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Power to the people! (And how to find a story)

If you like art, you should check out Veronica Simmonds. She’s spending all her time chatting with artists and making radio stories about them. (Jealous yet?) To top it off, she found this guy who’s so obsessed with shortwave radio he designed an immersive art piece around it. She produced the story, and we workshopped it together in this month’s Second Ear.

Veronica’s taking over the rest of this post to tell us about it:


Producer Veronica Simmonds
Producer Veronica Simmonds (photo by Katie McKay)

There is a big difference between a topic and a story. Big differencebut one that Im always struggling to understand. 

Ive been producing a podcast for Visual Arts News for over a year now. Its a great gig: I get to interview all the rad artists working in Atlantic Canada. I interview them about the cool ideas behind their projects, then weave those together with music and ambient sounds, and the result is usually an interesting audio journey. But are these stories? Not really.

I reached out to the Second Ear program because there was one piece I produced for Visual Arts News that I thought had legs. It was about an artist named Michael McCormack who makes work about shortwave radio. As a radio nerd this was enough to get me interested. But, what was really curious was how Michael connected to his grandfather. As he talked about the different elements of his work, they all somehow linked back to his grandfathers experience as a ham radio operator. 

When I first produced the piece, I focused on the topic of shortwave radio: what it is, why its important for people, and what Michael is doing with it. Talking to Erika and Genevieve from PRX was totally invaluable because they challenged me to focus instead on the relationship between Michael and his grandfather. They encouraged me to see the art and even Michaels identity as an artist as secondary to that relationship. As simple as that may seem it was actually a total revelation for me. I usually start these podcasts by naming the artist and saying what their working on, but this new approach was totally freeing and I think led to a way more compelling listen. People first! Projects second!

All this to say, I still dont know exactly what a story is, but Im a little closer. From now on, Im going to start my pieces with people, not their projects. Stories happen with people: what are their intentions, why do they do what they do, whats changing for them. Cool art projects come from people, but the people should come first. Power to the people! (and their stories!) —Veronica

You can submit a story to Second Ear during the first five days of every month. Follow #SecondEar on Twitter to hear the latest and share your thoughts.

4 Ways to Make Your Art Story Sing

Photo by Michael McCormack
Photo by Michael McCormack

Each month, PRX editors workshop a radio piece and share the before and after with the world. This month’s Second Ear producer was Visual Arts News host Veronica Simmonds.



Secret Soviet radio signals, lonely spies in the Arctic, and an art exhibit with pulsing disco lights. I’m ready to listen. But you can have all the ingredients and still feel a story isn’t quite “there.” We talked ideas with Veronica; she took or scrapped our advice and came back with a new version of her story.

Hear a difference? Here’s some of what we talked about.

Photo by Veronica Simmonds
Veronica’s subject had plenty of clues and history behind the art for a story. She just needed to put them together. (Photo by Veronica Simmonds)

1. Find the story. An artist might be doing something fascinating, but if you don’t find a narrative arc with characters, conflict, and surprise, you won’t keep my attention.

In Veronica’s case, I saw all this potential for compelling stories and intimate moments that were glossed over. So we talked a lot about how to find tension, emotion, and narrative, and she actually interviewed Michael a second time to get tape that would help.

2. Avoid art speak. Don’t let the artist speak in sterile or hyped-up language. Work the interview to pull out the emotion and concrete reasoning. And certainly don’t use jargon in your own writing. (We asked Veronica to cut lines like “his current work is focusing on” or “enter the dialogue.”)

Say things plainly. Clear images, simple language, and strong ideas—not pretense—will bring depth to the piece.

3. Help us picture it. Slow the artist down during the interview to get specific moments and vivid details. Record yourself describing and experiencing the work, and focus on the senses. Help us listeners construct the visceral experience in our imagination.

4. Be skeptical.  Be wary of adopting the language of the artist as your own. Just because an artist claims she’s breaking apart some radical notion with her art doesn’t mean that you should say she succeeded.

