Intro from Jay Allison: The idea for the PRX was born on Transom and we are proud to feature its premiere now. Along with the Station Resource Group and Atlantic Public Media, Jake and Steve shepherded this project through the mazes of online rights management, to the creation of a virtual economy, to software design in St. Petersburg, Russia. If you believe in destiny, they were supposed to have these jobs. Read of their journeys to this point, and then help us refine this new tool for shaping the future of public radio.
We haven’t exactly spelled out a Public Radio Exchange “declaration of principles” but we recently came up with a pretty good tag line:
“What do you want to hear on the radio?”
It’s got a little cheese in it like any tag line inevitably does. But it has that sense of openness – an invitation to help shape the sound coming over the airwaves. The PRX brings together that democratic impulse of the Internet and the far reach of broadcast radio.
That’s one of the strengths of the PRX idea. That locally-run noncommercial radio stations can be allies in the effort to find new voices, new ideas, and new ways to connect in a diverse and complex world. It’s one thing to put up a website and say you’ve now established a global media presence. It’s another to engage hundreds of stations in communities across the country, and the world, and help them find new and important work to bring to their audiences on the radio and on their own sites and streams.
Now, you have to be a bit of an optimist to see the public radio system as a bold partner, eager for risk-taking and pushing the envelope in this endeavor. But I believe there is indeed a critical mass of people who get it, and who will use the PRX to make a difference. I guess I’m an optimist, which is probably one reason they hired me.
I think we’re on to something big with this PRX thing. It is sort of revolutionary and it is happening at just the right media moment. Public radio is strong and growing but it needs a kick. It needs new talent, new voices, new ideas, new models, new ways to connect its listeners to the world. It needs to stand out in a competitive and converging media marketplace, and it needs to figure out what public service media means in a commercialized consumer culture. It needs the PRX!
I’m eager to tap into the collective wit and wisdom of Transom talk, because everyone has a stake in the PRX. Weigh in and help us make it better.
I signed on to this adventure a little over a year ago in August 2002. It is a great job, uncannily capturing just about all the things I’m interested in doing and somehow drawing on the random skills and experiences I’ve acquired along the way. Prior to this I had been working at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School, where I am still a Fellow (I am not a lawyer, but I play one on the radio). The Berkman Center is “a research program founded to explore cyberspace, share in its study, and help pioneer its development”. It’s a place where they try to figure out what the heck is going on in the shifting sands of technology, law, and policy. There’s a ton of projects at the Berkman Center, many having to do with developing countries, intellectual property and digital media, as well as teaching and advocacy in the field of Internet law. Some things worth checking out include: Chilling Effects, Creative Commons, H20, IXPs.
Prior to that I had been a producer on The Connection with Christopher Lydon, a daily call-in talk show from WBUR Boston, distributed by PRI for a while and then NPR. That experience was my trial-by-fire introduction to public radio. First and foremost, it was an absolutely wonderful show. The best of its kind on public radio then and since. It had a great team of producers led by the dynamic duo of senior producer Mary McGrath and host Christopher Lydon, and together we created two hours a day of really riveting stuff. Then in February 2001 it all exploded in a flaming ball of craziness and the rest is history. If you really want to hear the stories buy me a drink at the next public radio conference….
Prior to that…. Well, no need to dig back too far. Some other relevant stuff is that I’ve been a musician all my life, playing guitar and cello, singing a bit, messing around on drums. I’ve been in various independent rock bands continuously since age 12, when I thought I might have a shot at being Eddie Van Halen some day. With this last band, Two Ton Shoe, we jumped into the web world way back in 1995 with help from a friend at the MIT Media Lab, and we’ve had some success on MP3.com (140,000 downloads and counting). The indie musician perspective and the Internet-driven upheaval in the music business got me thinking about new models for connecting artists to audiences, and to each other (a friend and I have been playing around with a site called GigSwap).
So when the Exchange idea came along and there was a job opening to help build and run the thing, I just had to be involved somehow. It’s a perfect gig and I’m sort of strangely qualified for it!
There is a fabulous team of people working on this project. There’s Tom Thomas and Terry Clifford, co-CEOs of the Station Resource Group (SRG) “a strategy-focused consortium of leading public radio stations.” Tom and Terry have been movers and shakers in public radio for a very long time — they started the National Federation of Community Broadcasters, among other accomplishments. Tom and Terry bring a great insiders’ sense of how the system as a whole operates and how stations are navigating through it these days.
Then there is this guy Jay Allison, who knows a thing or two about public radio, the internet, and so on. I can’t say enough about Jay, so I won’t. And then there is the “new guy” Steve Schultze. He’s the PRX Technical Manager and has been a linchpin of the entire project; from the early research looking at software options, audio standards, and existing technology; to drawing up the first blueprint for building the PRX; to overseeing the development process with our team of Russian programmers; to writing his own bits of code and various scripts to make the thing work; to devising the custom PRX audio encoder and uploader tools; to burning much midnight oil in the last several months to get the whole shebang up and running. Steve comes to the PRX with a shockingly recent degree in Philosophy and Computer Science, most of which is being put to good use these days. We haven’t had much need for his landscaping expertise, but who knows what PRX version 2.0 might offer in the way of tools and services…
I was running away from technology.
I’d worked with computers since I was a kid, so it was inevitable that at some point I would try to escape into nature. It ended up being mostly just overgrown lawns, but my summer landscaping job was Emersonian as far as I was concerned. My boss said it would be good for me to “get a little air between my ears.” I planted flowers, spread mulch, and pulled weeds. And it was good.
One time we were at a house where the soil had been beaten down so hard that we couldn’t get anything to grow. Water would run off and roots wouldn’t take hold. We had to get a roto-tiller and a gas-powered auger to drill holes in the ground. I realized that sometimes you have to get out the heavy technology to carve out space for new life.
Near the end of the summer, my boss assigned me to a job at a neglected old mansion. The property had just been bought by a new owner who was fixing it up and dividing it into smaller living spaces, mostly rented to younger people like myself. There was a garden surrounding it that clearly hadn’t been cared for in recent history. My responsibility was to clean it out, remove the vines that choked the good plants, decide where to make new flower beds, and prune overgrown bushes.
It took weeks. I would sometimes talk to the carpenters who were replacing broken banisters and fixing transoms that had swollen shut. We would bump into the new residents as they carried in their couches and tables and paintings. Some parts of the garden just needed to be weeded and spruced up a little bit. In other areas, I discovered that when I cleaned them up there was room for new plants. Sometimes I didn’t know what to do, and now I wish I’d asked the new residents.
I first heard about the budding PRX project after a long day of digging at hard clay. I’d never heard of Transom or Atlantic Public Media or Public Radio Core Values. I did have an undying love for public radio, spawned (like so many of my peers) by This American Life. When Jay described his vision for an Internet technology that would help bring new voices to public radio, I was intrigued but skeptical. I was running from computers. On the other hand, my back was sore.
A year later, I find myself landscaping again, with another fantastic crew. We try to make the best use of the technology we have, but in the end it’s about carving out space for new life, watering, fertilizing, and a little TLC. This time I want to enlist the new and old residents of this public radio estate. Tell us where you’d like the rhododendron, and whether you like violets you think they’re a weed. Remind us if we’re not watering enough. Make sure we’re helping you to protect your interests and promote your work. If something is being crowded out by bushes, tell us so we can move it right up front. If you’d like, you can even care for one of the flower beds.