public radio

Ted Leo + Tommy Tsunami = "Colleen"

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What happens when all-around great guy and two-time awesome Sound guest Ted Leo teams up with Broadcasting Legend and three-time awesome Sound guest Tom Scharpling for a music video? ARM WRESTLING!

Written and produced by Tommy Tsunami; the song's "Colleen" from Teddy Rockstar's most recent LP "Living with the Living."

On me and Ira and editing...

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A couple people have asked me questions like this about my Ira Glass interview, so I thought I'd answer here on the blog. Paulscan on AST asked:

Another great interview, but I had a question. Usually, your interviews are edited very well and sound like (exceedingly witty) normal conversations. However, I noticed a lot more pauses before Ira's answers to your questions (which are, of course, a part of every conversation). Is it your normal practice to edit those kinds of things out? If so, why didn't you do it for this interview? This struck me as odd, especially in light of your raised concerns with the Improv Everywhere TAL shows, as well as the questions about narrative storytelling, news framing, etc.

Not trying to imply anything here, just curious.

I would say those kinds of pauses are very unusual, and are not part of every conversation. They were unusual enough, in fact, that I decided to leave them in. I think they reflect the thought that Ira put in to his answers.

Generally speaking, my interviews are VERY lightly edited. If I have time, I'll edit out maybe a few stumbles in speach on the part of my guest, but generally it's almost the whole interview, almost exactly as it happened live. For radio I will sometimes edit out a question (or a line of questioning) for time, but I usually leave it in in the podcast.

This is pretty unusual in public radio -- I make the choice to do this in large part because I'm a one-man band, so I lack both the perspective and time to do a really big editing job like some shows with similar formats (say Fresh Air or On the Media) do. I'm certainly not at all against that, I just don't have the resources. Fresh Air, for example, will often (not always) do an hour or more for an interview that runs at 40 or 20 minutes. Which is awesome for them, they have a big staff of the best producers and editors in the business. I might do it that way if I could, I dunno. For many years TSOYA was live, and I still kind of operate the show that way, only now I can edit out swears.

The only show that I can think of where I've done a lot of editing of dead air is the Betty Davis show, but if I had left in all the dead air there was in that interview, no one would have listened. She hadn't really spoken publicly in like 30 years and is a very private woman, so I felt it was more important to help people listen than to play all these loooooooooooooooong pauses.

A few folks have also asked me (in a very friendly manner) about how tough I was on Ira in the interview. Generally speaking, I'm not "tough" on guests. In part this is because I'm often introducing them to most of my audience, and I think that introduction is more important than "sticking it" to someone. If I really disagreed with someone about something, I just wouldn't book them. That said, I was kind of tough with Ira.

Now let's be clear: I don't think I've ever hidden my affection for This American Life. I think it's the best radio show in history. It is a large part of what made me think a career in public radio might actually work out. As a general rule, I love the shit out of This American Life. So ... that's out of the way.

The reason I asked Ira about storytelling and the relationship between truth and narrative in the interview is that it is A) important and B) the connection between TAL and Ira's book. The book (which is great) is designed as a mini-manifesto about reporting. I also knew that Ira has thought about this issue, because all the choices Ira made in creating TAL come from 20 years of working in public radio news before the show even started. Working with Joe Frank and Noah Adams and whoever else gave him plenty of opportunity to think out his philosophy, and I wanted to hear it. Furthermore, any regular listener of TAL has heard it move towards "hard news" in the past five years or so, and I knew that was a choice, and wanted to know about it.

In other words: I wanted to know the answers to those questions, and I was betting Ira'd have some good ones. Which I thought he did. He could have played the "I'm Ira Glass, and You're Not" card, but instead he chose to give really thoughtful answers to those questions. He's forgotten more about these issues than I'll ever know, so I was glad to hear what he had to say.

Philly Boy Roy & Patton Oswalt in Philadelphia

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"Philly Boy Roy" Ziegler
, regular caller to The Best Show on WFMU, visits Patton Oswalt and the Comedians of Comedy at their Philadelphia tour stop. Luckily, Henry from Chunklet Magazine was running his video camera to capture this historic moment.

Luke Burbank's descent into the final level of interview hell.

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Sigur Ros: "Suck it, Burbank."

NPR's new "hip, edgy" morning show launched recently, and they pledged to do things differently. You have to worry about any media endeavor that's created by demographic demands, but I met some of the folks behind it when I was in New York recently, and they seemed sharp, interesting and (relatively, for public radio) cool. Particularly sharp and interesting in my book is co-host Luke Burbank, who's vivacious and funny and pleasant on air, and probably actually likes rock music produced after 1974. They were probably counting on the lattermost quality when they booked Sigur Ros on the show.

Sigur Ros, for those who don't know, are an Icelandic band who have achieved worldwide success recording beautiful, ethereal orchestral rock with lyrics in a made-up language. It becomes quickly clear in this interview that they did not achieve worldwide success by being nice to interviewers.

