Jack Rodolico

Filling the Void

I would bet money you have never heard my voice. I am not an editor, nor do I produce enthralling non-narrated pieces. Nope. You can count my radio stories on one hand (with all five fingers, thank you). I live out here in the Void – the awkward space between “learning how to make radio” and “getting paid to make radio.” I am happy to be here, but frankly it’s getting old.

Between these two corners of Radioland, staying devoted to the radio lifestyle is a chore. I am on my second unpaid internship, which takes me out of state for half the week. My part-time job does not cover my expenses. When the internships are done, I will probably work odd jobs while occasionally freelancing a story. According to my radio superiors, this could go on for a year or two before I get a real job. This is not my tale of woe, but a recognition that many of you are struggling with the same issues (as others have before). We burn with story ideas, we are inspired by our radio heroes, we hope to reel in a younger, more diverse audience – but until we get a job, we don’t have the credentials to do squat.

There are paradoxes to starting in radio. How do you make radio when: (a) you have skills, but others have more; (b) you do not have the money to buy gear; (c) you do not even have the time to pitch stories. How can we be ambitious while setting reasonable goals?

Truly, I am not the person to answer these questions. (Recall – five stories produced.) But hopefully this will provide a forum for rookies and veterans to proffer suggestions. Below is a highlight reel of what is working for me, along with some mysteries I cannot unravel. Please share your ideas, too.

Don’t be too competitive. A little counterintuitive, but I have had more success by helping my peers than stepping on them. Swallow the ego, pass job posts to people you know are qualified, play nice with the other interns. Public radio is a small world. If you act like a jerk in Massachusetts, someone in Utah will find out.

Secret radio. If you want to make good radio – but have few paid opportunities to do it – teach yourself to be a clear, engaging communicator. There are opportunities to do this all day. Really listen to boring talkers. Draw stories out of strangers. Tune into speech patterns. Notice your “likes” and “ums.” Stop yourself when you are garrulous. (And avoid using words like “garrulous” – words not everyone will understand – in conversation.) When you stumble over words, take a radio pause, then speak slowly and deliberately. Act like the world is full of invisible microphones.

Non-radio radio. I am working on podcast and “radio” pitches for non-profits, my undergraduate school and newspaper websites. Go local, local, local. The world needs more good audio, but the burden is yours to prove its worth. (Also give credit where it is due: This idea belongs to Rob Rosenthal, my former teacher at Salt and Transom’s new radio instructor.)


Go for print. I live in Portland, Maine where paid radio gigs are rare. However, the Portland area has plenty of daily, weekly and monthly newspapers, plus some magazines. While nailing down a radio job, pitch stories to local print publications. They are way more accessible than All Things Considered. Print offers pitching and storytelling experience, and any radio editor or producer will appreciate that on your resume. Plus there might be other local resources at your disposal: live storytelling, writing groups, audio soirees. Look into it.

Networking. This may sound simplistic, but it is true: People in public radio are usually friendly and approachable. So I approach everyone. Mostly I glean wisdom during pleasant conversations with smart people. But if they inquire about my work, I offer to send them a story. Then I send them the best thing I have. Most likely this will not lead to a job, but that is one more person who knows I can make radio.

Listen. This is not quite the same as networking to me. Radio requires religious devotion to the belief that all people have a story to tell. Sewn into this belief is that all stories have a lesson to teach. So learn lessons in unexpected places. Take advice from everyone (sound technicians, print reporters, your mom); when you meet someone you do not like, listen harder. Much of this business is dumb luck, so put yourself out there enough to intercept it.

And here are a few things I cannot seem to get a handle on….

Staying organized. Ideas, pitches, incomplete stories, three versions of the same completed piece, docs, docxs, pdfs, jpegs and a billion little audio files with the same name! I struggle to keep it all tidy.

Facebook, Twitter, and other things that terrify me. Am I the only red-blooded American that hates social media? In college it seemed like advertising for insecure people, but now I am insecure because I do not have a Facebook page. I know social media is vital to reporters, but it still looks like more work. If anyone does this without tweeting and friending, I would love to hear your story. If you have a social media success story, convert me!

Freelancing. Until I sell my first radio piece for more than $3.50 (Thanks, PRX!), freelancing for a living will loom impossibly before me. The jump to freelancing works after years of success, yet the rookie has no option but to try. Pitches need to be just about perfect, so this is a high-stakes game.

Buying gear. At some point I will bite this bullet, but gear remains the ultimate paradox. I love radio, I want to make radio – but this career path, which requires a year or two of monastic dedication, also comes with a hefty price tag.

Radio can be a lonely endeavor, so how about a little solidarity? Post some ideas below on how to flounder through the Void with grace. In the meantime, I will share the one thing I truly know from experience: Fill a box with noise, art, time and empathy, then shake it until your arms hurt – when you open it, you’ll have radio.

UPDATE 1/19/2012: Jack Rodolico must have done something right. He’s now an audio producer for Latitude News where he curates the world’s best radio and helps produce original content for multimedia stories.

Jack Rodolico

About
Jack Rodolico

Jack Rodolico is Health and Science Reporter at New Hampshire Public Radio. He comes from a family of Italians who a talk with their hands, and he competed for attention as a child by telling the loudest story.

More by Jack Rodolico

Comments

  • Anna

    12.20.11

    Great post, Jack! I struggled with every single thing you’re describing. I love the idea of of “secret radio.”

  • BK

    12.20.11

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QV064GnXjqQ
    Great post. I added the You Tube feature for the wonderful caveat about “garrulous-ity”.

    Rules to worth tatoo’ing:
    Don’t be too competitive. It is a small world. Stay organized.

