Intro from Jay Allison: Below are four “pilot episodes” for Chelsea Merz’s BOOKCASES series. I’d also urge you to listen to the little excerpts from Chelsea’s work for Allston-Brighton Free Radio. They’re only a couple of minutes long, but each one contains something memorable. They are also testimony to this fact about radio: You can have an idea and do it. No money, no decent equipment, no national distribution, no excuses.
Chelsea Merz sent us a letter. An actual letter, not email. It’s here on the desk next to me. This was the paragraph that hooked us:
“In the last year I have had a concentrated education in radio as a volunteer reporter for Allston-Brighton Free Radio. No one listens to us. The signal is weak. If you stand in front of the studio or anywhere near it you cannot pick us up. Nonetheless, every Monday my colleagues and I report to the studio and pay $2.00 to broadcast our 15-minute stories.”
This was such a reassuring notion – especially accompanied by a tape with lots of good things on it – that we actually began an unofficial Transom.org/Atlantic Public Media Artist-in-Residence program because of it. Chelsea has been staying in this little cottage we rented and she’s using our gear and collaboration to make her own work. She’s also helping us with ours. So far so good.
Her new project idea is called “Bookcases” and she’ll describe it below. It’s one of those ideas that could be a life’s work if you let it. Have a listen to the pilot pieces and come discuss them with us.
We’ve also included some excerpts from Chelsea’s recent work at Allston-Brighton Free Radio, just little 2-minute bits, but they’re definitely worth your time.
Chelsea recorded everything on a greenish-yellow mini-disk recorder and her microphone is a shiny plastic Karaoke deal from Radio Shack. You do what you can with what you’ve got.
I’ve been collecting portraits of people by asking them questions about books on their bookshelves. I stumbled upon this concept last summer while looking at my own bookcase. My mother moved from Santa Monica to Boston and I have temporarily inherited her books. My bookcase now resembles the bookcase of my youth. And all these books, books that I haven’t really seen or paid attention to in years evoke so many memories and stories. To gaze at those shelves, well it’s much more moving and revealing than looking through a family photo album. Since I’ve been doing these interviews I’m hooked. I want to interview everyone.
Before I came to Woods Hole everything I learned about radio I learned from:
1) The people at Allston-Brighton Free Radio
2) Andre Gregory: He spoke at the Harvard Film Archives on writing “My Dinner With Andre.” The way he and Wallace Shawn manipulated language, inverted conventions, etc, was a revelation
3) The sales people at Radio Shack
But here, at APM/Transom.org, thanks to the amazing patience and generosity of Jay Allison, Viki Merrick, Helen Woodward and Sydney Lewis I have learned, or am learning, how to tell a story, when to make sacrifices, how to listen, how to use Pro Tools, and the importance of a good microphone. (And if you ever get to see Jay edit anything on Pro Tools it’s amazing, it’s like watching Yo Yo Ma play the cello.)
If Yo Yo Ma asked you to pony up you'd do it.
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Allston-Brighton Free Radio Samples
This interview, with veterinarian Al Estock, is from a longer piece on pets and how people anthropomorphize them.
This excerpt is from a longer piece on Boston’s first Automatic Public Toilet. It took a lot of time and energy to get an interview with the Mayor’s office and when we showed up they were mildly disappointed. They thought we were from NPR. But as soon as we started talking toilets the mood changed and they gave us a really good interview.
We did this piece the week Timothy McVeigh was executed. Do inmates get their final meal request? Can anyone really eat any food at all, hours before being executed? To answer these questions and others we spoke with Larry Fitzgerald of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in Huntsville, TX.
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