginning, the middle, and the end. The technique of cooking up good points ( "I loved the way you interviewed real people") so as to slip in a wee bit of advice ("and it would work even better if they said something") is a job I have to leave to professional psychologists. Or gifted teachers. I’m simply not good at it, sorry. I can only find the heart to critique works I love.

    There are even worse critics around. Years ago I had a side job playing piano for a ballet class. There the teacher was a ancient and highly inflammable Russian. One day he called a halt in the middle of some group excerise. "Amanda, "he rasped, "come forward and do these steps by yourself."

    She did, the poor girl.

    "See," he said, "Did you all see that? Only Amanda is dancing the meaning. She has heart, sincerity, passion, refinement. Compared to her the rest of you are a bunch of sticks. Amanda, you are a genius."

    She began to feel much better.

    "Unfortunately my dear, " he added. "You’ll never dance on stage. Your neck’s too short."

    Keith Talbot is alive and well and does something behind the scenes in television. Shows no sign of interest in radio. I think he was the "accented psychologist" you’d like to remove from "Neurotica." He was over the top, wasn’t he? The performance was so bad, in fact , it made me laugh. De gustibus…..

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg says:

    well, thank you for considering these things…
    as for the taste for accents, I just have a thing about them, probably because I’m among the worst offenders. One of these days I’m going to get nailed for my spontaneous and really offensive pseudo Russian thing.

    moving on…
    have you ever lived in FRance?
    Do you think there could be more (fun) sex on radio? any ideas how?

  • larry massett says:

    I’ve been to FRance, Nannette, but would never consider living in a country so competitive they capitalize two letters in their name in a vain attempt to catch up with the United States of America. It only puts them on a par with New Zealand. Mark my word, though, any day now they’ll start spelling it FRancE.

    However you spell it, FRanCe does lead immediately to thoughts of sex. This is a very overlooked area in public radio. Especially pornography. I’ve been corresponding with a radio producer who wants to do a piece about "fluffers" in gay porn. His reasoning: "What does it mean if this is the best job you can get right now? " You can see why this would be a little dicey
    on television, but it could work on radio. Sometime I’d like to interview the woman whose stage name was Georgina Spelvina, star of "The Devil in Miss Jones." That film was- far as I know- unique in having a strong Catholic sense of sin; it’s set in Hell after Georgina commits suicide in the opening shot and is far more scary than erotic. Unless you think a woman simulating sex with a slimy 8-foot boa constrictor is arousing. Anyway Ms. Spelvina now works for a computer firm in California and recently told a reporter: "Actually I wanted to be an opera singer. But we all make compromises." So true……Seriously, I think the lack of visuals means public radio could explore sex in all kinds of ways. We must get on this immediately

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg says:
    leap of logic?

    yikes. I mean the subject, along with other subjects. I am grateful for the sex-free space that’s allowed for less or no sexism. That has allowed for the definition of news and sex roles to change over the last 25+ years. But I wonder whether there’s a little room for fun now. I’m wondering why there’s such a difference between t.v. and radio that way. Obviously, the visual medium is more exploitive, but that doesn’t explain it all.

    What I mean is, is the wide circle around sexuality part of how public radio is too careful?
    Is it just a matter of fiction versus news??
    audio versus video?

    Is it a matter of funding politics or closer range sexual politics? Maybe the male-female thing is still so potentially volatile, we best leave it alone. And since we want to leave it alone, we leave fiction off the air.

    anyone brave enough to jump in here and help figure this out? If not, I’ll politely delete.

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg says:

    messages crossed
    So you’re on the case!Aha!
    like I said, it’s more interesting to know what’s interesting

    there might be more common ground for men and women in audio and few fears of exploitation… or ageism just in time as boomers start to flirt with geezerhood…

    Couldn’t you do an updated version of your party scene? Please!? wouldn’t this just bring fiction back??

  • Viki Merrick says:
    sex…and public radio

    Public radio is AMERICAN. sex is not. aberration is. (but public radio is not, not at all)
    Why, for example, do we have to foreplay talk of sex with FRancE?

  • larry massett says:

    Interesting thought, Viki, if I get what you’re saying. Do you mean sex is unAmerican but psychotic behavior isn’t? Like the opening of Psycho, where Janet Leigh gets stabbed for taking a shower with her clothes off? Times have changed, though. Look at our First Family. Mere et Pere: no sex, symptoms of mental impairment. But the daughters? Obvious jailbait……..

