A New Idea from 1987

This week, Joe Richman sent me an email with the subject header, “Memories from Radio Battles of the Past,” which contained one of my long-forgotten screeds, this one from 1987, almost 25 years ago. My first thought was, at least I’m consistent.

We’re posting the letter below. It was (and is) typical of my many appeals for public broadcasting to embrace risk, talent, and a range of voices.

In recent years, system funding for independent producers and has taken some hard hits. The Radio Program Fund has been terminated. There are no longer clear pathways at CPB for funding of grassroots proposals, or a process for peer review of new programming ideas.

We’re posting this because it’s worth noting that the things we care about here at Transom haven’t changed. They are not affected by technology, politics, or expediency. The values we care about, and the caring itself, endure.

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Dear CPB,

As numbers become ever more important in public radio, we need to protect those things which cannot be measured.

I am sympathetic with CPB’s struggle to define “risk” in such a way as to make it an administratively useful term. It is much like attempting to define “art” for that purpose; these concepts serve poorly as standards of measurement. Yet, this is one of the appealing things about them: They defy formulas. And we must be cautious that we do not let them slip away from us, simply because we can not find universally acceptable ways to define them.

Many people in public radio maintain that in order to have a vital system, now and in the future, we must encourage innovative work, new talent, experimental ideas, risk, art — and that this is a system-wide responsibility.

I propose the formation of a “Radio Laboratory Fund” within the larger CPB Radio Program Fund. Applications to the Lab Fund will be simpler, and grant amounts usually smaller, than those of the general Fund. Money will be awarded to support creative people and ideas, in cases where they should not be judged by the current audience-based priorities. In other words, the priorities of increasing audience size and yielding major new services or series will not apply: This fund will be a seed bed.

The Radio Lab Fund will serve to:

– Encourage promising new producers, and talented people from other disciplines, to create for public radio,

– Develop new work which may challenge and expand our ideas about the possibilities of radio,

– Foster innovative collaborations between producers, stations and the networks,

– Stimulate established public radio talent to try out new ideas on a small scale, without the weight of commitment to a full series and audience acceptance.

Works which emerge from the Lab Fund may be incorporated into, and enhance, existing programs. Hence, application budgets will not necessarily include distribution, marketing, and promotion line items. The Lab will not be a “special interest set-aside”, but will rather exist to nourish creativity, quality and vision in all types of public radio production without the burden of premature “marketplace” pressure.

We all want public radio to set standards of quality, and to go beyond the ordinary. In pursuing those goals, we might think of the Radio Laboratory Fund as our Research Division and the general Radio Program Fund as Development.

Finally, I read a quote from Ron Hull in the Public Broadcasting Review a few weeks ago in reference to the television “R & D Fund”. He said that producers need to be given the “right to fail” in developing innovative fare, and that “we don’t have to put every dime up on the screen”. Amen.

-Jay Allison, 1987

NOTE FROM 2011: Although CPB no longer has a discernible process for funding new programming, we look forward to the results of AIR’s new Localore Project, of which CPB is a funder. Also, a reminder: we started our own Transom Donor Fund. Yes, it’s small, but it will be be bigger if you contribute.

Jay Allison

About
Jay Allison

Jay Allison has been an independent public radio producer, journalist, and teacher since the 1970s. His work has won most of the major broadcasting awards, including six Peabodys. He produces The Moth Radio Hour and was the curator of This I Believe on NPR. He has also worked in print for the New York Times Magazine and as a solo-crew reporter for ABC News Nightline, and is a longtime proponent of building community through story. Through his non-profit organization, Atlantic Public Media, he is a founder of The Public Radio Exchange, PRX.org, and WCAI, the public radio service for Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. More about Jay, more than you'd reasonably need to know, is available at www.jayallison.org.

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  • Todd Melby

    12.13.11

    Reply

    It was a great idea then. It’s a great idea now. It would be cool to see the actual letter. Maybe you can scan it? Now I’ll go make a Transom donation.

  • Jay Allison

    12.14.11

    Reply

    Joe Richman is sending me more of my old rants.

    Below is one from the 1990s, posted on The WELL (www.well.com) where I used to host the radio producers’ conference in the days before the Web. (That conference eventually morphed into the AIR Daily email list–after a brief sojourn as the Producers Advocacy Group, a separate story)

    —————

    Innovation, inconveniently, can not be summoned on command. I live
    in a community dominated by scientific institutions engaged in basic
    research. The results of that research often provide keys to medical
    advances and the like, but the intent of the research was not
    necessarily to do so. Instead, scientific projects are driven by
    something difficult to channel and predict, but universally valued:
    the creative curiosity of the scientist.

    I submit that we should retain a place in public radio which
    similarly respects the pioneering spirit of creativity, for that is
    where innovation truly resides. The priorities of the Fund must
    remain flexible enough to admit the unexpected and inspire the new.

    -Jay Allison
    1994
    Woods Hole, MA

  • Jessica Clark

    12.16.11

    Reply

    Thanks, Jay. Deja vu!

  • adam schweigert

    12.18.11

    Reply

    File this one under “nothing new under the sun.” Great reminder, thanks for posting.

  • Suzi Montgomery

    1.12.12

    Reply

    Hi Jay
    We are independent radio producers working in Reaper and are desperately seeking some info on how to see a list of edit files in a track let’s say- we would like to see a clipboard that shows a list of soundclips / edits in a box off to the side – or something like that. We are grappling with having a track with tons of edits but having to scroll to see them all- we need a list for a quick glance of all we have cut.
    Can you help us!? We have searched tons of help sites and consortiums and have come up zero for zero.
    Thanks for your time.
    Suzi and Sheri

    • Jeff Towne

      1.12.12

      Reply

      We should probably move this question over to the REAPER topic, which is a little old, but worth checking out if you haven’t… http://transom.org/?p=10801

      But the short answer is that REAPER is continually making updates and improvements, and they’re usually free: your license entitles you to 2 major version upgrades, which will include lots and lots of smaller incremental revisions. They’re at version 4.14 as of December 2011, so if you have version 2.x or newer you should be able to upgrade to the current version.

      And you should, because they have addressed your problem: the lack of a “bin” for soundfiles. That was one of my major hesitations about the software back when Nick first did the review, but they have added that in a window they call the Project Bay. So, go to View>>Project Bay and you’ll get a tabbed window that lets you see various aspects of your project, which soundfiles are contained within, which ones are active or inactive, etc.

      It’s not exactly the same as other software’s bins, but I’ve found that all the programs have their pros and cons. The Pro Tools Region bin, (now the Clip bin) can get pretty clogged and chaotic. Hindenburg allows you to make several different bins which really helps in keeping things organized, but it doesn’t allow the same kinds of sorting as PT does, and won’t do some of the helpful tricks that PT does – like highlighting the clip in both the bin and the edit window when you click on it. I haven’t used REAPER’s Project Bay enough to comment more on its functionality, but you should definitely check it out, I suspect it may do what you need.

      Hope that helps –

      –jeff

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