Story Workshop Fall 2012: In Session

October 10th, 2012

photo of Transom Story Workshop class of fall 2012

We will be offering the Workshop again in the spring – April and May. If you’d like to receive an email about all upcoming Workshops and deadlines, please write to us at info at

Fall 2012

Update: It’s official. We just sent nine more Transom Story Workshop alums out into the world to make radio. Congratulations class of Fall 2012! Look for a feature highlighting their work right here on Transom in early December. If you’re interested in attending the Transom Story Workshop yourself, we are currently accepting applications for spring 2013.

Update: Final Week – Students turned in their second pieces Monday afternoon. On Tuesday night, there will be two guest speakers at dinner: John Barth from PRX will talk with students about the state of radio & work opportunities and AIR’s Sue Schardt will talk about how to find community and support as an independent producer and the network that AIR provides. For those who can, please us for a public listening event on Thursday, November 29th at 7:00 at the Community Hall in Woods Hole to celebrate the accomplishments of the students from the Fall 2012 Transom Story Workshop. For the many of you who can’t make it, we’ll create a Transom feature soon.

Update: Thanksgiving Week: This is a bit of a bonus week for the Transom Story Workshop. This week, Ari Daniel Shapiro will visit as a guest to talk about the how to pitch story ideas as an independent producer. Students are working on polishing their second pieces and gearing up for their graduation/listening event which will take place on November 29th here in Woods Hole.

Transom Story Workshop participant, Kristina Loring writes:

After a few hours of doing live-edits on our stories, about the time when we are considering rearranging the structures of our stories for the tenth time (oh, the possibilities!), Rob Rosenthal walks over to the corner of our classroom and grabs a large sign and holds it above his head. The sign reads: LIFE IS HARD, RADIO IS HARDER.

Making radio is indeed like holding a very large, very clear and honest mirror up to your life. If you struggle with something off of the mic, it is likely going to be amplified on the mic. This was super clear for me when I was recording my voice with Viki Merrick for my second story. At first I was racing through my words, just ripping through the reading. Viki advised me to slow it down. Then I started mumbling my double consonants: saying hinnan (instead of clearly enunciating ‘hidden’) or trailing off at the end of arr (like a pirate instead of finishing the word like a normal human and saying ‘arT’). The point is, when you are voicing your piece, you aren’t just reading words, but infusing emphasis and energy into your writing so that you convey a feeling. Viki kept saying, “Don’t throw your writing aside! Give it a chance!” I was letting my mumbles and my voice’s low energy take the power out of my writing. It was like I was smothering the words before they had a chance to be heard. Ugh, I was a prose murderer!

Once I gave each word significance, the writing had room to breathe and come alive. I was actually creating visuals with my voice. And the secret is out: being in the studio voicing with Viki is a clever radio disguise for a therapy session. For real. I realized that in my everyday speech, I often mumble over my words or trail off. I wasn’t giving my thoughts or insights any emphasis or importance. Okay. That might sound like some spiritual woo woo/self-help ish. But, if you want to be a conduit of story, you best open your mouth and let your words sing. Never toss them aside.

Robert Smith of Planet Money gave some similar advice when he explained his interviewing techniques. He always exerted tons of energy, made sure his interviewees knew he was surprised, totally amazed, or just genuinely curious about what they were telling him. He wasn’t faking it, just sharing his upbeat reaction in such a way that his interviewees then got energized, and it was evidenced in their expressive responses.

I realized that we dictate a lot of the energy in our stories- whether it is through our narratives or in creating an engaging interview-if we put a ton of lively energy into those components, it will translate into the feeling of our whole piece.

Update: Week Seven: From Transom Story Workshop participant, Emily Hsiao:

Real talk: this workshop has been such a welcome kick in the seat of my pants to step outside of my comfort zone. It has reminded me that uncomfortable situations aren’t all that terrible! I am somewhat reserved by nature, so I’ve really valued practicing going up to people and starting a conversation. Most people will engage you and give you a glimpse into their lives. It’s quite surprising and special.