    Wouldn’t a respectable version of "Naked News" work for public radio, like "Naked Brookings Institute Round-table?"

  • Andy Knight says:

    I had always assumed that Carl Kasell and Bob Edwards were naked…

  • Susan Jenkins says:
    who’s nekkid

    No, Andy, Kasell’s only naked when he makes your outgoing answering machine message. Not counting action figure disrobement.

    Think about how many people are naked when they’re posting to this board…

    Naked behind the mic, naked behind the keyboard.

    Naked radio is something else altogether, though. N’est-ce pas, francophiles?

  • beedge says:
    NPR News Press Release

    For Immediate Release
    Washington — Veteran NPR News Anchor Carl Kasell will be undergoing a change-of-sex operation. From now on, she shall be addressed as Carol Kasell. Carol is very proud of her new-found realization of identity, and has nothing to hide. Therefore, all her newscasts will henceforth be done in the nude. NPR Ventures will be handling the sale of tickets for seats in the live studio audience.

  • ben says:
    one related posting

    I can tell you this — never have I been the victim of more listener venom than when my Stans part 1 aired on Savvy. I received dozens of emails and some personal voice mails (I had stopped answering my phone at that point) all singling me out for absolutely ruining their weekend by talking about sex and prostitution. It’s too bad because it makes programmers very nervous to ever talk about sex on public radio.

    I was talking in a fairly detached, non-personal way about sex and sexuality. I’d hate to see what would happen if I said what I really feel.

    Not that I won’t …

  • ben says:
    and one sort of off topic

    What do you guys think is the biggest barrier to "anarchists" getting on the air?

  • larry massett says:
    public sex radio

    Somehow I’m not surprised Ben caught flak for talking about sex on public radio. Even if it was in " a fairly detached, non-personal way."

    But it ought to be surprising. Sex is everywhere in American culture today – in the movies, in TV, in advertising, even (research indicates) in real life. So why can’t it appear on public radio?

    I used to have a theory about why television is so dull: it’s meant to be dull, on purpose, because the audience uses it as a low-grade narcotic. Folks come home exhausted from the office and after a frazzled fast dinner with the family, want nothing so much as oblivion. They plop down on the couch and guzzle their favorite show ,like downing a six-pack. The induced torpor is relaxing, possibly therapeutic. Any show too interesting or unfamiliar simply would not do the job.

    Applying this line of reasoning to radio, we reach a startling conclusion: People listen to public radio in order not to think about sex! The constant, nagging sexual tempations that surround us can be avoided only by listening to an ATC host interview some dwebe from a think tank.

    This makes sense, but it doesn’t mean we can’t change things.
    Only it seems we’ll have to move carefully. "Fairly detached, non-personal" was too aggressive. Maybe Ben can say what he really feels if he starts out in a deliberately catatonic drone…..

    Well, wait: there are people- like Benjamin Walker, reachable from this site- who seem to get away with it. Maybe that’s because it’s not a national show? Could it be that the real problem for Anarchists is a mass audience?

  • Andy Knight says:

    Ben, correct me if I’m wrong but the Sav Trav story you are referring to is This, right? I haven’t given it the full-on listen, but doing a search for the word "sex" in the transcript came up with zero matches. Detatched and non-personal may be understatements…

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg says:
    bad air be edge

    I think they mixed up the order of the shows. I found it here.

  • ben says:
    the best part

    Check out the graphic of the lady in heels on that page. Definitely cutting edge (thank you, MPR web people).

    Larry, I do think there is a difference between local and national programs. Definitely. I mean, things that are fine in NY or LA just don’t work on say, Mississippi Public Radio. Or even Wisconsin Public Radio. We have PDs telling us "too much!" and others saying "not enough" — all about the exact same program.

    Nowhere is this more true than on subjects of sex. Politics is a little different — a liberal’s a liberal, right? — and touchy feely emotional stuff is nice and shinshiny happy even when it’s poor kids in the ghetto.

    Here’s the rationalization I came up with after that first show broadcast: There are very few subjects that people aren’t used to hearing about. All the sad tales of poverty, woe, political corruption, blackmail, etc. — it’s all been like small doses of hemlock taken everyday by every single public radio listener for the last 20 years. I mean, it’s gotten to the point where we producers think we’ve achieved pubic radio’s mission whenever we hear about a brother’s cousin’s nephew’s sister’s driveway moment. People listen to something like Remorse and then go about their day. "I laid off 20 people today. Please pass the potatoes."

