1,000 Postcards

July 1st, 2003 | Produced by Rene Gutel


To My Friend...
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Notes From Rene

As I write this my dad still hasn’t heard the story. I have wanted to play it for him in person… but I haven’t seen him since Christmas when I did the interviews. My father would like me to make it very clear that he no longer writes postcards, reads the paper or balances his checkbook at red lights. He’s a very safe driver – in October he’ll hit his 26-year marker.

Monet
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I did all the interviews and taping of my father while riding his bus one afternoon. I sat in the front passenger seat, directly behind him, and crooked my arm out to get the best possible sound of him calling the stops. During his breaks at the ends of the line, we sat in his bus and he read the postcards for me and we talked. He was a very easy and willing interview.

New York
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Bonus Audio






Tech Notes

I recorded this onto my sharp minidisc player. I wish I could tell you what kind of mike I used but really it was just an okay one my last job supplied me with. I can tell you it was not a shotgun, and not an RE-50. All the mixing and editing was done in Cool Edit. This piece was originally produced for B-Side Radio out of Berkeley, California. B-Side is a burgeoning independent radio show that plays on KALX 90.7 FM and on the internet. Mad props to Tamara Keith who went through not a few edits with me.

About Rene Gutel

Rene

I became serious about radio while working on a masters degree in Arabic literature. I began to admit to myself that I wasn’t very good at Arabic and did not want to put in the effort to improve. Radio on the other hand was an open playground of noise and rhythm that did not require contorted conjugations.

I dropped out of school and got a job working for KSKA Public Radio in Anchorage where I covered poetry slams, the anti-war movement, local politics and most notably, the Joshua Wade murder trial. I worked there a year and a half. Currently I am dabbling in commercial TV news, though I daydream about getting an MFA in sound art and creating Glenn Gould inspired documentaries.


20 Comments on “1,000 Postcards”

  • Jay Allison says:
    1,000 Postcards

    The cards came from Rene Gutel’s father, a bus driver in southern California, and Rene received one for every day she was in college. It made her a little bit of a legend among her classmates, and it made her father a daily stand-in for all their fathers.

    Rene comes to Transom circuitously, via a master’s degree in Arabic literature. Now, she’s reporting for commercial TV, but we hope, based on this sweet piece of work, that she’ll stick around public radio.

    Also, and I’m not saying the Internet is *better* than radio, but you do get to see some of the postcards, and our handy-dandy Web Director Josh Barlow has them flipping sides when your cursor hits them. Cute.

  • Mark Gutel says:
    1,000 postcards and a microphone

    Since the name Gutel is rare, one might guess that this is a relative of Rene’s. That one would be correct.
    I am Rene’s cousin from Oklahoma, apparently one of her ‘large family’ that was ‘full of drama’. Although I’m not sure how much family gossip made its way to Cali from Oklahoma, if any of it did, then I was probably the cause of a little family drama, in my younger days of course. Hopefully, Rene, upon reading this, will grin when I reveal that she has, at times, been the cause of a little family drama herself.
    This piece was brilliant. I especially liked the Spanish interlude after the mention of the salsa-stained postcard. I remember David buying handfuls of postcards in Oklahoma during a visit, so to see that his efforts were appreciated makes me happy.

  • Jackson says:
    A beautiful thing

    Renee (Rene?):

    A lovely piece of work the commercial world would *absolutely never* give voice to, unless you count backwards to the likes of Charlie Kurwalt’s On the Road pieces.

    The only curse of this piece? It’s 9 minutes and 17 seconds long. Radio world is 4 mins. 3o secs., or it’s 28.5 mins, or it’s 59.00.

    There should be a place where no one anywhere has to look at the ticky-tacky of the second hand. Occasionally as I listened, I wondered why you didn’t pursue your dad’s prayer hands (a distinctive sect? Born again? A devotee of Thornton Wilder’s Heaven’s My Destination?), but the thing always will be the postcards. Well done.

    It calls to mind the greatest phone message in the world, according to This American Life — try a search for "mermaid" in the search window of thislife.org.

    Happily they gave this 19 mins.

    I have nothing to suggest here, except that maybe radio needs to redefine the clock so it can make room for 1/6 of an hour. Maybe we need English inspiration — a clock that can be divided by 3’s and by 4’s — just like the pound and the shilling.

  • Jake Warga says:
    Exact change only

    Good work. Liked the intro of getting on a bus, after all, we’re going for a ride. Now the pace. I know busses don’t go too fast unless it’s a bad movie where it will blow-up if it goes slower than 55.