If something interests you in the slightest, scope it out and pursue it. Seriously. Let me share my sad story of misplaced priorities. A few weeks ago I was walking around Martha’s Vineyard and passed a man who was building–what seemed to me–a COMICALLY LARGE boat. It was something out of the ordinary and it piqued my interest. I conveniently had my recording gear with me. Perfect, right? But the next ferry back to Woods Hole was about to leave and I had also just bought a fried clam roll that was calling my name. I timidly walked by this makeshift boat hangar a couple of times, unsure if I wanted to approach the man or retreat into the comfort of food and laziness. I retreated. The fried clam roll was mediocre at best, and even a little sandy. Several weeks later, I still regret not going up and talking to the boat builder. That would have been much more memorable.

Lesson learned. Now I know to avoid these missed opportunities. Don’t regret not asking a question, or not talking to someone about something. Trust your gut and put yourself out there. Things won’t always work in your favor, but you won’t know unless you try. The workshop is winding down (say it ain’t so!), but I plan to keep feeling this invigorating sting in my backside long after it ends.

Fall 2012 students are totally tweeting (#radiostory) TSW:

Update: Week Seven The students have completed their Creative Life pieces and are in the thick of script writing and tape gathering for their second pieces. Last week, producer Ben Walker from WFMU and the podcast, Too Much Information, joined the students for dinner. Students also spent Friday afternoon playing sonic IDs they’ve produced over the past few weeks for Jay Allison and Viki Merrick (by all accounts they are gifted sonic makers!). This week Samantha Broun and Amanda Kowalski of SoundLight Media will talk with the students about collaboration and multimedia production. Also, Planet Money’s Robert Smith will do a live edit of second stories with students in class, over dinner he’ll tell them about how Planet Money tells stories, and – if time allows – he will take pitches for their first post Transom Story Workshop stories. Whew.

Update: Week Five From Transom Story Workshop participant, Eric Drachman: I’m continuously amazed at how willing people are to speak into a microphone. Sometimes I wonder if it’s because this is Woods Hole and not Los Angeles. I mean, on Halloween night, the Clark House tradition of bobbing for apples was carried on. Would anyone bob for an apple in Los Angeles?!? But here they did. And not only will people speak into a microphone, but they will invite you into their house, or their workplace, or their ship. Even if their ship is the property of the U.S. Coast Guard…a part of Homeland Security. It’s amazing what you can get if you ask.

For my second piece, I’d been thinking about trying to speak with the Coast Guard. They are a presence here in Woods Hole. They have a fenced off guarded pier and buildings called Station Woods Hole. In fact, we can see it, just across the street from the Penikese building where we have class. They were surprisingly receptive, but I was deciding between a couple of different stories. Then the news of Hurricane Sandy hit. What would the Coast Guard be up to during the hurricane, I wondered… It didn’t take long before it was arranged. I was going to weather the storm with the coast guard on their 110 foot cutter, “Sanibel”. They would be tucked away in New Bedford harbor, behind a hurricane barrier designed to keep the storm surge out and boats safe inside.

I spent two nights on their ship. I ate with them and hung out on the bridge. I followed the weather and watched the seas and even learned a little bit about playing spades – their favorite downtime card game. One of the highlights was an adventure out into the weather with a couple of the Coast Guardsmen. Women, actually. Most of this crew are women, including the captain. We ventured out and felt the strong gusts of wind at the end of the pier. Someone suggested that we try to make our way out to the hurricane barrier. They flagged down a police car and we got a ride right up to the barrier itself. They offered us the full tour and we jumped at it. Seven flights of stairs down and we were in a tunnel under the barrier.

Pretty neat. My suggestion is to carry a microphone and ask a lot of questions. It really is amazing what (stories) you can get if you ask.

Update: Post Week Four The following note comes from Transom Story Workshop participant, Marnie Crawford Samuelson:

We’ve been rewriting scripts this week – probably nobody more times than me. I’ve learned a new word. Concision. I thought Rob was making it up, but I see it in the dictionary. That means write short. Write direct. Write with verbs and strong nouns. Write so that every phrase moves the story forward. Get in touch with your inner chain saw is Rob’s advice. Hard.

I am finally starting to get a handle on scenes. You think about scenes early on, think about your character, ideas, and place. You think about a story thread that strings your scenes together into a compelling journey. You interview and record so you have everything you need to start a scene and end it. You think about a scene as a cup or vessel – it holds your best ideas and sound material. Everything else goes by the wayside. When you look at your script, you look at the scenes. How do they balance together?

