Inside Out – Brown Student Radio

Inside Out

From the student radio producers of Brown University

Inside Out Stories

One of the happy effects of the success of This American Life is that more people, and younger people, are hearing and telling their stories on public radio.

One pocket of such endeavor is at Brown University (Ira Glass’s alma mater) where students produce a weekly series called “Inside Out” for the student radio station. They submitted their work to us, and we chose three vaguely representative pieces from their series: Spookyworld, Personal Historians, & Rail Riders

Full descriptions are further below along links to their audio. Here’s Executive Producer Paul McCarthy with more on what they’re doing in Providence:

About Inside Out

Inside Out
The Inside Out radio series on Brown Student Radio is an ongoing product of collaboration between more than a dozen Brown University undergraduate students, none of whom have previously produced for radio. The series is not a product of academic-related work, but rather a purely volunteer-driven project — in fact, the University doesn’t even have a journalism program.

These pieces are amongst the first we produced for the series – interviewing for the first time, editing for the second or third time, etc. The show is organized in a format much like This American Life; it’s an audiozine that explores a different theme each week with documentaries, commentaries, short fiction, and interviews.

Since it’s a weekly show, we often had some intense deadlines to meet – unlike most of the pieces that you may see on Transom.org. Does it show? Perhaps. We’d love to hear from you in the Talk section of Transom.

All of our stuff is produced with consumer-grade portable minidisc recorders and low-end ($100-) handheld Shure mics. We edit it all on a single g4 running protools free, and at the time when all these pieces were produced, we didn’t even have direct digital inputs to the computer.

If you like what you hear, you can listen to all our shows archived online at www.bsrlive.com/insideout. Since these pieces were taken out of the context of the greater edition environment, it will be interesting to see how they are received as stand alone pieces.

– Paul McCarthy, Executive Producer – Inside Out



Spookyworld

Spookyworld

Produced by Elana Berkowitz

(Editor’s Note: We uploaded two versions. The original version and a much-shortened one. At Transom.org, we’re interested in behind-the-scenes choices and demands of broadcast. We thought it interesting to do a big cut, to measure the differences in impact, story flow, pace, etc. It is not unusual to need to make cuts, especially at the last minute, and this seemed an interesting opportunity to gauge the effects. We spent less than a hour at ProTools shortening it, simulating a deadline.)

Download
Listen to “The original version of Spookyworld”
Download
Listen to “Spookyworld with Transom’s edits”

Introduction
“Spookyworld, Massachussets’ own four-million-dollar haunted scream park may seem to be a chaotic rabble of headless ghouls, evil clowns and nouveau witches, but in reality it is a precisely timed and staged production with one aim: to make you scared to turn out the light. Meet the men and women behind the masks.”

Background
This piece was part of a larger Halloween episode of inside/out. My interest in the story was piqued by my lifelong interest in Halloween. Growing up in a fairly religious Jewish household, Halloween, pagan as it is at its roots, was fairly off limits. So Halloween has always been exciting because it annoyed my parents.

Spookyworld itself is an amazing place, which I found out about through the discount coupons that were showing up all around campus. After my first visit, I was concerned that given the sort of elaborate baroque absurdity of the place that my piece would come off too snide and snarky. But after spending real time there all cynicism left my body and ultimately, I felt that the actors and builders I interviewed were artists in their own right who had a serious passion and commitment to the art of the scare. I became enchanted with the place and they allowed me fairly open access to record the variety of training sessions – from zombie walking to how to scream appropriately – as well as letting me record corpse building, costume design and special events makeup. I ended up visiting Spookyworld a total of six times (the final trip being a just for fun trip on opening night.) This piece never would have been completed with out the help and expertise of Paul McCarthy or without the support of my documentary class at Brown.

– Elana


Personal Historians

Produced by Melissa Brough and Dana Turken

Download
Listen to “Personal Historians”

Introduction
What is it about nostalgia that makes it such a profound force in shaping our culture and our personal lives? This piece is part of our “Nostalgia” show, that explores the ways in which we constantly reconstruct history.

“From ‘Kodak moments’ to ‘Hallmark holidays’ to ‘scrappers,’ our nostalgia supports many thriving industries. ‘Personal Historians’ Mandy Syers and Jason Friedman make their living in the memory business. They get paid to record a life’s worth of memories for each of their clients. Truth and reality are only debatably relevant. Their job is much more than transcription – it’s a process of editing and shaping the moments that each client wants to be remembered by.”

Background
Dana (who is now studying film in Prague) and I are both interested in the process and use of collecting oral histories of various forms. Aside from “Inside Out”, we both work with the AIDS Oral History Project in Providence, recording the stories of those whose lives have been affected by AIDS/HIV.

So we happily agreed to explore the topic of personal historians for our “Nostalgia” show, hoping to learn from professionals in the field but also a bit concerned about how to make the details of such work appeal to a general audience. You all are probably a more forgiving audience, presumably being interested in documentary work yourselves. In any case, we were pleasantly surprised by how fun this piece was to edit and we hope that you will enjoy these bits of history in the making as much as we have.

– Melissa


Rail Riders

Produced by Rachel Terp and Megan Hall

Download
Listen to “Rail Riders”

Introduction
“Two rail riders who now live in Providence have seen a lot of America from the inside of a boxcar. Raphael Lyon says that train hopping is a kind of exchange: the ride is free but you give up a whole week sitting in the back of a freight and watching the land pass by. Rail riders have different strategies for getting on and off a moving train. Caroline McCoy, although she prefers not to jump a moving train, has learned that it safe so long as the train is going slow enough for you to run alongside.”

Background
“Rail Riders” was our first collaborative piece for Inside Out. It was produced as part of a half-hour feature-show on Modern Nomads; Americans who take to the road, rails or sea. The piece took on its form therefore, based on the constraints of being part of a larger product. We were given a small slot of time within the show, and were therefore faced with the task of cutting out hours for valuable sound, until we came to our final product. It was a valuable lesson in radio editing. “Rail Riders” was produced with a handheld minidisk recorder, and Pro-tools audio editing equipment on a Macintosh computer.

– Rachel and Megan


Brown radio producer with clown
Producer Elana Berkowitz with Prozac the Clown, who intones the first lines of the piece — “Welcome to the Cirque Macabre”

About Elana Berkowitz

Elana Berkowitz is a senior at Brown, double majoring in political science and modern culture and media and currently hanging over the scary precipice of having no plans at all for next year. Her first radio appearance, at age five, involved her describing the lavish Christmas windows at Macy’s department store. Things have only gone up from there and she continues to enjoy radio, journalism and talking a lot.

About Melissa Brough

Melissa Brough stumbled into the world of radio journalism while trying to escape the misery of freshmen orientation at Brown. After a brief stint as a news anchor for the commercial station on campus, she gladly converted to indie student radio to pursue audio documentary work with the brand new show “Inside Out”. Although born and raised in the green mountains of Vermont, Melissa has made her way north to Alaska and south to Mexico to work on various video documentary projects. She is currently double majoring in Development Studies and Modern Culture and Media.

About Dana Turken

Dana Turken is in Prague and hasn’t sent her bio yet.

About Rachel Terp

Rachel Terp was born and raised in Chicago, IL. Rachel’s first lesson in audio-editing occurred a few years back, when her worthy comments failed to make Ira Glass’s final cut for an episode of “This American life”, that focused on her overnight camp, Lake of the Woods. Now working as an audio journalist, she happily wields the editing equipment, and is much happier in the position of the editor, instead of the edited.

About Megan Hall

Megan Hall was born in San Francisco but she was not raised there. The place she calls home is Portland, Oregon where she lived in the same house for 15 years. She began her radio career as the star of her middle school’s on air production of “The Little Walnut Twig” Now she just interviews people and makes their comments sound good.

About Paul McCarthy

Paul McCarthy (Executive Producer) loves radio. When students at Brown who were talking about putting together an ‘audiozine’ failed to follow through, he realized there was serious untapped potential for radio in Providence, RI. He applied for a University-sponsored grant for a new radio series, called “Inside Out” – and was rejected. But with the assistance of other funders, he has coordinated the training of all the Inside Out staff and the production of almost 10 hours of documentary radio since September, 2000. This was his first experience producing radio.

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  • Jay Allison

    5.03.01

    Reply
    Inside Out

    Here’s what it says on the Inside Out Website

    “Since its debut on the air on Oct. 5, 2000, Inside Out has been documenting extraordinary people and moments in everyday Rhode Island life. Inside Out is the only radio series in Rhode Island that mixes interviews, commentaries, fiction, and personal narratives with music to chronicle the communities that make Little Rhody tick. Each week we delve into a new side of the Ocean State, bringing you voices from the churches, schools, junkyards, clubs, docks and restaurants of Rhode Island.”

    It’s not a university-sponsored thing. It’s done by students. I’m hoping that a number of them will drop by for discussion.