To get interesting tape, find time to ask the artist questions from the perspective of the guy who thinks this type of art is a load of hooey. Then, if you like, ask the artist what frustrates him about the way people view art. Maybe you’ll find tension not only in the story’s central conflict, but also in a deeper conversation about what art is.

You can submit a story to Second Ear during the first five days of every month. Follow #SecondEar on Twitter to hear the latest and share your thoughts.

PRX is Hiring a Software Engineer

This position has been filled.

PRX volunteer day at a local farm (click to enlarge)

PRX is hiring! We’re fun. You can see the details below and apply here.

What is the company?
At PRX you will find talented, passionate, and thoughtful people who create products that bring millions of listeners to shows created by public radio and podcast producers. We also work with top-tier shows like This American Life, The Moth Radio Hour, and 99% Invisible.

We’ve been around for 10 years, yet still have the entrepreneurial energy and opportunities of a much younger company. We genuinely care about a healthy work-life balance (we feel gross using buzzwords, but 40 hour weeks and flexible hours really are the norm around here).

What is the Software Engineer job?
We are looking for an enthusiastic and creative software engineer with a passion for building robust, scalable applications with simple interfaces. You’ll have the opportunity to work on a variety of projects and find your strengths across different technologies. We’re a small organization, so within a few weeks you’ll be expected take the lead and focus on a few projects while being comfortable with having an active support role for many of the other products we work on.

You’ll work closely with our other engineers, product managers, and employees on all phases of the development cycle including planning, development, testing, deployment, and maintenance. We don’t follow Agile with a capital “A”, but work on hitting the sweet spot, which means you’ll contribute to production code within a few days.

What do we build?
If you checkout our public GitHub repositories you’ll get a sense of the projects, team members, technologies and how we work: Our core marketplace product is being upgraded to Angular.js and Rails 4 as an open source project. You can also see the iOS and Android apps we created and support and

Things we’re looking for

  • Relevant experience with frameworks like Rails, Sinatra, Django, Angular and/or a degree in Computer Science
  • Aptitude for learning new technologies/languages/platforms/APIs
  • Be a nice person
  • A design aesthetic and caring about how users interact with the things you build
  • Recommendations for public radio shows or podcasts that we might not have heard
  • Opinions you can back up are great. Opinions you want to experimentally verify are even better.

Key Information

  • Job title: Software Engineer
  • Location: Harvard Square – Cambridge, MA
  • Type of Position: Full-time with benefits
  • Start date: Immediately
  • Telecommute: No
  • Apply here:

This American Life to Self-Distribute, Partner with PRX to Deliver Episodes

Ira visits the PRX office in 2010 (click to enlarge)

It’s an exciting day for public radio and independent distribution. This American Life will self-distribute starting July 1 and use PRX to deliver the show to stations.

This partnership will expand our relationship with This American Life; for several years we have handled iTunes distribution and developed mobile apps for iOS and Android in close collaboration with Ira Glass and his team.

PRX is constantly improving the ways we help producers — from the smallest to the biggest — take control of their own distribution for broadcast, web and now mobile. Since 2003, we have built up public radio’s largest story marketplace at, helped develop new programs like The Moth Radio Hour, cast a wide net for new voices with the Public Radio Talent Quest, and introduced new distribution models like our podcast network Radiotopia.

We are grateful for the trust This American Life has in PRX, and blushing a bit from Ira’s generous quote in the press release (but not too much to repost it here):

“We’re excited and proud to be partners now with PRX,” said Glass. “They’ve been a huge innovative force in public radio, inventing technologies and projects to get people on the air who’d have a much harder time without them. They’re mission-driven, they’re super-capable and apparently they’re pretty good with computers.”

The over 500 stations carrying This American Life will get programs delivered weekly via PRX’s SubAuto (subscription automation) service, already in use by dozens of programs for The WFMT Radio Network, The Moth Radio Hour, and many others. PRX will also handle This American Life‘s carriage billing (stations do not need to be PRX members to subscribe to the show, please head to to get FAQ and how-tos, and contact us with any setup questions).

We are thrilled to be joining This American Life on this next leg of their journey. Stay tuned with us on Twitter for more updates.