    Which means, then, that being a dedicated public radio producer you have two choices — because what you’re really aiming for is to make people think, right? And to make people think, you have to give them something other than hemlock — something other than what they’re already used to. You have to make them a little uncomfortable.

    Two ways to do this:
    1) Do your story in a way that’s like nothing anybody’s ever heard before.
    2) Do you story about something that people don’t like to talk about.

    People *are* used to sex in the network TV / advertising context, but are completely shocked when you bring up things like an intelligent discussion of desire, or lust, or, as I was trying to do (emphasis on "trying"), social-sexual power dynamics. This is something that Joe Frank does wonderfully and it makes his show great. It’s something Nerve magazine was good at about two years ago but has since turned its back on.

    Okay, say you succeed. You do a great piece and people are uncomfortable and actually thinking about something. Okay, two times out of five, that listener is going to react to that uncomfort by getting upset. And one time out of 100 that upset person is going to get mad enough to write a letter. PDs weight those letters (which, truly, only trickle in) very, very heavily. Show producers weight those letters very, very heavily. And that really sucks, because the 60-80 percent who liked the story and reacted to their discomfort by thinking for thirty seconds or so, they never write letters. Ever.

    It was interesting to me to see my bosses go from loving that Stans pt.1 to being very apprehensive about it, to making me write a defensive, tail between out legs "This is why we ran the piece…" for Rudy to say the following week. It was a little disappointing but I wondered who that small apology was for: the listeners or the PDs.

    Anyway, that’s the rationalization I came up with.

  • larry massett says:

    Yes well, Ben, I went to look at your piece and of course I see why the authorities freaked.

    -We interrupt this message to reccomend highly a book, Donald Richie’s "The Inland Sea," a romantic account of roaming around Japan in the 60’s. It’s based on the idea that "a seldom-mentioned motive for travel is the hope of having sex with strangers." Quite tasteful, no prostitutes unless you count geishas . A classic of travel writing. See if you can find it. Also, strangely, it was a PBS special on which I am credited as a producer for legal reasons; the film makes no mention of sex whatever, substituting interminable shots of fisherman netting small fish.
    Richie, I hope, is still alive: one of the great explicators of Japanese film-and sex- and the Yakuza.
    Look him up.

    Returning to our scheduled broadacst now, your question is whether radio can fragment- as book publishing did ages ago, as television is doing now- into profitable, or at least life-sustaining- niches. People are accustomed to paying fifteen or twenty bucks or more for a book. They pay whatever the hell it is they pay for cable TV. What would you pay for for a premium radio – or internet- audio feed? And where would the content come from?

  • Jay Allison says:

    >What would you pay for for a premium radio – or internet- audio feed? And where would the content come from?

    In a veiled response, I would mention that our next Transom Feature, coming this week, will further this discussion. And there’s sex in it too.

  • Jake Warga says:
    Sex and flibbertigibbets in London

    Who was it that said: "I don’t like sex on the TV…we keep falling off" Same for radio, mind the little transistor ones.

    I was listening to BBC radio 4 today and blushed when an episode of "the Archers?" had a couple in a car making-out: "no one can see us through the steamy windows" Moaning. Kissing their own hands in the studio, but still. Then the lady wanted to know why he had not gotten a divorce yet…then I switched it off and went to look for a cigarette. Catch-up States!

    I’d pay for premium radio, I’m paying for it now on the internet listening to Ben’s great story on ST from above.

  • Viki Merrick says:

    I thought it was a GOOD thing if 2 out of 10 people called up to complain.
    Doesn’t that mean they’re listening AND thinking, albeit begrudgingly ? I say keep dishing it out, a little more piccante each time…maybe your karma in radio life is to enlighten your PD’s.

  • Jackson Braider says:
    When everyone talked about sex, I thought…

    they were talking about porn.

    There’s a moment I vaguely remember from Kentucky Fried Movie or some such thing where Chuckles the Clown (or whatever his name is) encourages the children to send their parents out of the room so that he can continue reading from "Fanny Hill".

    Ben, I know it wasn’t your purpose to chart the American libido in action overseas — I take it there were no members of the Christian Coalition on that bus — but you caught something quite wonderful here. For a people who kinda vote for a guy who claims his model in life is Jesus Christ, we do tend to oogle off-shore. I wonder what W. made of the Italian women of Genoa (if, of course, he actually saw any). (BTW, did Jesus know something about Enron we didn’t?)