    You can hear more work at their site. Details on these pieces are on the Transom.org Show Page. We selected them from a CD that Paul McCarthy sent us, making our decision based partly on what might provoke process discussion… for instance, two of the pieces are duets, a useful form, and the other is uploaded in the original version (15 minutes) and a version shortened by half after an hour of intense cutting, a Transom.org simulation of the kind of editing emergency that sometimes occurs.

    But beyond all that, it’s just plain encouraging to public radio enthusiasts everywhere that with no formal support and only because they want to, this band of students produces radio documentary for Providence, Rhode Island on WBSR 88.1 FM at 7:30pm every Thursday night.

  • Jay Allison

    5.07.01

    Reply
    While we wait…

    While we wait for people to listen, I’m hoping the "Inside Out" student staff might tell a little about their experience working on the show — anyone, not just the producers of the pieces on the Transom site. Paul said a bunch of you might drop by.

    In general, why radio? What satisfaction do you find doing this work? What challenges? Where, if anywhere, do you imagine going with it? Clearly, "This American Life" is an influence on the show. Anything else? What, in your opinion, is right and/or wrong with public radio these days?

    I know that Ira was up there at Brown this weekend. Was it helpful to have his ear on your work?

    Or talk about something else. In any case, welcome.

  • Melissa Brough

    5.07.01

    Reply
    some initial responses…

    I’ve recently been doing documentary type work in both radio and video formats. Much to the initial dismay of parents, extended family and even some friends, I’m much more drawn to working in radio. I think there are two main reasons for this:
    First, I find it easier to get good material using just a mic than having a camera, mic and lights surrounding the interviewee. Ira Glass was here at Brown just yesterday and said that despite recent ventures into the world of television he hasn’t run into this problem yet. Huh? (He did say that he expects to…)
    Secondly, radio leaves more to the imagination than video. I think this makes the editing/mixing process more exciting.

    I’m a junior so my palms aren’t sweating quite yet and I don’t blush and choke up when people ask me what I want to do when I graduate. But when I ponder going into radio as a career – which seems to translate into working for NPR, at least for hopeful students such as ourselves who have had too much fun with this style of radio to imagine working within the confines of commercial radio – I have to say I’m not so excited about the probable demographic limits of this work.
    Being young and optomistic and wanting to have some kind of positive impact on society, the idea of devoting the time and energy it takes to produce a show like "This American Life" for a relatively limited demographgic is a little disheartening. For those of you doing this kind of work, do you feel limited by not being able to reach a very diverse demographic? What kind of impact do you wish your work could have, and what impact do you think it actually has? Does the potential for reaching, say, a younger and more racially/ethnically diverse audience for public radio exist? How might this be accomplished?

    Any critiques/suggestions for these pieces or of our shows in general?
    Ira Glass’s insights and suggestions were so very very helpful, and we’re all eager to hear more from other producers. Thanks for listening and supporting us newcomers.
    -melissa

  • Megan Hall

    5.07.01

    Reply
    Riding the rails

    Rachel and I are thrilled to have our first piece featured on transom. We welcome your comments on anything. How were the music transitions? Do anyone enjoy the canon ball sound effect used to simulate gun fire? All suggestions are useful as we begin to produce more work.

  • elana berkowitz

    5.07.01

    Reply
    spookyworld + misc. thoughts

    thank you for having me here, it is an honor and my parents have been showing this website to everyone we have every met even for one second. i can’t comment on the shortened version of the piece yet because i don’t own a computer and i haven’t been able to download real player onto the computers in the library yet. but i am so excited to have the two pieces side by side.

    anyway, i came from a background of writing and print journalism, which i still have not abandoned. sometimes i fear that it makes my pieces too starchy or formal and i think perhaps there are bolder choices that i could have made with my spookyworld piece. the spookyworld piece was really my first piece for the radio ever. looking back at it now, i think i want to try a different style for a second draft, something more open, more atmospheric, less biographical. i think i need to learn to play it a bit fast and loose, because one of the most exciting things for me after years of print and video is how much room for imagination and intimacy that radio allows for and i want to explore its unique potential more.

    more generally, as a senior who retains a degree of cautious but exuberant idealism i still have not decided what should come next for me. i would like to be doing radio production over the summer and perhaps for the rest of my life. but the niches available to this work seems frustratingly narrow. hearing ira glass talk about our work and his work was wonderful, his suggestions were funny and wise, but also scary, because there i was sitting there with ira glass and suddenly the world of radio seemed very small. it seems like there is this traditional NPR news standard style and then the style that ira glass et all uses, but what else? i like that this site is opening up a new space, i guess we just need to keep pushing.

    thank you for listening, supporting and advising us.

    best,
    elana

  • Emily Witt

    5.07.01

    Reply
    New Narratives

    I produced or co-produced five different pieces for Inside Out last semester, and although this semester I neglected the show to get my feet wet in the medium of print journalism I hope to do more radio next semester while I’m studying abroad in Brazil.
    I want to address the question "why radio?" I get the impression that radio, as of late, is revolutionizing itself in a way unique from other mediums, who instead of resorting to creativity to capture their niche markets succumb to banal tactics like featuring more stories about zoo animals and/or violent criminals. I think public radio’s rising popularity is testament to the ingenuity of work by producers such as David Isay, Ira Glass and the Kitchen Sisters (all role models to us kiddies at Inside Out) in that they are leaving traditional journalistic modes of narrativity, like that of All Things Considered. As Ira Glass mentioned at his speech at Brown yesterday, they appeal to our human instinct to enjoy a good story. More importantly to me, they are moving away from a mode of journalism that is so dominated by Northeastern Ivy-League graduates that anybody who grows up in that vacuum existing between New York and LA is constantly reassured that yes, they are uncultured and backward. Of course the demographic reflects its makers, no matter how enlightened and well-educated they may feel themselves to be.
    If only other mediums could be so successful in handing the mic to people in prisons or kids in the projects (Radio Diaries is another influence) so that they can tell their stories in their own voice without that WASPy filter getting in the way. I know the kids at the Training School in RI listened to Prison Diaries, because it was about them. Yes, radio has been keeping it real. Although I may not necessarily be looking towards it as the place of my career-to-be, I hope to be, as Ira Glass said, "making things," and would like to further the movement that he and others have made into the realm of other mediums and the commercial sphere if that’s at all possible. I hope that other radio producers would be interested in stopping by Brown in the future, as workshopping Inside Out with Ira Glass yesterday (along with producing Inside Out as a whole) were among the most informative and inspiring learning experiences I’ve had at Brown. Thanks for the support, and hopefully some non-Brown people who aren’t Jay Allison (although we love you too) will give us some feedback soon.
    -em

  • Tanya Ott

    5.07.01

    Reply
    Spookyworld, Why Radio, Diversity, etc…

    Wow! Just listened to Spooky 1 & 2, getting ready to listen to the other Inside Out stories posted. I guess I come from the more "conventional" public radio side of things (ATC, Marketplace, etc), but have wild dreams of sometime trying more freeform and I must say it’s incredibly exciting to hear you guys from Inside Out writing with so much enthusiasm about radio! I spent five years teaching broadcast news at a major University with many talented students who rarely pushed the boundaries and aspired mostly to anchor local TV news… quite frustrating, but as I see, there is hope!

    As for diversity — I just returned from a lessons learned conference for 32 public radio stations that partnered with community groups to produce programming related to health (children health, teen substance abuse, end-of-life, etc). There were several stations that chose to actively involve teens in their programming — one young man (16 years old) showed up to the conference with lime green hair and some incredible ideas about how he could use public radio to affect social change. No telling if he’ll stay with it, but the energy is definately there — especially as smaller stations begin to give more and more one-air time to youth. There was also a station from Nevada that has an active listening audience that is 45% african american — certainly bucks the trend… they’re doing some really solid work out there.

    Guess this is all to say that the radio world may seem small but there is likely alot more going on out there than you (or many professionals already working in the biz) know. Hang in there and keep up the good work!

    Tanya

  • Rachel Terp

    5.07.01

    Reply
    testing new waters

    I am so glad to be part of the transom forum. Your insight into Mean and my piece will be greatly appreciated. Also, if you like what you have heard from INSIDE OUT so far, try listening to a complete episode by accessing out archives through http://www.bsrlive.com. We are planning to continue INSIDE OUT next year, and it would be great to hear some suggestions things we might try, and things we should continue to do with the show.

    Working for INSIDE OUT this year has gotten me really excited about working in audio journalism. I feel like radio is a great medium for reporting, and entertainment, that allows listeners to appreciate the importance of verbal communication, listening, and memory. Hearing information allows you to ingest the facts, opinions, or human emotions, without the prejudices that come along with attaching a face to a speaker. Also, the format of radio story telling is distinct, in that unlike video the scene and mood must be set with description and sound. Radio has an element of surprise and suspense that cannot be found in a book; a radio story is not picked up and put down, nor can one tell how far along into a story or description they are at any given point.

    “Rail Riders” was the first piece that I produced for the show. With my limited experience with radio, each project that I’be worked on has taught me tremendous lessons in the possibilities that radio has to offer.