Official press release is below.


This American Life Moves to Self-Distribute Program
Partners with PRX to Deliver Episodes to Public Radio Stations

May 28, 2014 – Chicago.

Starting July 1, 2014, Chicago Public Media and Ira Glass will start independently distributing the public radio show This American Life to over 500 public radio stations. Episodes will be delivered to radio stations by PRX, The Public Radio Exchange. Since 1997, the show has been distributed by Public Radio International.

“We’re excited and proud to be partners now with PRX,” said Glass. “They’ve been a huge innovative force in public radio, inventing technologies and projects to get people on the air who’d have a much harder time without them. They’re mission-driven, they’re super-capable and apparently they’re pretty good with computers.”

“We are huge fans of This American Life and are thrilled to support their move to self- distribution on our platform,” said Jake Shapiro, CEO of PRX. “We’ve had the privilege of working closely with Ira and team to develop This American Life’s successful mobile apps, and are honored to expand our partnership to the flagship broadcast.”

This American Life will take over other operations that were previously handled by PRI, including selling underwriting and marketing the show to stations. The marketing and station relations work will return to Marge Ostroushko, who did the job back before This American Life began distribution with PRI.

This American Life, produced by Chicago Public Media and hosted by Ira Glass, is heard weekly by 2.2 million people over the radio. Most weeks it’s also the number one podcast on iTunes, with over a million downloads per episode. It went on the air in 1995 and has won every major American award for broadcast and journalistic excellence.

PRX, first launched in 2003, is an independent nonprofit public media company, harnessing technology to bring compelling stories to millions of people. operates public radio’s largest content marketplace, offering thousands of audio stories for broadcast and digital use, including The Moth Radio Hour. PRX features the best new stories on a 24/7 channel called PRX Remix, and recently launched the podcast network Radiotopia. PRX also develops apps for public media, including Public Radio Player, Radiolab, This American Life, and KCRW Music Mine. PRX is a recent recipient of both Peabody and Webby Awards, and received the 2008 MacArthur Foundation Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.



Hear From The Producer: Challenges of Hosting A One-Woman Show

Genevieve and I had a blast working with Claire Navarro in Second Ear, our monthly mini-workshop for producers. She hosts a podcast about all the cool research happening at Washington University in St. Louis.

I’ll hand this post over to Claire.


Claire Navarro
Producer and host Claire Navarro

I was totally thrilled when I first heard from Erika that she and the PRX team had selected Hold That Thought to be one of the first Second Ear participants. I’ve been producing and hosting the show weekly since fall 2012, and I knew it would be enlightening to get some outside professional feedback on a typical episode’s content, tone, and format. 

One of the most helpful parts of my conversation with Erika and Genevieve was that instead of commenting just upon the final product, they understood and had thoughtful tips relating to the entire process of making the podcast: preparation, interviewing, scriptwriting, recording, editing. Each episode of Hold That Thought is basically a one-woman production (either taken on by myself or my coworker, Rebecca King, with excellent audio assistance from our third team member, Sean Garcia). Each step requires its own special attention. The Second Ear mini-workshop allowed me to step back and think about those pieces individually, which from week-to-week can sometimes be hard to do.

I have to admit, recording my parts for the revised version of the podcast was a wee bit nerve-wracking. (Since this is actually my job, I decided to not take Erika and Genevieve up on their advice to take a shot first.) In the podcast, I’ve always tried to keep the focus on the professor or the research, rather than myself.  Going off-script – and using the dreaded *I* pronoun – felt like a major departure. But even though it felt strange, I totally get the point and the appeal. In most podcasts I enjoy, the host does have some sort of personal connection with the listener.

The other difficult part of following Erika and Genevieve’s advice was – unsurprisingly – the cutting and slashing. In “The ABC’s of Reading and Writing” I got lucky, in that there were clear sections, and to make the piece shorter I basically just chopped two chapters. But, as the PRXers rightfully guessed, in a typical interview there’s so much interesting content that finding the “story” is a major challenge. Hold That Thought is one of the only outlets we have on campus in which professors can talk about their fascinating work in their own voice, and part of me always wants to get as much into an episode as possible, just so it’s “out there” in some way. But in order to grow our audience and get this work the exposure it deserves, I understand that making a tight, compelling story line should always be the goal.

