Ready, Set, Radio Race!

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Esther Honig says she had a “hot coal” inside her when she wrote The Time Traveler’s Ark. And no wonder. The story was about a challenging family issue. And, she only had 24 hours to write and produce the story. Actually, make that 18.

Esther’s dad suffers from Alzheimer’s. He was diagnosed several years ago and, as is typical, he’s deteriorated since. Esther says it’s now hard to be around him. But, over the years, she interviewed her dad from time to time in hopes of producing a radio story someday. That never happened — until she signed up for KCRW’s annual 24-Hour Radio Race.

She and two colleagues (Matt Hodapp and Patrick Quick) from KCUR in Kansas City formed a team in 2015. On the day of the race, KCRW sent out that year’s theme to over two hundred teams: “Time Change.”

Initially, Esther considered pitching a story about her dad to her fellow racers, but she thought better of it. She didn’t want to be a part of the story, and besides, it might prove too taxing for her and Matt and Patrick. So, she kept the idea to herself and they started brainstorming other possible story ideas.

The first idea centered around time zones. There are two in Kansas and they thought maybe there’s a story about the hazards of living near a time line. Turns out, it’s not difficult. So, they batted around other ideas but nothing panned out. And, now, six hours had gone by.

With a quarter of the race wasted, Esther hesitantly told Matt and Patrick about her dad. She explained his condition and his inability to comprehend time. They all agreed it would be difficult to chat with him in his current state, but it was by far the best idea they had.

Of course, producing an emotionally challenging story about a sick family member in just a few hours seems like the last thing you’d want to embark on. Such stories typically take time and require a nuanced approach to the storytelling. Indeed, for the Radio Race, you might want to head in the opposite direction — toward something relatively easy to report.

But Esther says she’d been waiting to share her father’s story for years. The Radio Race was the exact push she needed to finally make it happen.

On this episode of HowSound, Nick White of KCRW lays out how the race works and Esther recounts how she and her radio buddies produced The Time Traveler’s Ark, the story that ended up winning the race two years ago.

This year’s race — the fifth annual — is August 19. You can sign up now.

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