    There are a few themes that come up that turn the story into another street, off the bus route a little (ie: religion). I would loose the detours. Who is the story about? I know what it’s about, but not sure who. do you have sounds of the bus stopping, him calling out other stops, the ‘ding’ of the pull cord? If you did something that aided, in audio, the transitions in time and topic, it may make for a smother and more fun ride. ‘ding’ new postcard. ‘ding’ new place. Just a thought. Really liked the observation that he became other students’ father, I would take that idea further, make it about ‘dad’. Thanks for the ride.

  • Toni Kay says:
    Oh Nooo!

    Oh No! Your father has become a folk icon a la Ralph Cramden! Great job on the "show" ! Am anxiously awaiting the next installment. Would it be, "1000 Instant Messages?!" As always, Your mom, who, by the way, sent this to everyone she knows, even if only casually. Look out!

  • Jude Fletcher says:
    Rene – I’m listening right now and so glad to hear you!

    I was so glad to hear you’re on Transom – although when I read it on the AIR digest, I was without speakers, so I couldn’t hear until now. Okay, it’s good to hear you again, and now I will pause to hear the rest of your piece…

    For the rest of you, Rene and I were in Bill Drummond’s radio class at the UC Berkeley Grad School of Journalism. Back to the piece – what a lucky girl you are. There’s nobody like a dad in a girl’s life, and yours sounds pretty special, as does your documentary of him. Such a good thing that you have his voice on tape. I truly miss mine.

    If you have a minute to e-mail me, please do so. And congrats on a job well done.

    Jude

  • Judy Rachels says:
    Loved your story

    Dear Rene,
    I have just read your "1,000 postcards" piece. Brilliant! I am a fan of NPR (exclusive listener). What a great dad you have. I know you have made him proud!

    Beth Gutel is my secretary and Hather Rachels is my daughter. Beth directed me to this site.

    We are very proud of you! We’ll be listening for more of you! You’ve "gotta" do more!

  • Little brother says:
    thinkb4youact

    Renne, this piece was totally riveting! I absolutely love "1000 postcards." Renne, I sincerely believe that you have a nack for radio. Although I wish you were on MTV, making your mark big time in Anchorage is way cool. Now as I know, not many kids my age can say there big sister is a news anchor or has been on the radio. Even way out here in California your a hit with the "Youth in Revolt," aka my friends. I would say you’ve probably have fourteen big fans, including me fifteen, weeeeee! Well Renee, keep doing what your doing and maybe someday my current dream will come true. To work with my big sister, not as partners, as brother and sister.

  • Jackson says:
    If only my family paid such attention…

    Rene (or Renee):

    It’s nice seeing that family does pay attention. They are a credit to you and you are a credit to them. 1000 PCs is a lovely story that might very well have fallen into the darkness if Transom weren’t there.

    But when one goes to JJ Sutherland’s guest site, a good 40% of the first respondants are asking how to submit material to Day to Day. Personally, my sense is that the bulk of visitors’ attention to Transom should be devoted to your work. JJ already has his crowd and the funding that will make his vision work (if it works).

    Your piece captures, to my mind, what is best about Transom — encountering things we probably wouldn’t normally hear on radio. So, when we devote a month (plus or minus) to a program that is already guaranteed broadcast, aren’t we wasting a slot? JJ is acting like the Bush administration on the Niger deal — he’s acting like we’re already listening to him (a mindset probably garnered from his years at WBUR).

    In the greater Transom world, we are dicking around trying to figure what JJ is going to do when we already have tangible stuff from Rene (shouldn’t it be Renee?).

    HELLO, PEOPLE!

  • CM Lane says:

    Excellent introduction! You identified the subjects and scene almost immediately and in very short order. I liked the music bed, although I wish it was present more. Good tape selection, details like the Friday 13th, the army jacket, and the redlight-writing , add a considerable amount of depth that makes listening easier.

    What didn’t make listening easy, at least in my own battered opinion, was that the listener’s investment in the story was made tenuous because nothing pulled it in other than interesting characters—all the questions a listener might have had were answered without the kind of tease that gnaws until the story’s end. I’m not suggesting corny suspense, but maybe raising a moral question in the beginning and using the story to answer that question. If you were interested in lengthening it (not that it’s too short), here are a few points that I thought could use a little more follow through : bus-driver boredom, lost musical ambitions, the surrogate father bit, and the religion thing I suppose.

    Over all very nice. I wish I had your oral articulation; sometimes it seems a little too “anchory”, but then again I’ve always found TV anchors condescending and artificial. Thanks for sharing it was really good! really good!

  • Andy Knight says:

    >Your piece captures, to my mind, what is best about Transom — encountering things we probably wouldn’t normally hear on radio. So, when we devote a month (plus or minus) to a program that is already guaranteed broadcast, aren’t we wasting a slot?