Perhaps Luke wasn't terrified as each question he asked was met by a five-second silence and a one-sentence answer. If he was, he hid it well. I know that I would have been flipping the fuck out. At one point, Luke asks the band (paraphrasing from memory), "So, what's your process to create the songs." A bandmember replies, "We get together and create the songs."

As the interview decends into madness, Luke makes a few mistakes -- yes or no questions, that kind of thing. But I can say from experience that given the pressure to come up with a new approach every ten seconds to try to crack a completely standoffish, uncommunicative subject -- and an arts one to whom you don't want to be combatative -- he did an amazing job. I know that when you do this kind of interview, it makes you want to crawl into a hole and die. As an interviewer, you rely upon the good will of your subject. If they don't care about your audience, there's little you can do. That's what happened here.

I was surprised by some of the blog responses on the NPR site, and some of the comments on MetaFilter, where I first saw the story. Is my empathy for interviewers getting in the way of having a clear view of this situation? What do you think? Is this band justified in striking back at the media for being inane? Is it insulting to ask a band who sings in a made up language why they sing in a made up language?

My kudos to Bryant Park for posting the video of the interview, at the very minimum. I'm interested to hear what you think.

Video

Podthoughts by Ian Brill: Radio Lab

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In our regular feature Podthoughts, freelance journalist Ian Brill helps you navigate your way through the thousands of podcasts available on the internet.

I discovered Radio Lab when Ira Glass recommended it at the end of a This American Life podcast. He was speaking to the right audience. WNYC’s Radio Lab starts with a big theme and examines it in a series of short segments. Like TAL they’re audio documentaries. The interviews aren’t soundbites. Hosts Jad Abumrad, Robert Krulwich and their producers ensure in-depth interviews with their subjects. They have to because unlike TAL Radio Lab’s segments stick much closer to their themes.

Throughout the show Abumrad and Krulwich will pop in and offer their opinions on the show’s binding idea, be it morality, mortality or the mystery of memory. They’ll often debate with each other, which is very interesting. The two have easily defined but different personalities. Kurlwich is a man of heart. Even when given the cold, hard scientific facts about memory or morality he’ll want to believe that there’s something more going on than just biological or evolutionary traits. Abumrad deals with the more logical side of things and plays a nice foil to Kurlwich.

What really impressed me about Radio Lab when I first heard it was how sound was edited. In the show “Memory and Forgetting” the hosts and the archived sounds of the interview subjects lap over each other. Sound effects dramatizing an event come in quick burst. Certain phrases and sounds are repeated at various times. This is the first time I’ve heard a radio show that matched the fast pace of television. Radio Lab makes sure to use this style deliberately and clearly. They know when to slow the show down, such as during somber and emotional moments. Listening to Radio Lab you get that immediate sense of being “there” on the field reports but you’re also pulled back by Abumrad and Kurlwich’s hosting. It’s a unique listening experience but a nice one.

Philly Stand UP!

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Philly: it's more than just Philly Boy Roy, The Phillie Phanatic and Philadelphia Freeway. Now it's also THE SOUND OF YOUNG AMERICA ON WHYY!

TSOYA premiers TONIGHT on WHYY, and will run every Friday night at 9PM.

Come on... I know you don't have a date! Listen! Tell them you love the show!

Ze Frank is hosting Fair Game?

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And interviewing Harvey Pekar?

Whuuuuuuuuuuh? Huuuuuuuuuuh?

The Delegate from Utah

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I'm proud to announce we've got our first new station on board - KCPW in Salt Lake City, Utah. We'll be running Thursday evenings at 7PM there, starting July 19th. I went to Salt Lake City once, and it was very pretty, but the coolest thing there by most accounts is the Mormon Temple, and you're not allowed in if you're not a Mormon, so that was kind of dissapointing.

To celebrate this addition, a song:

Randy Newman - The Beehive State

"We gotta irrigate our desert / and get some things to grow / and we gotta tell this country about Utah / 'cause no one seems to know."

The Sound of Young America is coming to PRI

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Well, how's this for great news?

The Sound of Young America is now distributed nationwide by Public Radio International.

PRI will begin offering The Sound to its member stations July 3rd, and we've already got one commitment: you'll hear the show Saturdays on XM Public Radio at noon pacific, three Eastern.

PRI's team will be offering the show to stations, talking with them about it, pitching it to them. For this venture to be a success, those stations need to be convinced that taking a chance on a public radio show about things that are awesome is a good bet for them. I think you can help us with this, but we'll talk about that later.

This is certainly the first step in a new era for the show. In many ways, things will stay the same. Everything will still come from me. The podcast will stay the same, the feed will stay the same. (And I haven't really been kicked into a new income bracket, unfortunately. )

The most important thing for me right now is to say thank you, to all of you who've supported me and the show for months and years. This has always been a labor of love, and it wasn't just my love that was fueling it. If that sounds unbelievably corny, it's because it is, but that doesn't make it untrue.

So, onward and upward, huh? We've got a big summer planned, starting with the live show in LA on June 30th. Let's get cracking!

WHIT Power 102 FM - Elephant Larry

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This is undoubtedly the best radio-themed humor I've ever seen. God Bless Elephant Larry.

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