    Pitching is arduous, and nearly impossible to understand, if you are a “Montessori Kid” (one who learns by watching then doing). All help is welcome.

  • James

    12.20.11

    One of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard was that you should first build something, then worry about making money from it. I’m thinking the same thing applies to this kind of job, where there aren’t a lot of openings, and not many people are leaving their gigs any time soon. So while you are working and waiting, going to podcast route is one way to build something up, while honing skills and showing that you can tell stories on the radio.

    As for the question of gear, there are more gear choices at lower prices now than ever before. I just bought the Tascam DR-40 after reading the reviews of it here on Transom, and it’s great. $200 for a quality recorder that blows away my ailing Zoom h4? Yes, please. You can buy a $250 shotgun mic and now you have a complete portable recording rig. You obviously have a computer, since you were able to write and post this, so you can do simple audio editing. Heck, since they lowered the price and put it on the App Store, Apple’s Logic Pro is now selling for $200 and will give you a professional audio editing suite, with everything you need.

    Got a little gear? Pay for it by recording speakers or presentations. Edit down those presentations to give them a professional audio package. You might be surprised how much people need and appreciate this kind of service. My experience editing my own podcast (which isn’t as ambitious or produced as TAL or Radiolab or anything like it) was instrumental in making a business client who needed a professional audio recording for a webinar happy with the way they sound. I was doing radio style voice editing, inserting pauses, cutting out dead air, and editing for voice, all skills used in radio editing. The money from this will help pay for my gear, and allow me to build something more.

    Don’t sell yourself short (I don’t think you are, necessarily). You’re already doing things outside the realm of ‘radio’ that help you get by and improve your skill set. There are some other interesting opportunities out there that not only build more skills and create a great resume (with examples), but also that can help pay the rent.

    But overall, great post. You have some good ideas that I’m going to keep in mind and try to adopt.

  • FS

    12.20.11

    I got a grant from the National Association of Science Writers to buy equipment. Now if I could just make the time to learn to use it well!

    • James

      12.20.11

      What gear did you get?

  • RS

    12.21.11

    Thanks for sharing your ideas. So far, I have learned the most from unpaid internships and volunteering. I may be entering the void soon myself, so I will keep you posted.

  • RJ

    12.26.11

    Thanks Jack, that just about summed up where I’m at (and wanting to be) and was wonderfully practical -especially the ‘secret radio’! In Australia we have a lot of community radio stations where almost all radio producers seem to cut their teeth. If you want to meet other content makers and radio lovers, understand more about sound and work to the strict deadline of live-to-air, I recommend volunteering at one.

    • R.J.

      1.13.12

      I strongly second RJ’s comment regarding community radio stations and volunteering.

      My initial training has been in film and video production. I get to do that part-time on projects that I believe in.

      I have a full-time job in the legal field, and the pacing of that work is manageable.

      I’ve been a long time listener to public radio (Now 16 years), and finally made the jump two years ago. The skills that I’ve learned from doing documentary work transfers over to radio (Building scenes, establishing characters, etc). I currently work/volunteer on a small show called APEX Express (apexexpress.org). We focus our content on Asian, Asian-American, and Pacific Islander politics and culture with a priority on Bay Area and California stories. We’re a small ragtag group and have a mix of skill levels (one contributor gets gigs with NPR occasionally), but we all support each other and get to produce a weekly, one-hour show.

      Social networking has been extremely helpful in our demographic (We coordinate postings and emails and encourage the folks that we interview to share and remind folks to tune in). You can categorize our team as being part of the 18 – 35, Asian-American crowd, so we’re EXTREMELY niche. However, because our team members lead multiple lives as community organizers and activists, artists, music DJs, and although our audience doesn’t regularly listen to public radio, our subject matter resonates and our friends, allies, and collaborators tune in when we air or listen to our archives.

      2011 was a good year for us, we were able to produce content that ranged from FBI repression and grand jury trials, to oral histories of local farming in Filipino and Korean communities, to showcasing queer narratives…we run the gamut. We’re still lacking coverage on some demographics, but having a conscious team that feels responsible for getting equitable representation on the airwaves is part and parcel of what drives our team on doing the damn thing.

      Some of the other challenges we face is getting respect at the station we work at-legitimacy is somewhat difficult because of how much we’re able to pull during fund drive efforts (However, radio fund drives need to be changed up, that’s a different conversation altogether), and capacity issues – we have day jobs, multiple roles, and we get tired.

      What excites me is the changing funding structures available including, but not limited to: Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Spot.Us — These new models also manage to encourage a concept of real audience investment. We’re still figuring out how to do this as a collective.

      This post is still important, and I’m going to pass this on to my friends. Thanks, Jack for posting.

  • karen

    1.12.12

    Hello,

    I’m trying to do the same thing you’re doing, Jack. The only way I can think to make this work is to take a part time job to pay the bills, and use my spare time producing radio. Your postscript said you went to the dark side of social media. I’m wondering why, and how it helped you.

    –Karen

    • Jack Rodolico

      1.13.12

      Hi Karen,

      I wouldn’t say social media has helped me too much yet, but I think it will. For me it’s about “hireability” – what will make me a desirable candidate for a job. The more diverse your skill set, the better you look to an employer. If I can produce radio and write for print, but am unaccustomed to promoting myself on social media – and connecting with listeners/readers with social media – then that’s simply one thing I don’t know how to do. To me, it’s the same as knowing how to use Audacity, Audition, Pro Tools and Hindenburg.

      Thanks, Karen.

      Jack

  • Bianca Giaever

    1.23.13

    Don’t be a jerk in Massachusetts! Sound advice.

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