    Thanks people! Enjoy the shows! I’El be in touch.

    -Rachael Term

  • Rachel Terp

    5.08.01

    Reply
    Radio online

    On the changing demographics in listenin audiences…I was wondering how the internet is being used to attract new listeners to their stations.

    Also, that crazy spell check messed my name in that last message!
    -Rachel Terp

  • Melissa Brough

    5.08.01

    Reply
    youth in motion

    Thanks for your encouragment and the heads up. I personally think (and it seems you’d agree) that increased youth production would really add a lot to public radio. I was at the Sundance Film Fest this year with the Chiapas Media Project and we spoke at a forum for youth (video/film) producers. Most of them were high school kids – mostly 9th and 10th graders in fact – and they were producing some of the hotest stuff… Really engaging and thought-provoking, and super high energy. I hope radio doesn’t lag behind – what amazing potential.
    Do you know what the programming is like at that station in Nevada? Do you know which station it is? I’m from Vermont and the VPR station we get is, I lament to say, in my humble opinion, one of the weaker NPR stations. At least in terms of it’s appeal to anyone but disengaged opera fanatics (none of whom are actually native Vermonters). There is a dismal amount of non-music programming, and needless to say, even less local programming. I’d love to know what’s on some of these more appropriate stations.

    Thanks for listening and providing some inspiration!
    -melissa

  • Melissa Brough

    5.08.01

    Reply
    just learning the ropes…

    ooops…
    i guess i should have mentioned that that was in response to Tanya Ott’s posting.
    thanks!

  • Tony Kahn

    5.08.01

    Reply

    It’s exciting to be in the cyber-presence of so many producers at once. Reminds me of my happiest time in radio, at the Harvard college station, surrounded and inspired by all that energy and by the prospect of reaching a thoughtful audience. I’ve visited your site and packed my disk with five of your stories — soon as I get off work tomorrow I’m going to give them a listen and check back in.

    Before I do, let me ask a question. Is there any one big thing I might be missing by hearing the stories out of the context of a whole show? Any part of their story I’m not getting by hearing the other stories around them?

    Best,

    Tony Kahn

  • jonathan menjivar

    5.08.01

    Reply

    First off. Congratulations to everyone at Inside Out for having the energy and vision to put this show together and keep it up and running. You’ve got something special happening there at Brown. Now for the material at hand.

    Spookyworld

    Elana, I liked your version of the story but with the edits that Transom made the piece turned into something much more interesting. In your original piece it was easy to see you standing there in Spookyworld, mic in hand recording these stories, which is fine, but it made the story sound more ordinary, more everyday. After the edit (which in case you still haven’t heard is without your original narration) these people are talking directly to the rest of us. That narration/no narration question is always difficult to answer, but in the case of Spookyworld, I think having the piece without narration contributes greatly to that sense of place we’re always trying to achieve in radio. That instead, it’s us standing there in Spookyworld.

    But I don’t think it’s just the missing narration that contributes to this fact. Editing down what they actually said turned the story around. Turned what they were saying away from people just talking about their jobs into a great story. I know I’m not really being clear about what I’m trying to say, that’s because I don’t really understand it myself…but essentially it’s this. There is a point at which a piece changes from being just recorded voices or ambiance or whatever into a really compelling story. Finding that point is the magic part and these two versions of your story illustrate this fact perfectly. Take this criticism lightly. It’s coming from someone who had to have a hard lesson in editing before having his story run on Transom. And I still don’t think I’ve found that magic point in my story.

    Personal Histories

    What these people are doing is interesting but I wanted more. Less info about what they do and more about all of the subtle things that lie underneath what they do. There are hints of it when they start talking about what got them involved in making these personal histories for people in the first place, but it needed more of that. There is huge potential for milking emotional tape in a story like this, take advantage of that fact. Maybe exploring more of the actual personal histories could work.

    Rail Riders

    This was by far my favorite of the small sampling of Inside Out we got. In a little over six minutes we see the glory of riding the rails, acknowledgement that that vision of glory is a bit idealistic, feel the danger of the adventure, and in the end a nice swing back around to convince listeners that even despite all of the muckiness, riding the rails is worth it to these people. It’s a choice that is at once noble and completely crazy.

    There are also those fine details. Those wheel knobs spinning around in a blur that signify that a train is going to fast to catch. That disappointment of getting in a car and seeing someone else is already there. Writing letters and enjoying that loneliness of it all. Very visual radio.

    Paul, you mentioned that you were interested in seeing reaction to these pieces presented on their own. The only episode of Inside Out I heard in full was the Nostalgia one that ran on Third Coast. I have to admit that because the format was SO closely modeled on TAL, I focused on that instead of the stories themselves. I’ve gone through and listened to bits a few more stories since then and most of them are great, but I think having YOUR show sound too much like TAL takes away from that at times.

  • Andy Knight

    5.08.01

    Reply

    On Spookyworld: I listened to the Transom version first, and then the original so that I could hear the story each time with a minimum of background information. The Transom version held my attention for the duration while, unfortunately, I had to listen to the original 3 times to make sure I had heard it all… it was good, but it wasn’t sitting-in-your-car-in-the-parking-lot good. I like the intro to the story in the original, letting us know who put the piece together and where it is taking place… not exactly part of the piece itself, but what the host says and how he/she says it leading into a piece can make all the difference in the world, the edit could have kept that. In both versions, I didn’t like the mouse-girl’s self-introduction… I prefer subtle editing and that intro just beats me over the head. I also didn’t like spooky-bad-poetry guy at the end, although his presence touches off on something else; Don’t these actors take themselves a little too seriously? One of them says that there isn’t anything better than scaring the pee out of someone (paraphrasing)… out of who? Children? I don’t know anyone who is frightened by haunted houses, no matter how elaborate. Maybe it’s a societal thing, maybe it’s the reason ‘good’ horror movies are like Scream today, rather than Night of the Living Dead. Psychological enemy rather than some grotesque monster(s). I would have loved to hear some insight or responses from the veteran actors who know that they really aren’t scary, that the audience comes to laugh more than scream.

  • elana berkowitz

    5.08.01

    Reply

    i agree with a lot of what is being said.

    as i probably mentioned, this is the first piece i have ever done and if i were to redo it now it would sound quite different. i was just trying to make something coherent and wasn’t really ready to experiment much.

    as for a knight’s comments. yes, i think you are right on about subtle editing, subtle my piece is not.

    but i would disagree with what you say about being scared. i dont scare particularly easily and i was terrified at points in spookyworld — and this was after i had already learned where all the trap doors were and who was operating them! i didn’t really hear anything from any of the veteran actors about knowing that people are really there to laugh. i don’t think they can think that and still commit that much time and energy and so many years to their jobs. they take this job very seriously which is what surprised me at first. one of the people who works there even recently founded the society of professional haunters. (i think that is what its called)

    thats all for now.

    thanks for all the comments and critiques.

    elana.

  • Carol Wasserman

    5.08.01

    Reply
    Spookyworld

    I agree in part with Jonathan’s opinion that the shortened, tightened second version of Spookyworld was more ‘interesting’. And that it became about something else. What caught my attention, however, was the way the original piece raised questions which its truncated twin did not.

    In both versions we hear ‘haunting professionals’ discuss their work and lives, with an astonishing lack of self awareness. We hear some truly demented parenting advice, learned too late to save the expert’s firstborn ("Don’t keep the dead guys around"), Mouse Girl’s cheerful explication of her child-abduction and torture act, and we learn that The Creature From The Black Lagoon’s appeal is the fact that "nobody knows anything too in-depth about how he feels or anything like that – he’s just a big freak."

    What got cut from Elana Berkowitz’s original was the echo of Hannah Aren’t, pushing us to ask about the banality of evil right here in Southeastern Massachusetts.

    We have the advantage, encountering this work on Transom.org, to read Elana’s biographical notes. We know, from what she tells us about her religious roots, that she brings the weight of history to an otherwise silly and inconsequential cultural artifact. That the manic popularity of Halloween, and the concept of death as entertainment, merit cautious examination.

    So beyond missing the elegance and wit of Ms. Berkowitz’s prose, the second version short-circuits any opportunity we might have to make the connection between a local theme park and America’s increasingly violent and autumnal popular culture.

    Arendt famously asserts that what she observed in Eichmann was "not stupidity but a curious, quite authentic inability to think." The employees of Spookyworld are not stupid people, we assume. But they are knuckleheads.

    I worry about the proliferation of places like Spookyworld. About what they mean – they can’t possibly be context-free. Hannah Arendt’s pronouncement that evil "possesses neither depth nor any demonic dimension" seems relevant to the mindless theatrics of Horror theme parks. Evil, she says, "… can overgrow and lay waste the whole world precisely because it spreads like a fungus on the surface."

    Or, in the words of the Spookyworld Employee Creed, "Although we love to scare and scream, we never treat each other mean. Making people yell and sob is just part of our job."

