Attended Salt: Spring, 2007
Currently: Program Assistant, Newberry Library
I graduated from Salt the year the economy tanked and have never been employed in a traditional radio job. Despite many dark moments cursing Marconi’s name, I have found a way to sneak radio into otherwise audio-free jobs. I credit two things for the fact that I am still plodding along in the radio world: I embraced my inner nerd and found good, helpful friends.
After I left Maine, I interned at Radio Lab, where I met the amazing people who make that show happen. One of the things I learned there is that story and sound are phenomenal mediums for explaining complicated ideas to non-expert audiences. I also learned that I am a pretty big dork — I love those knotty academic concepts, and I love trying to figure out how to make other people excited about them. That revelation has served me well. When I started working in cultural institutions as an administrator, my genuine enthusiasm for radio and academics helped convince my bosses that audio is an excellent vehicle to explain the work of the institutions to a public audience. Voila! Podcasts! The work has come through both freelance opportunities and concocting audio projects from within institutions. I’ve worked with museums, universities, and nonprofits, and am currently making an audio series for the Newberry Library discussing the future of the book. There are pitfalls to this kind of work — little editorial support, lack of funding, difficulty getting everyone to agree on a single idea — but I feel grateful to have figured out a way to make radio and have conversations with scholars about big ideas.
I would never have even had the opportunity to pitch those podcasts, much less the gumption, if it had not been for a community that supports me personally and creatively. When I moved to Chicago three years ago, I had friends in the Windy City from all the nooks and crannies of life: college, summer camp, Salt, yoga class, New York. Those friends introduced me to their friends, and after some time, I have a robust social network of people in Chicago, as well as a trail of pals from my past. My friends have clued me into new jobs and freelance opportunities, served as editors when there were none to be found, sparked story ideas over beers, fixed my Pro Tools problems, and provided endless pep talks. Some people might call this networking, but that always sounds smarmy to me. Taking a genuine interest in other people is the cornerstone of radio work and the very basis of friendship and community. It is crucial to surround yourself with people who delight and inspire you both because it makes for a better life and because creative ideas and jobs often bubble up from good relationships.
When I first left Salt, it felt like I would never find work in radio. And, in some ways, I haven’t. Luckily, after a few years of plugging away, I have found ways to incorporate audio production into my work and life that were not even on my radar when I left Maine.
Work Sample: Dillinger
Third Coast asked me to make a piece that conjured Chicago through sound for their Sound Drops project. I spent a couple of months searching in vain for a good subject. Then one day in July, a friend told me that a group of people was going to memorialize John Dillinger’s death by pouring a beer out on the spot he was killed and playing bagpipes. What is more Chicago than that? This piece incorporates some of my favorite parts of radio making: a quirky event, archival sound, and a big idea told through a specific story.
About Heather Radke
Heather Radke graduated from Salt in Spring 2007 and currently works at the Newberry Library and freelances in Chicago. Her work has aired on Re:Sound, Eight-Forty-Eight, Interfaith Voices, WNYC, and several local stations. When she isn’t making radio, Heather is probably baking a pie.
Life After Salt