    What I missed — and maybe we can blame Ted for this — is a sense of ever really getting off the bus. What if you had offered Lola and Nadja $20 American? Did you try? I mean, you gave a couple of guys some cigarettes. You don’t mention food much. The contacts you do mention are relics of the Soviet Union — European-oriented Russians, not Turkmen ready for a game of polo, with the head of one of your fellow travelers as the ball.

    To put Viki’s comment above in perspective, *only* 20% complained about your piece, even though the stuff about sex is more "wink-wink-nudge-nudge" than, to quote Click and Clack, "the murky light of a Quonset hut."

    Larry, maybe we have taken the wrong course with public radio. We should excerpt the Marquis de Sade’s memoirs with children readers (if only to give a nod and a wink to the Boston archdiocese). You were right — if only you had suggested your Balzac’s "Splendeurs et Miseres des Courtisanes," with a cast of children (item #24 in this discourse) for pledge!

  • larry massett says:
    hot pledge item

    Jackson, what I’ d really like to suggest for pledge week is a tape my friend Ned Dantes made in full hypermanic frenzy (see" foreign ladies dot com over" at hearingvoices. com for background) of a lapdance session in Las Vegas. The lapdance ladies were- no surprise- nice Russians gals with green cards. The sound quality is apalling cause Ned used a Radio Shack mic hidden in his… er… pocket. I guess I can’t broadcast it or netcast it as there was no "consent"
    going on. And the Russians did not want their day-job employers to know about their outside gig. Ethics are such a nuisance.

    But let’s face it, we all love hidden mics and cameras.

    Wait, I just thought of a way to use this tape…….more later…

  • ben says:
    complaints and their discontents

    Yes, well, Viki, we tell ourselves that when people complain it’s a good thing. I mean, what I wrote up there really is what I’ve come to think — people are not only paying attention, they’re moved to do something about it (albeit not what I’d hoped for). However, this is not a widely held view among those in charge of programming. People get skittish. They get nervous. They want everybody happy all the time and giving giving giving when pledge drive comes along. Which means NPR news is a perfect thing to put on the radio. And 95 percent of public radio is a perfect thing to broadcast. It’s background. It’s somewhat interesting and allows you to go about your day. "Oh, they killed fifty thousand in Afghanistan today. Five hundred people drowned in Nigeria and 14 thousand laid off Enron employees committed mass suicide. Please pass the potatoes." Bob Edwards is telling me these things *right now*. Time for apple jacks. Jackson (about that story): actually what you’ve described is pretty accurate. We did spend a l-o-o-o-o-n-g time on the bus. Things in Central Asia are very far from each other so we’d get somewhere, jump off the bus, go visit for five minutes and then take off to our next destination. And as for *me* and the sex, by the time I’d come to any conclusions about it, I got so sick I forgot all about libido. See part two for more info, but a warning: it’s not pretty. (this link features perhaps the most harrowing thing you’ll see on the internet all day — WARNING: I am not as photogenic as Larry Massett.)

  • ben says:
    your first four stories are free … then we jack up the price

    paying for radio ….

    This is the question all the satellite radio people are asking right now, right? XM has a huge advertising campaign going on here in LA and displays in all the Circuit Cities and Best Buys and what not.

    Would I pay? I’ve thought about it. I don’t drive that much, so I’ll wait until they come up with home receivers …. I remember when I moved away from KCRW for a while — up to Sacramento before the station even carried This American Life. I almost went crazy. I figure even with NPR in charge of two of these satellite stations and PRI in charge of one, that’s a lot of time for *just the networks* to fill. Some cool stuff has to sneak through, right?

    So, yeah, I’d pay. But does that make it a viable business model? God no. I’m a public radio geek for chrissake.

  • Jackson Braider says:
    AH! The Viable Business Model Motif!!!

    It is a difficult call. Working in a union shop, I respect and understand the need for the trades — especially the engineers who have to get the sound to work even when producers point the microphone in the wrong direction (speaking of microphones, Larry, what kind of sound did Ned Dante get with that hidden mike in his, umm, pocket? I’m sure the French would have a word for it!).

    But then there’s the frustration of knowing that at least 75% of the time, a humble producer can make a reasonable facsimile of a mix at home without needing station studio time at station studio time costs.

    Maybe we need a fourth satellite, fired up on a North Korean rocket, and tuned to those handy little radios DOD dropped in Afghanistan. Army and Navy stores throughout the country will have the zillions of unused tuners soon.