  • Joe Richman

    5.08.01

    Reply

    Inside Out deserves a round of applause.
    I just listened to Spookyworld and Rail Riders (a personal favorite because the best 6 hours of my life were spent on a freight train going from Tennessee to Alabama). Great tape, great rhythm. I wanted to hear some action in the tape, but the reflections were compelling on their own. I can’t believe you guys produce this show EVERY WEEK. Thanks for giving us a chance to hear some stories.

    Recently, I’ve been hearing about a few other This American Life-inspired college shows. There is one at Carleton College called Periscope that is good.

    I’m curious to hear more about how you produce the show. Is there a lot of interest at Brown (listeners and potential producers)? How do you balance different styles and subjects? I know one issue at This American Life is how to produce a show that has a distinctive identity without making some of the stories sound like Stepford Wives versions of old pieces.

    Since there is no journalism school at Brown – do most of your producers come to the show with an interest in journalism? radio? documentaries? storytelling? I wonder what is the initial draw.

    It seems that radio is being transformed. Cheap digital editing software, web audio, more interest in narrative, and Ira and Jay planting radio inspiration like Johnnyseed – this is a very exciting time to be a radio producer.
    Can’t wait to hear more.

    Joe Richman, Radio Diaries

  • elana berkowitz

    5.08.01

    Reply
    replies to joe

    to be frank, we did not come out every week. we put out 6 episodes first semester and three episodes in our second semester. our weekly goal was a bit over ambitious and putting out these was still lots of work.

    as far as different styles go, i think that question has yet to be entirely answered. most of us are neophyte radio producers and i think we are just beginning to discover our own voices. i think that as inside/out continues (though sadly i will be gone) the voices will become more diverse and the narrative strutures more daring.

    we already encountered some issues of subject/structure with our latest episode on the met school, a radical public charter school in Providence. it didn’t fit smoothly into our admittedly TAL-influenced format and ultimately, the episode was a long-form half hour episode with the most minimal narration to date. we would love feedback on that episode if people want to check it out at http://bsrlive.com/insideout/home.html

    One thing that you might notice is that aside from narration, there is very little of us in the piece. You almost never hear the questions that we asked our subjects. In part, for me, this was because I was uncomfortable with my own voice and, at first, a little nervous with the equipment. How does that choice work for you guys? Does it seem dishonest? Does it allow the subjects’ voices to come through? We haven’t played around with this one much.

    as for background, personally, i came to the show with a background in documentary video and print journalism and no experience in radio. i didn’t really expect to like radio this much — but i found its uncluttered intimacy really appealing. it seems like a lot of the staff at inside/out came to the show with almost no radio experience but only a love of public radio programming.

    back to finals,
    best,
    elana.

  • Rachel Terp

    5.08.01

    Reply
    the big picture

    In response to Tony Kahn’s question about the importance of hearing the pieces in the context an entire Inside Out episode:

    While most of the pieces stand strong on their own, the introduction, and interplay of the individual pieces can be very effective within a half hour show. In the case of the "Modern Nomads" episode, I think that our “Rail Riders” piece fits quite nicely into the larger context and themes of the entire show: the concept of American idealization of taking to the "open road"; the original definition of nomadic life compared with more modern, middle class romanticized implications; a lot of ideas and questions are presented in each piece, that stimulate the listener to reevaluate on an American phenomenon. Still I just want to reiterate that most of these pieces stand well on their own, though for a short work like “Rail Riders”, I wonder what place it could find on the air waves if not in the context of a larger show?

    Thank you for all of the feedback on the Megan and my piece. Did the piece leave any gaping questions about the experiences of these part time hobos?

    -Rachel

  • Andy Knight

    5.09.01

    Reply

    elana berkowitz:
    we already encountered some issues of subject/structure with our latest episode on the met school, a radical public charter school in Providence. it didn’t fit smoothly into our admittedly TAL-influenced format and ultimately, the episode was a long-form half hour episode with the most minimal narration to date. we would love feedback on that episode if people want to check it out at http://bsrlive.com/insideout/home.html

    What a great episode, and a very interesting school. It fits in fine with the TAL format (see single issue TAL episodes like Harold, Barbara, Pimp Anthropology, Cicero, 24 Hours at the Golden Apple, Twentieth Century Man, etc). The music seemed a little heavy handed, but it matched the subject matter and served well as a form of punctuation. I liked the fact that it didn’t try to direct your emotions. You all have done an admirable job.

    I’m not distracted by the TAL similarities too much (well, except it did seem as if the host was imitating Ira’s speech patterns in the Met piece… that was a bit distracting), I think it’s a fine format that is worth imitating for a local show. We have local shows that imitate Talk of the Nation and, to an extent, All Things Considered… they are formats that work and translate into a local show very well. Look at Marketplace, Only a Game, Splendid Table, On Your Health, Savvy Traveler, and Beyond Computers– The subject matter is vastly different from one show to the next, but the format used to present the subject matter is nearly identical. It’s a format that holds your interest even if the subject matter has nothing to do with you. I hate Travelling (oh! the horrors!), Sports, and I don’t have enough nickels gathered up to care about the stock market but these shows still somehow manage to keep me sitting in the car, waiting for a pause long enough to make it to my living room radio.

    Now, is Paul McCarthy lurking about in the shadows? I’d love to know how he was able to get this all started.

  • Megan Hall

    5.09.01

    Reply
    Lovely Feedback

    I’ve enjoyed hearing that our rail riders piece recalled some pleasant memories and for some served the purpose of "visual radio."
    We were blessed with great audio clips as well as a captivating topic.

    What I struggled with the most was whether the piece needed narration. Sometimes I wondered if our sound clips seemed naked or confusing without a verbal explanation or transition.

    I’d like to say the lack of narration was an artistic choice, but I think both Rachel and I just had no idea how to load our voices into the computer (I’m still learning now).

    This show has definitely been a "learn as you go" experience. On my first week working with Inside Out Paul handed me a mini-disc player, gave me about a five minute explanation about how to use it, and I was out interviewing a garbage collector the next morning.

    I think this immediate plunge into radio work is what attracted me to the show and production in general. It’s thrilling to know that my beginning radio dabblings have been so connected to the real world. First our piece is featured on this web page, then we get personal critiques from Ira Glass.

    From what I’ve experienced, the world of radio must be an extremely welcoming place.

    Thanks for inviting me in.

    Megan

  • beedge

    5.09.01

    Reply

    the 3 IO offerings at Transom are nicely crafted;
    the stories are laid out thoughtfully.

    but none of ’em really grab me.
    it might be that the interview quotes they use
    provide too much information and not enuf emotion.
    plus, the interviewees all seem kinda safe.
    no grit. no wonder. i never feel really Out There.

    Rail Riders is my fave of the bunch. but, as an example,
    a more gripping treatment, for me, of a similar subject
    is Ben Adair’s "Shortstop’s box car confessions"
    (about halfway down page of):
    http://www.well.com/~badair/

  • Joshua Barlow

    5.09.01

    Reply
    Spookies 1 & 2

    I found that out of the 2 versions, the original was the one that gave me more a sense of who these people were – and a little more of location. Though I must admit, I thought the length of the interviews was a bit long.

    In both versions, moreso in the Transom, there was not enough sound from the park and it’s activities for us to really get a complete sense of location. I think this is what I missed the most. I wanted to hear less the personal histories of the park’s cast, and more a feeling of being there – so that when I got to the interviews, I had something to work off of.

    In the original versional, Elana helped fill this gap with more physical descriptions of where she was and the people she was interviewing. Provided some context. There was more sound from the actual park. More description from Elana on how the actual Spooky production comes together.

    I do think the length of individual interviews in Elana’s version ran a bit long – thus lending to the whole image of "standing there with a microphone." What may have helped this, if the option had been available – would’ve been to break up the interview with sounds of these characters in action. I suppose a simile to this is watching something like "Actors Studio," or listening to any show where an artist is the guest. At a certain point, you want them to stop talking about what they do. You would rather hear and see for yourself.

    Still – despite the critique(tho that is what what we are here for), I thought it was a fun piece that gave us wonderfully awkward perspective on people who work in these parks. I hope really hope to hear more from Elana.

  • Paul McCarthy

    5.09.01

    Reply
    From the Shadows…

    Hi.

    Yep, here I am, lurking in the shadows. Thanks to everyone who offered feedback about the show so far. After 5 1/2 hours of radio production under our belts, I think we’re ready to see what people think.

    I think one of our problems has been that academia has rubbed off on our thinking way too much – things are too abstract, too cerebral. We need more of a focus on how to paint a scene with sounds, develop characters, etc.

    Part of this is because none of us have really explored creative narrative enough – some of us have done print journalism, or video documentary of sorts, but not many of us are fiction authors or ‘film’ makers. We haven’t experimented enough with the tools of story-building – characters, conflict, suspense, humor, etc. The Transom edit of spookyworld, although missing a few things (as others have already mentioned) that I might want to include, does show how far editing can take you to make things move fast, keep your attention, etc.