So overall, thank you so much Erika and Genevieve! If anybody else out there has further thoughts or advice on Hold That Thought, I’m all ears. I still think it’s amazing that Washington University in St. Louis (Arts & Sciences in particular) had the vision to create a project like Hold That Thought, and I’m always looking for ways to improve and spread the word.

How to Edit an Experiment in Heartbreak

Each month, we at Second Ear work with a producer and share her work with the world. Annie McEwen brought us her beautiful piece “Here I Am and Here Be Danger” for our first month.

We asked Annie to share a few thoughts. Here’s what she had to say.


Producer Annie McEwen
Producer Annie McEwen

Should I have taken the whale out? I still wonder. Participating in PRX’s Second Ear made me realize for the zillionth time that I’ll never be completely happy with anything I make. Except maybe cookies.

“Here Be Danger” was an attempt to create something out of the very ordinary human experience of heartbreak. I went about interviewing a whole bunch of people I knew who were, or had been, brokenhearted. I even interviewed my ex-boyfriend about our own breakup. As you can imagine, these interviews were pretty heavy. If I was going to make this thing I knew that I needed someone to pull this heaviness and melancholy up into the land of metaphor—where heartbreak is easier to look at, somehow.

So with all these sad interviews floating around in my head I attended a storytelling circle here in St. John’s where I met an animated older fellow who told his story with great energy and wit. That night, as I sat at my kitchen table listening to the foghorn sounding in the harbor, I thought about all the brokenhearted people in the city and how they all must hear this foghorn from their own kitchen tables. And then I thought, heck, I’m going to call that guy up and see if he has anything interesting to say about foghorns and heartbreak. And lucky for me, he did.

One of the best things I learned while speaking with the wonderful Erika and Genevieve at PRX is to pull the thesis or core of the story to the front. My instinct is always to build up to the heart of something rather than flash it at the beginning. But as I began to edit the piece again, I remembered something Rob Rosenthal had said during a Transom workshop: “the front of your story has to do a whole lot of the heavy lifting.” Telling people what the story is about is not going to make them not want to listen. It’s going to make them wonder how the thing will play out.

Second Ear also taught me to say no. I took notes during our talk about the piece—I thought about all their advice and suggestions. Sometimes the two of them would disagree and suggest opposite things (whale in, whale out), and at first I thought, oh geez this is impossible. But this pushed me to move forward with what I thought worked. I’ll never be totally satisfied, but it did feel good to follow my gut on a few things.

The whale. I’m still not sure whether or not I should have kept it in. The story I was making didn’t have an ending—a lot of real-life, ordinary stuff doesn’t really end. (In my experience, heartbreak just sort of peters out after awhile—not a very satisfying conclusion.) I felt I needed something tangible to hold on to, some symbol of hope, of vibrancy and change and surprise being there even if you can’t see it through this liminal fog that is your life. The whale became that symbol. I tried to make it feel like the listener was drifting through the piece, encountering little islands of heartbreak along the way, but I still sort of think the whale comes up out of nowhere. But maybe hope can come from nowhere too…



Behind the Scenes: PRX’s Tech Director Talks SubAuto and the Future of Radio Distribution

I hope you heard our big news that PRX will be distributing all of WFMT‘s programs through our SubAuto system. The WFMT Radio Network produces daily and weekly shows for 300 stations and 15-18 million weekly listeners.

That’s a lot of audio going to a lot of stations via SubAuto. How exactly does it work, and what does it mean for the future of radio distribution? Here’s Andrew, PRX’s technical director, to talk through that story. Take a listen.

Happy To Be Here

Hi! I’m Kathleen, the newest PRX’er! I’m joining the team in the new role of Station Relations Director. I’m excited to be coming aboard at such an amazing time in PRX’s history.