    Then every fifth day, we offer six hours of radio sex as pledge and nobody will have to pay a premium.

    And if you don’t think that works, remember this: Peter, Paul, and Mary tri-handedly carried public television for years, even though they never appeared at any time other than pledge.

    "Like what you hear, big boy? Hmmm. I guess you do…"

  • Andy Knight says:

    >And if you don’t think that works, remember this: Peter, Paul, and Mary tri-handedly carried public television for years, even though they never appeared at any time other than pledge.

    They’ve been replaced by those Blinko(?) Glass folks and that bald motivational speaker with the horrible sweaters… haven’t pledged since

  • Sara Grady says:
    "talk to me"

    I have been thinking about the "sex on public radio" idea for a while, and I think I have a theory, in two parts:

    1) From a story-telling perspective, a story that involves sex that is on television is often more visually focused. We’ve been conditioned by images, and not so deeply by sounds. When we hear about sex, we are given the ability and the liberty to fill in the visuals ourselves. In a way, hearing about sex and related topics and activities is more tittilating. A picture may be worth 1,000 words, but it is much more enjoyable to hear those words than just look at a picture, in my opinion.

    2) From an educational perspective, I’m sure most people can recall seeing "The Miracle of Life" on PBS at some point in time, and if not, you’ve probably seen some sort of educational show about sex before…like Desmond Morriss’ "The Human Animal". In the case of learning about sexual health, it is hard to describe anatomy and physiology without some form of visual, unfortunately. Advice can be given freely through radio just as it is given over hotlines, however. Perhaps public radio should take over and polish up the "Loveline" concept. It would be an intriguing attempt, to say the least.

  • Susan Jenkins says:
    Sex and the City

    Oh how I WISH I had been running around with a tape recorder a couple of years ago. The scene: Upper West Side, townhouse row, back yard. Closed block–like a canyon. Spring, Sunday morning, before nine but fully daylight. Birds twittering, a light breeze blowing through the rose bushes, gentle sound of distant traffic. The hum of air conditioners that permeates the warmer months not yet present. Coffee being supped, the clink of a spoon, newspaper pages ruffling. Peace. But wait…what was that? Echoing off the buildings…a moan? Ah! There it is again…coming from…the 3rd floor across the way! Oh my, the sound seems to carry directly into my little walled garden space. Geez! How am I supposed to read the Week in Review section with that going on?

    Half an hour of this every Sunday for about six weeks. When the plants in the window disappeared so did the sound of fantastic sex. But what a perspective on city life. We live on top of each other yet seem to find ways to mentally carve out private space, even when the physical fact of that space doesn’t exist. I had the choice of going inside my dark apartment to read in peace, or to stay in the sunshine and, well, enjoy the show.

    Living in the city, this city in particular, makes you face down your curmudgeonly tendencies continually. It might have made a nice "urban moment" piece that dealt with the universals of the desire for privacy. But I doubt the tape would have made it past even the most liberal gatekeepers.

  • larry massett says:
    Sex Story

    " But I doubt the tape would have made it past even the most liberal gatekeepers. "

    Maybe not the tape, Susan (though I bet you’d be surpised how much the neighbour’s sex would sound like bacon frying or marshmallows being whopped with a plastic pigeon- pure sound is ambiguous) but the story.

    You’re a story-teller, I looked at your website. If you simply tell this story straight, the big guys might run it. Really. But y ou could have fun with the sound too. It’s very funny, setting up a sound noone is allowed to hear but everyone imagines….

    Go on, give it a shot. I want to hear it.

    all the best

  • bw says:
    low grade narcotic!!!

    Larry- my friend Mary tells me that there is this ritzy dog kennel here in boston that blasts npr all day long to keep the dogs quiet and happy…

    for some reason I think this proves your theory of ‘no excitement please’ media..

  • Susan Jenkins says:
    Sex story pitch–tongue only halfway in cheek

    Larry, any recommendations where you think I should pitch it? I’m thinking Dean Olsher, for one.

    I don’t have any tape…’twas my pre-recording days. Now I’m not home enough to keep "tabs" on my neighbors’ sex lives. It might be more fun to make something up anyway.