    Now that we have most of the technical and procedural ideas down well, I think we need to focus on two main things for improvement: getting better tape to begin with and creating stronger narratives.

    Sometimes getting better tape means spending longer in the field, but usually I think it’s a matter of asking the right questions, giving the right prompts, and collecting the right environmental sounds creatively. Part of it is just an attitude: relaxed, personable, comfortable with ourselves. It’s the only way we’ll get natural-sounding tape in interviews, and the only way we’ll ever be able to access the emotional side of stories. As far as questions, we need to get good at directing our interviewees toward the details of a story – because often when people are interviewed, they expect that you want a summary. If anyone has any good suggestions for ways to practice improving our interviewing skills, I’d love to hear about them.

    As far as the background of this program goes: I had no experience with creating radio before I got a grant from the Rhode Island Committee for the Humanities to produce Inside Out. I took the semester off from classes at Brown, but used the Brown radio station as a operations base for the show – we got to use office space, studios, portable minidisc recorders, etc, for free – and I lived off a $2,000 stipend for the semester. Yes, it is still cheap to live in Providence, RI.

    No one at the Brown radio station had done any production like this beforehand, so we were on our own technologically. I interned with the Kitchen Sisters the summer beforehand, which was a fabulous experience, but of course as an intern I didn’t do much actual production.

    But I knew that there was a lot of interest at Brown in producing this type of radio. From the students at Brown, I recruited some friends and acquaintances who I thought might be interested, and then we all got together. So armed with one crash-course in Protools from the Kitchen Sisters and a bunch of materials printed from the AIR and Radio College and TAL websites, I taught the producers at Inside Out how to use the equipment, interview, edit, etc. The whole shabang.

    I guess that goes to show that the recent work done by Jay, Ira, and the folks at Radio College to put out cheap, easily accessible information about producing radio has turned out well. Basically we’re all self-taught, with the help of those materials (including the TAL Comic Book!)

    It’s interesting hearing people’s reaction to our imitation of the TAL format. I’m surprised that people are so distracted by it – it’s really just a format, nothing more. I think we’ve learned a lot from imitating certain techniques that they use, but I think now we’ve grown beyond imitation. It was funny to read a comment that said the narration on our most recent edition ("Old School, New School") sounded like it was trying to imitate Ira Glass’ speech patterns, because I completely disagree. I think our earlier stuff did, but this one? Hmmm… That was quite a surprise.

    Anyways, it would be interesting to hear a bit more about what people think about the didactic style versus the minimalist style in general – ie. Ira Glass vs. David Isay. We made a conscious effort in our "Old School, New School" edition to go with a more minimalist narration style, which I think reflects pieces like Ghetto Life 101 more. I like both methods personally, so I’d love to hear others talk on the issue. Sometimes it’s great to have a piece where the producer’s presence is felt strongly, sometimes it’s not.

    – Paul

  • Carol Wasserman

    5.09.01

    Reply
    Personal Historians

    I’ve just listened to ‘Personal Historians’. ‘SpookyWorld’ has been generating most of the feedback, but I think this is just an accident of placement. It’s a good idea to be at the front of a line. Ask the Smiths, of Merrill, Lynch, Pierce, Fenner (and).

    The best part of this piece was the set-up, which was witty and enticing. But it couldn’t redeem the dreary seriousness of the two Personal Historians. Or maybe it’s just the dreary seriousness of Personal History itself.

    For years I taught night school. Adult education. Writing workshops at the local teacher’s college. Men and women who had lived extraordinary lives as prison guards, or refugees, or battered women, or – sometimes – career criminals, came to school week after week with stereotyped essays about childhood Christmases and the remembered kindness of elderly relatives. I began, privately, to call the class "Dead Grandmas".

    I suppose it speaks to my ability as a teacher, but it was almost impossible to convince my students that the stories which they told me as we got to know each other were more interesting than the ones they wanted to write down.

    Was this the point of Personal Historians? That they, too, were just cranking out more volumes in the continuing series "Dead Grandmas of Rhode Island"?

  • Tony Kahn

    5.12.01

    Reply

    Paul, Melissa, Megan, Rachel, Elana, Emily

    I just got an email out of the blue from a woman in Singapore looking to get into radio. I hope you don’t mind that I suggested, among other things, she check out insideout’s website for inspiration. Like you (in fact, like most people I know whose work I respect) this lady is starting out with little more than a love for the medium and a desire to learn. God knows, it ain’t the money. Radio is a pretty welcoming place, maybe because you can’t make good radio without listening carefully and listening carefully makes you receptive and open. When all you hear is yourself talking, it’s time to get out.

    Your pieces impressed me as good stories. As beginning efforts, they are incredibly advanced. I have some suggestions, but they’re mostly along the lines of cuts you might want to consider so that all the good stuff there can breathe. What I’d rather do is celebrate your good choices in the people you found and what you have them say.

    The great thing about human behavior is that, like a great line of poetry or a simple, haunting image from a dream, it tends to say so much with so little. There are usually a dozen reasons why any of us does anything at a given moment, and, by watching and listening carefully you can sometimes find the simple moments that suggest them all. How can I prove you chose your speakers well? I can still hear them talking in my mind’s ear: the father who scared the crap out of his first kid by taking his work home, for instance, or the girl who co-stars with mice, and what I hear is not just what they said but what that suggested about their attitude to their work, their relationships, their ambitions, where they came from and where they hoped to go. I think you chose especially well in the railroad piece — the guy, not the girl. I went back to listen to him again. He’s one of those rare characters who has thought through the meaning of what he’s doing quite profoundly. He puts you in the railroad car with him, but he also puts you in a much bigger picture of the life of the country and the cultures you pass through. And all in simple words and simple anecdotes. Aside from the one observation about what to look for before jumping on a car, the girl had nothing comparable to offer, it seems to me, and could have been taken out of the piece with nothing lost. The guy embodied the process in many ways, what you see when you do it, what you think, what it can mean.

    I’ve said too much already. And you’ve already heard great suggestions and keener ideas from others here. I’m wondering if, maybe, you’ve heard too much. In the long run, the best criticism is the kind you’re ready to hear, that makes you want to get right back to work. I don’t know about you, but I learn by doing. From what I’ve heard you do so far, I’d just say do more, keep at it. Practice will only help sharpen your ear and your confidence that less is more.

  • Joan Schuman

    5.12.01

    Reply
    finding voice

    imitation is the way we learn how to create and, ultimately, the way to find our own voice.

    some stories beg to be introduced, narrated, interrupted, contextualized. others deserve to be presented "as is". knowing when to do one or the other takes time. often it’s just intuitive. go with it.

    i think the act of revising is important, too. what elena (and each of us) learns from her two versions is vital. trying to discern which is better is futile.

    and yes, Paul, using TAL as a model is smart as long as you know that you can deviate from it or use it ’cause it works for some pieces.

    great work and great discussions.

  • Tony Kahn

    5.15.01

    Reply

    Paul, Melissa, Megan, Rachel, Elana, Emily (and Carol Wasserman)

    Just picking up on Carol Wasserman’s remarks from a couple of messages back, I have a question to ask — how do you get people who are not accomplished story tellers to find their own true story? What are the clues/criteria to go hunting for as a producer when you find someone who might be a likely subject? So much of what we hear on the air, it seems to me, are the kinds of stories that — for lack of a better phrase — "know where they’re going." The story teller, whether it’s the producer or the subject, seem to be firmly at the helm, steering the story to shore. I have no objection to that — story telling is an art, and being in control of your materials gives you wonderful opportunities to make the trip — and the view along the way — stunning. But how many stories do we hear that are acts of a deeper kind of discovery, where the story teller is also in the process of trying to find out where the story is going, what the real story is? Do people who are less experienced story tellers give us, as producers, more of an opportunity to explore the kinds of stories that people are, in a sense, telling for the very first time? I suppose you could say successful therapy does a similar thing. You "break through" to an understanding of the real story you never told before — to yourself and to someone else — about yourself.

    Anyway, this all leads up to a question for me as a producer. "Does everyone," as you sometimes hear it said, "have a story?" And, if they do, how do you get it out of them? Have you ever considered doing an episode of Inside-Out where you try to explore the idea that everyone has a story to tell they, maybe, have never told themselves before? It’s an idea I’m exploring myself. I wonder how you’d go about it.

  • Melissa Brough

    5.15.01

    Reply
    in response to Tony Kahn

    Hmmmm. Interesting questions…. I wonder if it’s possible to get many people to tell stories they haven’t told before? (Are we talking confessions here? Untold secrets? I’m assuming not for now.) …and even if that’s accomplished, if it’ll sound good enough to interest an audience, since the story weaving probably won’t be tight?
    Or, do we just stick to getting people to tell stories they’ve probably already told, and continue to hone our interviewing skills to solicit new thoughts/responses/reflections? (Is that presumptuous?) Or does it ultimately require spending great amounts of time with the storyteller, so that it truly does become a journey, with various moments of "break through"?
    I’d like to hear more about how Tony Kahn has been working with these questions.