    I strongly agree with this first point, but I don’t think a slot is being wasted on JJ. JJ presents, at least in intention, a behind the scenes peek at a new NPR show getting ready for air. This opportunity doesn’t come along too often, as NPR doesn’t come up with new weekday programming all that often (before this it was Tavis, and before that… what? Diane Rehm or the Connection?).

    On to 1,000 Postcards
    While I agree with the suggestions made here (especially the ones put forth by the talented Jake Warga), to my ear this story is ready to air. It won’t ever be "perfect", nothing ever is, but it is a far cry better than the majority of the non-reporting segments aired this week on ATC and ME. Don’t get me wrong, we still get some great segments from time to time about the human experience (case in point, Dan Collison and Transom Advisor/TAL Web Guru Elizabeth Meister’s Coco’s Story: Movin’ Out the Bricks), but IMO, not nearly enough. Is it too much to ask for ATC and ME to air one genuine story a day from/about a real person’s journey through this existence? I mean, other than Kobe Bryant.

  • Jackson says:
    You’re right, Andy: benefit of the doubt is due…

    But still, don’t you feel from time to time there’s more hocus than pocus?

    We shouldn’t just be hearing from JJ: gofers, PAs, APs, AAs, interns, etc., etc. all have things to say about what they are seeing and hearing at D2D. I suspect between 2am and 3am, Alex could probably throw in a word or two as well — he was, after all, a member of the Order of the Phoenix in the golden age.

    And I don’t mean that JJ didn’t mean well by his offer to Transom. There are, however, numerous interest groups involved in this site — I count myself among those with wares to hawk. But that’s not the purpose here. The purpose here, I would argue, is the work in its various forms — the closer to stem cell level, the better.

    And because a fundamental element of Transom is give-and-take, this is probably the last place JJ needs to be hanging out — at least, until he starts posting audio from the show. He’s just looking to get his systems in place — last thing he wants is someone suggesting that he should be airing an alternative to Click and Clack.

    A first thought: a Wednesday trial would be a nice feature. Will Shortz arm-wresting with both Tom and Ray — the audio alone would be winning. The Prez explaining why he needs his favorite leaders of the free world to visit Crawford — are there pics of Berlusconi with a chain saw? — to clear the brush. Are yeh wi’ me or a’gin me? Git that rattlesnake den out and I’ll believe yuh. Ari’s future resumes and job interviews. How ’bout Ari explaining how the Iraq invasion demands singular job skills?

    Or, in a broader category: the transferrable job skill. How did Newt translate his penchant for womanizing among members of his staff into a career on the Defense Policy Board?

    Not so much a "where are they now?" feature as "How in the hell did they get there?" weekly item.

    (JJ — you’ll owe me big time on this one. How about a game: what will W. do once he’s been eviscerated from the White House? One entry per person)

  • Jackson says:
    ATTN CM Lane

    One of the things I find intriguing about radio in its various guises is that, within the frame of a single work — no matter how long it is — we really don’t seem to have room for more than one interesting character per story. That’s why we have hosts (or so I would argue) for the news magazines and why stories tend only to be 4:30 long. Too long and we risk losing the host as context for everything we’re hearing, too short and all we get is a crowd at rush hour.

    Why shouldn’t Rene’s piece have a home in the current on-air magazine system? If anyone mentions the matter of length, I would love to hear them explain why.

  • rene says:
    thanks all – and then some!

    Thank you for all the fascinating posts. It’s amazing to get so much feedback on a piece of my work. This is more attention slash constructive criticism than I’ve received for any radio/tv story I’ve done.

    Of course, there are a lot of good suggestions being made here… on how the story could have been improved. I agree that at times it’s unclear whether the story is about Dad or about me. I wanted him to be the focus, but I was the one receiving the postcards. Hence the waffling.

    And yes, my father’s religion is a thread I could have developed. But my thought was: how relevant is it? What difference would it make to specify whether he’s Catholic or Baptist or Methodist or whatever? The point is, he’s pretty devout and he prays for me regularly. Is it that much of an anomaly for someone to close a letter with "love and prayers", or to be reading from the Book of Job? I didn’t want to turn his religion into a curiousity… so I just let it speak for itself.
    (and for the record: He’s Assembly of God. I am not.)

    Alright, I have more thoughts but will post them later. Again thank you for the good words.

    -rene

    PS
    hey little brother – come visit me in alaska and we’ll make a kickin’ radio story about how a family eats at taco bell for under two dollars (randi gets the bean cup!)