PRX was one of my clients when I worked as Marketing and Advertising Director at Current. I remember meeting John Barth at PRPD back in the fall of 2010. He was marketing a new program called The Moth Radio Hour. I later spent some time giving myself a crash course on The Moth so I could try and impress my new client. I recall listening to the podcast of Molly Ringwald’s story “Mothering in Captivity” on one of my many flights to and from DC. I was going through something very similar with my daughter at that time and I can’t believe how I felt that show was tailor-made for me. Another favorite that producer Jay Allison turned me on to aired on the Moth Radio Hour in early 2013. This hour is truly an emotional roller-coaster. The clown with a broken heart will move you to tears. The fine folks at the Moth have an uncanny ability to connect with us in the most human of ways. I can’t believe I am lucky enough to get to help market the show to make sure the stories of the nation are heard in first person.

Speaking of mothering, I’m blessed to be the mom of two kids, Maren and James who manage to keep me feeling young and old at the same time. My husband Don and I live in Webster Groves, MO just outside of St. Louis. I home office here with my two office mates, a black dog named Raven and a gray tabby cat named Phoebe. They have the funniest dog/cat relationship I have ever seen. (See the pics below.) When I’m not working, I love to read and garden–advice on both fronts is always welcome.

Raven    Raven and PhoebePhoebe

I’ve long admired how the team at PRX always seems have their hands in the most interesting work and projects in pub media. They always seem to be solving problems–whether discovering new voices and talent or implementing great new technology. PRX has accomplished much in the past ten years and I look forward to being a part of what’s next.

It turns out that I get to continue working with many of you that I already know–just in a new role! I’m excited to get to make some new pub media friends as well. Please reach out any time.


Kathleen Unwin
Station Relations Director
kathleen [at] prx [dot] org
twitter: @KathleenUnwin

Matter announces new class of startups


Hello from sunny San Francisco! Today is the big day when we announce the new class of media startups joining Matter – the mission-driven accelerator that PRX helped found in partnership with Knight Foundation and KQED.

This is a great group of entrepreneurs and it will be exciting to see how they develop their ventures over the next 5 months of the accelerator program.

Here below is the official press release, and you can find out more at



Matter Announces Third Class of Startups

San Francisco, Calif., May 15, 2014 —  Matter, the independent start-up accelerator focused on media, has announced the six startups selected to participate in its third class. Launched last year with foundational partners KQED, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and PRX, Matter provides intensive support to early stage media entrepreneurs through a 5-month program in San Francisco grounded in human-centered, prototype-driven design process.

Matter invests seed capital in ventures that have the potential to become meaningful media institutions of the future — creating a more informed, connected and empowered society.

The six startups selected for Matter Three are:

  • CratePlayer is a media curation platform for collecting and organizing audio and video content from multiple sources into simple, shareable, playable collections.
  • Known is an open publishing and collaboration platform that allows anyone to share their stories using many types of media.
  • LocalData is a cloud-based mapping platform that helps cities and communities make data-driven decisions by capturing and visualizing street-level information in real time.
  • Louder is a crowdfunded advertising platform that allows users to donate small amounts to amplify news and information that is important to them.
  • Musey connects fans with the online and offline spaces of artists and makers via mobile.
  • Stringr is a platform that helps media organizations request, find, license, and acquire multimedia content from freelancers and the crowd.

Each Matter Three team will receive a $50,000 investment and will work side-by-side in the Matter co-working space in San Francisco’s SoMa district. The ventures are diverse, but they all share Matter’s mission to “change media for good.”

“Matter is proving that there is a market for socially-driven startups and that technology can address and solve social issues,” said Alicia Rouault, founder and CEO of LocalData, which started in 2012 as a Code for America project with the city of Detroit.

Founder and CEO of Louder Colin Mutcher added: “The community and the spirit of Matter and that a public media institution like KQED is investing in it proves that there is strong alignment with our values as a company. Matter is the only accelerator that made sense for us.”