    I know I’ve mentioned this to the Inside Out crew, but Albert Maysles’s (et al) recent documentary "Lalee’s Kin" comes to mind.

  • Tony Kahn

    5.15.01

    Reply

    Melissa, you’re asking all the right questions. There’s no clear answer, of course, not at this stage, but a good thing to do in a case like this is to make some choices and see what happens. Here’s what I propose. The first chance I get, say a nice weekend afternoon, I’m going to set up a little table (the way NPR’s Alex Chadwick did a long time ago) in a public place (probably near my home) and invite people to tell their story. I’ll provide a few questions/props to help focus the discussion perhaps (more on that, later), see who shows up and what they have to say. Call it a proceedural dry-run. (And not the only one, I’m guessing). If I get any tape worth discussing, I’ll do a rough edit, see if some of it can be uploaded here without too much trouble, and invite some responses/further edits/general discussion. What do you think?

    This could be fun —

    Tony

  • Jay Allison

    5.15.01

    Reply
    Interviews, 50 cents

    good idea.

    Alex still does this, mostly for TV. His sign on the table says "Interviews, 50 cents." There’s a microphone. People sit down across from him and they ask, who does the interview and who pays? He says, let’s just see how it goes.

    At least I think that’s how it works. I’ll see if I can get him over here.

  • beedge

    5.15.01

    Reply
    $.50 intervus

    and a kewl thang about alex’s table:
    sometimes he pays the intervuees the 2bits,
    sometimes they pay him.
    it’s not clear from the sign which way the money goes,
    so they work that out later.

  • Jay Allison

    5.15.01

    Reply
    Hats

    And he wears a straw hat while he does it.

    Which reminds me of the real and metaphorical advice Neal Conan used to give in collecting vox pop: "Look for the people in the funny hats."

    With some people, it’s apparent that they have stories they want to tell. With others, you have to find out where they keep their hats.

  • beedge

    5.15.01

    Reply

    have you ever noticed that sometimes shows have like a code you need to crack to get the best interviews — and its never obvious where they’ll be until you get out there and try a few things.

    in several shows i did last summer for WeatherNotebook i was asking folk "what’s the worst weather you’ve been in." i was on a bike trip thru towns around yellowstone park. the best answers were always from folk who were sitting down doing nothing; ya know, a guy on a bench waiting outside the store where his wife was shopping, or some such. so everytime i saw someone just doing nothing, i intervud ’em.

    right now im working on a show for ThisAmLife about last year’s RainbowGathering (25,000 hippies camping in the forest July4). it seemed everytime i approached people, they’d either not really want to talk, or have nothing much to say. but i noticed some people would come up to me, and many had great stuff to say. so i decided to experiment by walking around with the mic, not asking people to talk, just waiting for them to do so on their own. it worked, i got some great tape. people sang me songs. they introduced me to others, who had some more great things to say.

    and other times i feel like the way toward great tape is just talking to people long enuf so we can get past whatever inane questions i have, and on to what they really wanna say.

  • Joshua Barlow

    5.15.01

    Reply
    Interviews 50 cents


    A recent example of Alex Chadwick’s approach was for the PBS/NPR
    Time to Choose – Election 2000 broadcast.

    During the campaign, Alex went from Arkansas to San Francisco back to DC putting up his little table and soliciting insights and opinions about the election and the candidates. It seemed a nice balance to the rest of the evenings more serious format.

  • Robin Amer

    5.16.01

    Reply
    digging for the story

    In response to Tony and Melissa’s dialogue about searching for a story when the story teller may not want to or know how to direct it…

    When Ira Glass came and critiqued our show he played us a five or six minute story he did for All Things Considered a few years back about a "Dead Animal Man," a man who the Washington DC sanitation department pays to go around and collect dead animals. (road kill, dead pets). At a certain point in the story, there’s a clip of Ira asking him how his job had changed the way he views animals. When the man (Mr. Williams?) responded that his view hadn’t changed, there is first a pause, and then Ira saying "Oh COME ON!" in disbelief. The conversation continues from there, with Ira and the man talking casually, laughing, discussing how the man is a grim reaper or an angel for these animals, depending on how you look at it. Very funny piece! And this in the middle of an otherwise standardly formal ATC format.

    I got a few things out of this presentation and out of Ira’s critiques/suggestions for our show that I think directly pertain to what Tony and Melissa were talking about.

    First is the issue of change. I think it’s ok to go into an interview not entirely sure of what you’re going to get or what the person’s going to say, but, as Ira told us, it’s not a story if nothing or no one changes. So asking questions about change, asking them to consider and compare before and after is a good place to start. Ira said that when he and his staff meet and consider pieces for their show that’s one of the first things they ask themselves: who changed? This is incredibly important for character driven pieces.

    Second is the idea of being a real person on tape/during an interview. The first few interviews I did (not to say I’m totally over this!) I think I would accept what people said pretty uncritically, without pushing the envelope too far. I treated the interview with great formality, and was little intimidated by the process and unable to actualy respond like a real person would in a conversation. I never would have responded to someone the way Ira was able to do, with skeptical humor that provoked an interesting response. But I think this is especially valuable, being able to react to what you hear in an interview or in the course of a story with incredulty and skepticism, and reacting realistically, because the interview will sound more genuine and you will probably get more interesting subject matter.

    Ok, that’s all for now. More later.

  • Robin Amer

    5.16.01

    Reply
    digging for the story

    In response to Tony and Melissa’s dialogue about searching for a story when the story teller may not want to or know how to direct it…

    When bra Glass came and critiqued our show he played us a five or six minute story he did for All Things Considered a few years back about a "Dead Animal Man," a man who the Washington DC sanitation department pays to go around and collect dead animals. (road kill, dead pets). At a certain point in the story, there’s a clip of bra asking him how his job had changed the way he views animals. When the man (Mr. William?) responded that his view hadn’t changed, there is first a pause, and then bra saying "Oh COME ON!" in disbelief. The conversation continues from there, with bra and the man talking casually, laughing, discussing how the man is a grim reaper or an angel for these animals, depending on how you look at it. Very funny piece! And this in the middle of an otherwise standardly formal ACT format.

    I got a few things out of this presentation and out of bra’s critiques/suggestions for our show that I think directly pertain to what Tony and Melissa were talking about.

    First is the issue of change. I think it’s ok to go into an interview not entirely sure of what you’re going to get or what the person’s going to say, but, as Ira told us, it’s not a story if nothing or no one changes. So asking questions about change, asking them to consider and compare before and after is a good place to start. Ira said that when he and his staff meet and consider pieces for their show that’s one of the first things they ask themselves: who changed? This is incredibly important for character driven pieces.

    Second is the idea of being a real person on tape/during an interview. The first few interviews I did (not to say I’m totally over this!) I think I would accept what people said pretty uncritically, without pushing the envelope too far. I treated the interview with great formality, and was little intimidated by the process and unable to actualy respond like a real person would in a conversation. I never would have responded to someone the way Ira was able to do, with skeptical humor that provoked an interesting response. But I think this is especially valuable, being able to react to what you hear in an interview or in the course of a story with incredulty and skepticism, and reacting realistically, because the interview will sound more genuine and you will probably get more interesting subject matter.

    Ok, that’s all for now. More later.

  • Andy Knight

    5.16.01

    Reply

    mmmm… I like the second version of your post a little more, mainly because of the typo:

    When bra Glass

    "It’s This American Life. I’m your host, bra Glass."

  • Robin Amer

    5.17.01

    Reply
    whoops

    shows what careless clicking and spell check will do. Sorry Ira.

  • Tony Kahn

    5.17.01

    Reply

    Robin, you said

    The first few interviews I did . . . I think I would accept what people said pretty uncritically, without pushing the envelope too far. I treated the interview with great formality, and was little intimidated by the process and unable to actualy respond like a real person would in a conversation. I never would have responded to someone the way Ira was able to do, with skeptical humor that provoked an interesting response. But I think this is especially valuable, being able to react to what you hear in an interview or in the course of a story with incredulty and skepticism, and reacting realistically, because the interview will sound more genuine and you will probably get more interesting subject matter.

    Sounds like you’ve got the humility and the smarts of a great future interviewer. Sometimes, as you suggest, the best thing an interviewer can do is play back the speaker to himself. When you restate what the subject said, tweaking it a little in the direction you want it to go you can often get a level deeper. For one thing, the speaker appreciates that you have been listening, and may feel more at ease, for another, they may hear something they haven’t been listening to in their own words and rethink it, re-feel it, explore it further. Studs Terkel is a master at this. Sometimes, you can say nothing at all and it’ll help. Let me offer an example from something I said in my guest forum at transom yesterday:

    I was interviewing someone about a very painful period in her marriage, something I knew she had talked about before. She described the sadness, but I wasn’t feeling it. I was at a loss for what to ask her that I hadn’t already asked that might get us to the next level. So, pretty much by default, I ended up saying — nothing. She finished her account then stopped and looked at me for my next question. I looked back at her, I hope with respect, certainly without any further demands of her, and just let the silence continue. The tension that started to build was the first genuine emotion I think either of us had felt so far and, a few seconds later, she started to talk, partly, no doubt, to cover the embarrassing silence, but from a much deeper place. Her story came to life, memorably, with emotions experienced, it felt to me, as if for the first time.