  • CM Lane says:

    In regards to Jackson’s comments on multiple characters: I would contend that a narrative of any sorts—-TV, radio, parable—-always has more than one character as a matter of necessity lest we bore our listeners with something sans conflict; conflict of course requiring at least two parties. Whether theses characters are interesting or not is a subjective question. On that point I might also add that a combination of characters in synthesis can create a whole in very short order if desired, Rene’s piece did that well.

    Perhaps I’m missing your point? Maybe you could explain your ideas a little more?

  • helen woodward says:
    what is hocus versus pocus Jackson?

    You’ve got me all confused. and not that I am the police of using the correct discussion board, but can I suggest that your comments about day to day and JJ’s guest-ship here at transom would be better posted over there in his topic, where he could respond to them.

    I love Rene’s piece, and I agree with you jackson that length should not be an impediment to hearing pieces like this on ME or ATC, "one genuine story a day from/about a real person’s journey through this existence" as andy so eloquently put it.

    This was a submission that we knew was a keeper from the first listen, so thanks rene for great work.

  • Jackson says:
    Forgive me…

    Part of the problem of the great oneness of the Net for me is that I was in Rene’s quarter when I was struck by a thought whilst there. Unfortunately, part of that thought had to do with Day to Day, a dilemma amplified by the fact that Transom is hosting both discussions. To make matters worse, part of that thought involved Transom, Rene’s piece, and JJ’s discussion.

    The only thing I will say in my defense is that I spoke warmly of Rene’s piece in JJ’s territory.

    And I confess that one of the things that concern me is the various degrees of scale of interest that happen here at Transom. Bring in certain names — say, Ira G. — and there will be tens, even hundreds of comments and discussions. My deepest sense is that part of Transom should be encouraging broader and even more far-reaching discussion, not just about Rene’s piece, but about what we are missing when we don’t get to experience something like Rene’s piece.

    Why is there no obvious place in radioland for 1000 PCs? And then, par contre, why do tens of us pitch to JJ through here when we don’t even know what his show is really about yet? My sense is that, here, in Transom, we should be wondering why radio isn’t ready for 1000 PCs — all 9’17" of it — when public stations across the nation are about to give up one hour five days a week for something that we don’t know but that has all the smell of a sure bet?

    I must make an additional confession, and this touches a bit on your circumstance, Rene. I used to be one of those assistant editors in the domain of the first novel. It is difficult to express adequately the frustration of explaining how, because so much attention and resource is going to one thing — the "sure bet" — nothing is left for even the least toss of the dice. Danielle will get $5 million for this; sadly, we can’t pony up two-and-a-half-grand for this.

    In defense of Transom, I see far more acreage on the home page devoted to Rene’s piece. But there is a fascinating dynamic at work in this place that turns on so many things, from the craft (Alan Rickman in Star Quest had a lot to say about that) to the trade. These discussions are not, to my mind, mutually exclusive.

    Still, couldn’t we get a flipside of Rene’s PC on the home page as well?

  • Daniel Costello says:
    no waffles

    I didn’t find waffling about who the story was about. To me the story was about the postcards and what they tell about you, your father, and your relationship.

    I liked the music, but it still seemed out of place because you don’t use any elsewhere. It also seemed like a long break. Maybe use more music?

    I want more use of bus sound. The doors opening and closing, the stop dinger, brake noise, accelerating engine noise. It would need to be tied to the story, but I don’t think that would be hard. The bus isn’t the focus of the story, but his job as you say is why the postcards came about. How many red lights did it take to write a card? Maybe have him read as if he were writing, and use bus sounds to illustrate? ding–brake sound–"we went to the movie, then we got ice cream…"–acceleration sound–stop announcement–ding–brake sound–"Joe dropped his on the ground"–etc. If you could do that without dragging it on too long I think it would give us more of a feel for how it worked. Having him read the postcards worked well, I just think you could expand on it.

    I am also interested in how he was a stand-in for other dads. Did they feel personally connected to him? Was it more than a novelty to them?

    I liked your narration–did you practice your read or was that just straight out?

    Overall I think the piece was very good, and not too long.

  • Bonnie Primbsch says:
    about the religion thing…

    I thought it was quite lovely, the way your dad’s religion was presented in context only, just another part of who he is.

    We listeners, a smart lot, could easily figure out what the deal is without having it further explained. "Seeee, my dad’s religious and, uh, yeah. So. There you go."

    If the piece was purley a portrait of your dad, then ok, let’s hear about how his religion guides him. Or if he had a religious reason for sending you 1,000 postcards, then ok. But the story is simply that your dad actually bothered to do this sweet thing, sending you a card every day through college. So good job leaving the religious references as-is!

    And good not job not cleaving the religious aspects out, either!

  • natukashii says:

    Love it!

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