  • beedge says:
    tube junkie

    SciAmer article "TV Addiction":
    like a narcotic, it relaxes, but
    "What is more surprising is that the sense of relaxation ends when the set is turned off, but the feelings of passivity and lowered alertness continue…"

  • larry massett says:

    Yeah, Susan, I think Dean Olsher would be a good idea; weekend ATC seems to be open to things at the moment. Depending on how you tell it, it might also find a slot on TAL. You could tell the story a lot of different ways- good thing you’re not hampered by actual tape. Give it a shot, let us know what happens….


  • scott carrier says:
    a request

    I’d like to hear women faking orgasms. Please.
    Or I’d like to hear somebody trying to talk a woman into faking an orgasm for the microphone. And then I’d like to hear some people listening to it and talking about it. And then a discussion group. Or did Joe Frank already do this?

  • Susan Jenkins says:
    for those just tuning in…

    "ahem, harharop. We interrupt this dialogue to mention that for those just tuning in, this is in fact a serious discussion about the potential for public radio to uh, rise up out of its idle state and, uh point itself in a new direction. So if you are confused, you have probably been spending too much time in the off-topic digressions of the boards. Here, we rarely digress."

    larry-thanks, you betcha.

    scott-re a request…you should pitch this. You could interview meg ryan for background.

  • larry massett says:
    answered prayers

    ATC last night ran a piece on chipmunks who fake orgasms, you didn’t catch that?
    Or am I confusing that with the hosts, who fake being alive?

  • bw says:
    fake sex could be npr’s answer…

    seriously… this new and improved fundraising isn’t working (i.e. push the george forman grill on the public radio "store")
    no one is buying…

    the solution!!! fake sex!!! imagine – would you be able to tear yourself away from the radio if you heard nina t. and the car talk guys? I dunno I’d send in money…

  • Thomas Dixon says:
    Fake sex could be the answer for all of us . . .

    Really! Everyone would listen and then everyone would do it–or fake doing it. And the great thing about fake sex is that you don’t have to look your best. Now I’m going back to Wiretap. There’s almost some fake sex in there.

  • Sara Grady says:
    intriguing idea

    Perhaps it could fit into a general "things we fake" topic…fake smiles from pageant queens, the false dentistry business, plastic surgery, and of course, orgasms. I think to be fair, men faking orgasms should also be included…

  • Sara Grady says:
    unintentional run-ins with other people’s sex lives

    In colleges all over the nation, there are students who have been "sexiled", banned from their rooms by their roommates. I suppose that is the luckier option, since the other would be being trapped in your bed across the room from your roommate and their lover doing whatever they may, with little care for your sanity. You lay there, trying not to listen, but of course the harder you try, the louder it seems to get. You don’t want to leave or signal in any way that you’re awake, because then your roommate realizes that you must have heard what was going on, and how long were you listening? It is a quandary, indeed.
    Privacy is not a high priority in situations like that. It would make an interesting addition to your "urban moment".

  • Sara Grady says:
    the wrong way to talk about sex on NPR

    When I heard that awful Gene Simmons interview on Fresh Air yesterday (Gene Simmons was awful, not the interview…I thought Terry Gross did an amazing job given the situation), I thought of this thread. Even though it seems intuitive, the first step of talking about sex is to get off one’s misogynistic high horse and stop making a blatant effort to offend..

  • larry massett says:
    ultimate insult

    Gross: I’d like to think the personality you presented on our show today is a persona that you’ve affected as a member of KISS, but that you’re not nearly as obnoxious when you’re at home or with friends.

    Simmons: Fair enough, and I’d like to think that the boring lady who’s talking to me now is a lot sexier and more interesting than the one’s who’s doing NPR, studious and reserved.

  • Jay Allison says:
    Don’t leave…

    Larry, thank you for everything this month. The Communist, Anarchist, Alien construct is already working its way into the public radio vernacular.

    This topic will remain here for you and we’d welcome your idle thoughts from now through eternity. And, whatever you and Art have been cooking up after hours at NPR, I hope you’ll consider sending it to us when it’s ready.

    Deb Amos just joined us over in her topic. Maybe you would drop by?

  • Susan Jenkins says:
    speaking of sex on NPR…

    the peak for me was the one where he suggested that in person she would not only have to greet him with open arms….but open legs.

    I listened on WHYY in Philly this weekend, which happened to be taking advantage of it to raise money for their pledge drive. (They apparently got over 2000 emails after it aired last week.) I laughed my ass off during the interview, then got to snicker some more at the pledge host & hostess timorously trying to analyze what had happened, and what it meant–like two bashful church ladies trying to figure out how the porn magazine wound up in the parish hall.