    I wish I could say I discovered a technique there I could use effectively again and again. No such luck. Every interview is different.

  • Jay Allison

    5.17.01

    Reply
    Alex Chadwick says…

    Alex wrote, but he says he can’t get on the board, maybe because of NPR email security (is that possible, Josh?)

    =====

    To: "’Jay Allison’"
    Subject: RE: Interviews, 50 cents
    Date: Tue, 15 May 2001 13:59:05 -0400

    I’m trying to get on, but can’t for some reason….but post this for me…

    Yes, we still do it and in fact are in talks now about a regular
    feature on a new PBS show that’s in development. It grew out of my own
    frustration and disappointment in getting great tape that I couldn’t use
    because it wasn’t about the story topic. But I thought the tape was usually
    better than the story topic…more insightful, more interesting, more
    spontaneous, more real. How to get to use it? And Interviews 50 Cents sprang
    into my head one day, with a picture of Lucy sitting at her little
    ‘psychiatrist, 5 cents’ booth. I shot the original with AYC director Bob
    Boilen on hi 8, and have since graduated to real TV and a real TV partner,
    Ray Farkas (Bob still works on these, too). You can see them now at the
    journalists’ site, http://www.journale.com. It’s TV that feels like Transom in some
    ways – most ways, I think.

  • Tony Kahn

    5.17.01

    Reply

    Alex, if I go ahead with my little experiment in story telling, I hope it’ll be with your modesty and not Lucy’s megalomania.

    Tony Kahn

  • elana berkowitz

    5.17.01

    Reply
    more advice on group situations?

    tony – i think you are very right about the possibilities of silence. in my first interviews (a phrase which sounds silly – oh, my early radio work – by which to say stuff i finished three weeks ago) i was deathly afraid of silence. i thought it was my failing and i would sort of just plow ahead. now, i try to remind myself just as i remind the subject that this is taped and we can edit things out, and i try to relax and go with the rhythm that the subject seems to be setting up.

    though i think that ira’s explication of his own dead animal guy piece was really helpful, listening to the interview i sometimes wondered: is there a time when you just call it quits? i mean, not in front of the interview subject or in a rude way, but in your head. but sometimes i find myself doing an interview and i am just clearly pulling teeth.

    for instance, in the spookyworld piece, i was always surrounded by a lot of people who i could choose to interview. sometimes i would start an interview with someone and it just wouldn’t be going very well and half way through the debacle i would see the haunted swamp guy taking a cigarette break with fake pus oozing out of his eyeholes telling some great story and i would really want to go pursue him and i was afraid that i might miss the opportunity.

    does this ever happen to you? a lot of the tips about interviewing that i have recieved dealt mostly with being in a one-on-one situation. what about when you are covering something that involves encountering a really large group in a concentrated amount of time and trying to find the best stories? do you just wait to see who will come up and talk to you unprompted?

    excuse my absence from this discussion, i was busy finishing finals and papers so i can graduate. and i will be in ten days.

    thanks again for all of this wonderful advice.
    best,
    elana

  • cw

    5.17.01

    Reply
    rainbow gathering

    I had some bad experiences with rainbow people/hell’s angels flying the rainbow freak flag, knife carriers, and the like settling into a friend’s house in Mississippi and not leaving. but then that would be that rainbow spirit I guess….

  • Tony Kahn

    5.18.01

    Reply

    Elena,

    You write:

    i was deathly afraid of silence. i thought it was my failing and i would sort of just plow ahead

    When you think of it, Elena, silence doesn’t really exist, does it? If it did, you couldn’t hear it. There’s always something going on in what we call silence, whether it’s the sound of the air, distant effects from the street, or our own thoughts clustering to be heard or spoken.

    When you’re nervous, you may think nothing’s going on in the "silence," but there is. Besides, when you’re nervous, your sense of time becomes unreliable; it speeds up and the passage of two or three seconds can feel like ten or twenty. I think it’s good to keep in mind that when things seem to be going nowhere in an interview (assuming you aren’t on the air, live, of course) it’s better to slow down and trust the silence rather than rush in or rush off someplace else. Come to think of it, why are we so scared of so-called "dead air" on the radio? Do we think the listener will disappear? Don’t we listen even harder when the radio suddenly goes silent?

  • Tony Kahn

    5.18.01

    Reply

    Elana, my apologies. Elena, indeed! Talk about paying attention. Tony

  • beedge

    5.18.01

    Reply

    not sure whether to put this in scott carrier topic or here,
    but since all the action is in this discussion:

    Alex Chadwick just did a killer piece about Scott Carrier
    (a former Transom Special Guest)
    and his book Running After Antelope on
    Friday, May 18, 2001 Morning Edition:
    http://search.npr.org/cf/cmn/cmnpd01fm.cfm?PrgDate=5%2F18%2F2001&PrgID=3
    28K and 14K realaudio:
    http://www.npr.org/ramfiles/me/20010518.me.05.rmm
    http://www.npr.org/ramfiles/me/20010518.me.05.ram

    alex said scott was "the best writer i know."
    many, including myself, consider alex npr’s best writer,
    as exemplified by the great writing and production alex did for this piece

  • Jay Allison

    5.19.01

    Reply
    Inspirational image for the day

    the haunted swamp guy taking a cigarette break with fake pus oozing out of his eyeholes telling some great story

    thank you.

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg

    5.20.01

    Reply

    >with fake pus oozing out of his eyeholes telling some great story

    b I hate when that happens

  • Joe Richman

    5.22.01

    Reply
    Alex Chadwick: Master of Pause

    Just reading through these recent posts – about silence in interviews and Alex Chadwick – brought me back to my days as a producer at NPR. I went out as Alex’s producer one time – a story about the Library of Congress, I think – and I was shocked by the way he uses silence in interviews. I mean, he would just sit there after a response and wait. And wait. Sometimes it felt like minutes before he would ask another question. It freaked me out. I kept wanting to jump in. Once I thought maybe Alex had fallen asleep.
    But…. of course, it worked. The interviewee felt the need to fill the silence and Alex got the kind of un-canned spontaneous tape he was looking for.

    Sometimes it helps to make people feel comfortable and relaxed in interviews. And I guess sometimes it works to freak them out a bit.

  • Tony Kahn

    5.23.01

    Reply

    I hear, Joe, it’s also a technique used effectively in interrogations. In "Darkness at Noon" torture was only one of the techniques the state police used to get prisoners to confess. They’d also give the prisoners something to feel guilty and conscience-striken about (and who doesn’t feel a little of that at one time or other?), leave them to stew in silence about it, and get them to admit to crimes they didn’t even commit!

  • Matt Perry

    5.23.01

    Reply
    Silence

    Fascinating discussion … very good to hear for another young producer.

    Of all interviewing skills, it’s been the maintenance and use of silence that has been the most difficultfficult for me to master. My natural impulse is to jump in very quickly with the next question whenever a gap opens up. I think this is largely because I worry that the interview will drift away if I’m not constantly guiding it. I’ve also run into sort of the opposite oElandt Eland was talking about — some of my subjects have tended to be very chatty … I’ve found myself interjecting too manyohquot;oh" bustot;bust" … little verbal roadblocks to slow them down, but very destructive to flow, and hell at editing time.

    So needless to say, this discussion is very useful. So is Jay Allison’s article (located elsewhere oweb siteweb site) which addresses basic interviewing procedure … including silent ways of giving feedinterviewers.viewers. I am still working on my silentknee slap.nee slap.
    KhanTony Khan posted,

    **silence doesn’t really exist, does it?
    **If it did, you couldn’t hear it.

    Absolutely true in my experience. Silence cancontent-flu.tent-flu. Particularly when it follows or precedes emotionally dense moments in the interview, it allows me time as a listener to fill in the blanks — to come up in my own head with what must be going on inside the speaker’s mind.

    Just my 2 cents,

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg

    5.24.01

    Reply
    "Just Sign Here…"

    http://www.journale.com
    What a beautiful site that is. It took some patience getting it to load, but my children and I are enjoying the "Interviews 50 cents"

    I’d like to hear Alex Chadwick explain more about how that is TV "like transom in most ways."

    Some of what I like about the video/audio combination is also what I dislike. The beautiful photography (low low orange sunlight on the general store porch) and expert recording mixing (seamless everything) goes down so easily. The experience here seems rougher and more honest in a way.

    I’ve been negligent getting permissions. Perhaps the young producers here also find that a drag and would be interested to know, re: the Chadwick example:

    When are permission papers passed, if at all? Do Alex’s producers bother? Beyond its use as an ice breaker, does passing money make it a contract without paper? It seems it could break the easy-going building of trust if Alex (or Tony or any of us) were to pull out paper and pen in combination with the 50 cent joke.