Now that we are half way through – already – I am focusing on the big picture, thinking about what I want to learn before we leave. Top of the list: ways to know when you don’t have a story (so you can bail quickly), really getting a focus sentence and using it as your story compass, knowing more about story structure, developing efficient workflow habits.

Update: Week Four This week is all about fine tuning scripts for first pieces. Second drafts of the scripts were due in Sunday night. Students will do a live read with Jay Allison on Thursday and voice their pieces with Viki Merrick on Friday and Saturday. Annie Correal of the storytelling website Cowbird and Radio Ambulante, a Spanish-language radio program, will be the guest at dinner on Tuesday night. And the Workshop’s own Rob Rosenthal and Sarah P. Reynolds will be the guests at dinner on Thursday night to talk about internships, opportunities and life after the Transom Story Workshop.

Update: Post Week Three The following note comes from Transom Story Workshop participant, Emma de Campo.

Prior to this week I’d been under the (blissful) illusion that script writing is for play-writes and movie directors alone. But week three has been all about scripting – taking our first interviews and wrangling together quotes, narration and sound into a story your ears might just enjoy.

If this wasn’t challenging enough for us radio newbies, we’ve also been dealing with a plague of ‘shooting puppies.’ Don’t worry, no animals have been harmed – I’m talking about those quotes that are just so delightful but there’s no real place for them in your script.

So with our first scripts complete and the next drafts underway, I’m left pondering – can you give a puppy CPR?

Update: Week Three – This week is all about writing for radio, scenes and focus sentences. On Wednesday, first drafts of scripts for Creative Life pieces are due. On Thursday, seasoned radio producers Chris Lydon and Mary McGrath will join the class as dinner guests to talk about their work in radio and their latest project. Story ideas for second pieces are also being discussed.

Update: Week Two – We are making radio. During the listening session at the end of last week’s radio boot camp, students played their promos and vox pops for each other. Good stuff. This week, the class will Skype with NPR’s Audie Cornish who will talk with them about interviewing. The class will then spend two days in the field collecting tape for their Creative Life stories. All the while researching ideas for their second pieces.

Update: Week One – It’s week one at Transom Story Workshop. Boot camp week. Students are learning how to use their recording gear, acquainting themselves with Hindenburg, producing vox pops and promos. Oh, and pitching their first stories to Jay Allison. WCAI’s Sean Corcoran will be a Guest this week. Talking with the students about reporting on the Cape and Islands as well as about the ethics of journalism.


Welcome to the In Session notes for the Transom Story Workshop: an eight-week-long training for beginning radio producers. The fall 2012 Workshop started on October 1st and will run until November 29th when there will be a public listening event – to which you are all invited (details to come). Rob Rosenthal is the lead teacher for the Workshop along with teaching associate, Sarah P. Reynolds.

The nine students in this class come from as nearby as Boston and as far away as Australia. They are living together in housing we found for them right in the village of Woods Hole (with water views!). They share meals together twice a week.

At the end of the eight weeks, they will leave with a portfolio of pieces, audio editing software, and a well-practiced set of skills in interviewing, story-building, writing, editing, and mixing on digital audio workstations, along with connections in the radio world.

Guest speakers will join the students throughout the eight weeks including: WCAI’s duPont-Columbia Award-winning reporter Sean Corcoran; NPR’s Audie Cornish; producer, Annie Correal of the storytelling website Cowbird and Radio Ambulante, a Spanish-language radio program; producers Chris Lydon and Mary McGrath, Atlantic Public Media’s Jay Allison and Viki Merrick; Transom’s Tool Guy, Jeff Towne; independent radio producer, Ari Daniel Shapiro;  Samantha Broun and Amanda Kowalski of SoundLight Media; Robert Smith from NPR’s Planet Money; as well as AIR’s Sue Schardt and John Barth from The Public Radio Exchange.

We will update this page from time to time with news from the Workshop. You can follow the student’s Twitter posts (hashtag #radiostory), check out images we upload to Flickr, and post your own comments and questions below.

Flickr photostream for transomradio:

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