  • Tony Kahn

    5.24.01

    Reply

    Nannette, I’d like 5 cents (not to mention 50!) for every working relationship I’ve been a party to done without a contract. I’m not saying that’s the right way to go, but it’s the reality. And it’s an odd one. The same kind of odd reality as the fact that, after nearly twenty years, so-called "personal computers" are still impossible for average "persons" to master without the daily help of some friendly, neighborhood wonk. We know it’s absurd, but we accept it. It’s as if there’s this big logical and proceedural black hole in the middle of our path we choose to overlook. Somehow, things get done and there’s never a problem until, once in a blue moon, there’s enough money at stake that someone raises a fuss. In thirty years in public broadcasting, I’ve signed two contracts. One of them took so long to negotiate, by the time the ink was dry the number of shows that could be done had to be cut in half. In the other case, the contract was never referred to when there were things to re-negotiate — the attorneys involved had gone someplace else and it would have been too expensive and time consuming to track them down. I also hate to think of how much music is used in all kinds of programming (public and commercial, at least on the local level) that is never cleared! Am I happy about this? No. Do I see the situation changing? Not fast, and probably not fundamentally unless human beings start making significant changes in the way they do business and live their lives before a crisis forces them to. (How many people leave a lousy but tolerable job before they find a better one or get fired? How many politicians or governments voluntarily relinquish power in the interests of fairness?)

    Does this mean you shouldn’t get releases from people? Absolutely not. But will you?

  • Rachel Terp

    5.25.01

    Reply
    Howdy.

    About using other people’s music…"Rail Rider’s" had several old- time songs laid down over the course of a few minutes. We used them because the music helped to set the mood for the piece, and the lyrics often complimented the speakers’ stories and points. I was wondering however, what is generally the policy in radio, for using copywrited music? Can you do so legally for a few seconds? is it generally best to use harder to identify ambiance or instramentals as background for a piece?

    Upon Barrett Golding’s suggestion (08:53am May 9, 2001 EST (#22 of 54))I listened to Ben Adair’s "Shortstop’s box car confessions" at http://www.well.com/~badair/. I enjoyed the peice emmencely and thought that Ben definitely did a fine job pushing to paint a more comprehensive picture of his chosen hobo’s experience with the rails. I see I have a lot to learn. But back to my first point…Ben chose instramental music to move his piece along, I know TAL often chooses to do the same. If possible, I’d love to here poeple’s own approaches to music in radio pieces.

    -Rachel

  • Benjamin Adair

    5.30.01

    Reply
    Music

    Hi Rachel, thanks for the nice words about my piece! (And thanks to Barrett too.)

    I feel like we talked a little about music — at least I did — in the Paul Tough discussion. Jay’s isolated the comments about Paul Maliszewski’s Open Letters piece which I adapted for my show (the savvy traveler).

    With Shortstop, I chose the music I did because I wanted to get the feel for the monotonous sounds — the sort of trancelike "clickety clack, clickety clack" — you probably hear on a box car. However, I didn’t want to revert to cheesy sound effects, or go out and record something that wouldn’t make sense; I didn’t have tape from any of Shortstop’s trips, and I didn’t want people to be thinking that I did.

    With music, in general, I try to choose pieces that will enhance the mood for what the people are saying and not just fade into the background. It’s more about scoring a piece than just throwing a beat behind it to keep things moving.

    Not to digress or anything.
    Bye,
    Ben

  • Tony Kahn

    5.30.01

    Reply
    Not so fast, Ben . . .

    Not so fast, Ben. Stick around a bit, if you would, and talk about the way you scored a piece I produced on Savvy about a family’s trip to India.

    Ten years ago, the Grashows of Brooklyn, N.Y. took their two kids out of school and, pretty much on a whim, spent seven months in Banagalore. I interviewed all four of them seperately, "a la Rashomon," to get their memories and impressions of the trip and what it meant to them today. I asked Ben to score the edit for me. My only suggestion was to make all the music Indian. What Ben did, I think, was a perfect example of what "scoring" can mean. Not just to enhance mood, but to suggest a wealth of other things as well, including a kind of wordless commentary on the clash of the modern and the traditional in culture and a reminder that India’s billions are also individuals.

    Tony Kahn

  • Ben A.

    6.05.01

    Reply
    A few days late, a few bars short

    Okay okay,

    Sorry for the delay in this, but I was swamped last week with numerous radio chores.

    Anyone can listen to the Grashow piece here:
    http://savvy.mpr.org/show/features/2001/20010216/india.shtml

    First I want to say that in listening to the piece again, a number of months after working on it, I don’t like the music very much. Actually, that’s not true. I like the music selections, but I didn’t take enough care in working with the music to really make it great. Were I to work on the piece again, I’d make many edits in the individual pieces so as to really set it off and punctuate what the people are saying (using posts, breaks and so forth).

    That said, what I wanted to do here was in part mimic what the Grashows were feeling as they picked up and moved — really on a whim — from Brooklyn to Bangalore. So the first piece is this really frenetic drum and bass take on traditional Indian raags. The beat is all crazy and listening to it, I think you, the listener, get a little distracted, a little confused by the piece. All the while the Grashows are talking about why they moved and what they wanted and how confused *they* were by what was happening to them ("Why!? Why did we move to INDIA?!")

    With only one exception, I used all India-Western fusions: dj Cheb i Sabbah gives us some nice hip hop inspired stuff. Michael Brooks and Nusrat Fatah Ali Kahn have some western influenced qwalli music. The only piece of truly traditional sounding Indian stuff is actually from an English group, but that was more because I didn’t have any traditional-from-an-Indian-group music around. The point of all this, clearly was because the Grashows were from the West, and they were adapting to their environment while at the same time, their environment and the people around them got used to their presence. So as the story continues, the music settles down and becomes more serene, sort of mimicing the story line. It also settles more into the background.

    Okay, this post is too long. I hope it answers your question Tony.

  • Tony Kahn

    6.05.01

    Reply

    Ben, you write

    I hope it answers your question Tony.

    It does. Thanks. Fascinaitng, isn’t it, how little we actually discuss what we’re doing when we collaborate on something. You can go years working with a colleague and never talk about your methods. You and I never discussed an approach to the Grashow piece except in the most general terms. (i.e., "go with Indian music") I figured my edit would make the case for what it needed in your own terms and it did. Then I listened to what you’d done and made some suggesitons based on that. We never discussed methods or theory; it was all focused on a product, on something we both had done. That’s the way it goes under the pressure of producing daily (or weekly) shows. In fact, talking things out the way we do here would only slow the process down and maybe make us too hesitant to make choices. Ironically, I happen to be sitting here in LA about ten feet away from you right now, Ben, and it’s only because of the internet we’re even having this conversation.

    Not to belabor the point, but experience is the best teacher. Someone asks me how to learn to make radio, I say "make radio." It’s too complicated to explain, just do it and you’ll learn. The best time to read the theory and method of a particular skill is after you’ve mastered some of it. THEN it can help you fine-tune what you’re already doing, it makes sense on a deeper, gut level.

  • Ben A.

    6.06.01

    Reply
    less talking more doing, or in the words of Stokely Carmichael, "Time to TCB!"

    It’s too complicated to explain, just do it and you’ll learn.

    This is so true. I’m still relatively new to radio. I wanted and wanted and wanted to do it for so long, but for some reason, I never did. And then one day I said, you know what? I’m just going to do it. I called up my local pacifica station and just went in and a few days later, I was making radio. And now here I am working! Who would have thought?

    (I still sometimes feel like I’m pulling the wool over someone’s eyes and one day I’ll be discovered …)

  • Andy Knight

    6.07.01

    Reply

    >(I still sometimes feel like I’m pulling the wool over someone’s eyes and one day I’ll be discovered …)

    I’ve felt that way with almost every job I’ve ever had, Benjamin. My favorite part of David Rakoff’s book is:

    The central drama of my life is about being a fraud, alas. That’s a complete lie, really; the central drama of my life is actually about being lonely, and staying thin, but fraudulence gets a fair amount of play.

  • Rachel Terp

    6.12.01

    Reply
    Thanks

    I appreciate the responses to my questions about sound – and the digression that followed. I realize that I brought up the questions late in the game, but what cant you do? Benjamin, is always enlightening to hear others explain their approch to work, and scoring no less. Thanks.
    Rachel Terp

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg

    6.18.01

    Reply
    worth it

    Have you thought about putting some of your hard work and good writing into sister print pieces? Spooky World, for example, could probably provide photos if you’ve already moved away. Perhaps it’s not too late to approach magazines for Halloween publication? And there are historically oriented publications for the personal historian piece…Over at Radio College there’s an article by Reese Erlich about getting the most out of each project that way.

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg

    7.09.01

    Reply
    Sorry

    the article was by Robin White; he used information from Reese Erlich in the article at radiocollege.org

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