The five-month program will kick off on May 20 with an intensive boot camp, followed by a regular series of design reviews, mentoring sessions, and educational workshops. Mentors, speakers and participants in the process include some of the most influential minds working in technology and media today. The process will culminate in Demo Days in San Francisco and New York City for a select group of investors, media executives, mentors, and members of the Matter community.

“It’s amazing how many talented, scrappy, driven entrepreneurs are building ventures that have the potential to define the future landscape of media that matters,” said Corey Ford, managing partner of Matter. “These six teams inspire us and we are excited to invite them into our growing community.”

“Matter fuses public media values with the methods and mindsets of Silicon Valley,” said KQED President John Boland. “The KQED teams gain so much from interacting with each Matter class and we are thrilled to be a part of this process that seeks to create ventures that have a meaningful and positive impact on the media landscape.”

“Matter’s focus on driving media innovation by supporting stand-out startups and connecting them with the open market continues to gain momentum,” said Michael Maness, Knight Foundation vice president for journalism and media innovation. “We look forward to seeing what the new class brings and gaining insights into fresh technology and business models in media.”

Matter co-founder and CEO of PRX Jake Shapiro added, “We are seeing a surge of both startup and investor interest in media, and Matter is the place where it all comes together, driven by a shared mission to change media for good.”

For more information, photos and past coverage of Matter startups from the first two classes, please visit the Matter media center at


About Matter
Fusing public media values with Silicon Valley entrepreneurship, Matter is a start-up accelerator supporting media entrepreneurs building a more informed, connected, and empowered society. Backed by KQED, The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and PRX, Matter invest in entrepreneurs who show high potential to create media ventures that make a meaningful, positive impact on society while pursuing a sustainable, scalable, profitable business model. For more information visit

About PRX
PRX is an award-winning nonprofit public media company, harnessing innovative technology to bring significant stories to millions of people. operates public radio’s largest distribution marketplace, offering thousands of audio stories for broadcast and digital use, including The Moth Radio Hour, Snap Judgment (with NPR), and 99% Invisible. PRX Remix is PRX’s 24/7 channel featuring the best independent radio stories and new voices. PRX is also the leading mobile app developer for public media, with apps such as the Public Radio Player, Radiolab, This American Life, KCRW Music Mine, and more.

PRX was created through a collaboration of the Station Resource Group and Atlantic Public Media, and receives support from public radio stations and producers, The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Wyncote Foundation, and the Knight Foundation.

About KQED
KQED serves the people of Northern California with a public-supported alternative to commercial media. Home to the most listened-to public radio station in the nation, one of the highest rated public television services, and a leader in interactive technology, KQED takes people of all ages on journeys of exploration—exposing them to new people, places and ideas.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more information, please visit

Here Be Danger

Photo by Annie McEwen
Photo by Annie McEwen

We already loved Annie McEwen’s piece when we sat down with her for a Second Ear edit session. It’s a non-narrated mix of voices, tones and music that she calls an experiment in heartbreak.


At PRX Remix, I live ever in the shadow of the skip button. For those of you who don’t know (and you should—go listen!), Remix lets listeners click ahead when they’re not into a story. It means stories have to be that much better. Grab ‘em in the first few seconds, or you lose ‘em for good.

With stories like Annie’s, I want listeners to decide to stay. To close their eyes and drift with her into a watery inner world.

So that was my first goal: make the top so enticing you can’t help but slow down and sink into its rhythm. In my mind, the story needed a hook a bit sooner, something for the listener to grab onto. We suggested using a different opening line, and then streamlining some tape near the top to get to the main story faster. We also took issue with the repeated clip that starts “There once was a young girl…” If that was going to stay, it needed to be cut down near the top—when the listener is still figuring things out—and brought back later. And I wanted just a few more specifics that helped the listener visualize what they were hearing and then feel the loss all the more sharply.

Annie got great tape: beautiful lines developing the foghorn metaphor. She had so many of them that she had a lot of options for closers. In fact, during my first listen, I thought I’d reached the end only to be startled to learn I was barely halfway through. That kept happening.

I felt the piece ought to carry me seamlessly, so that the whole thing grew in one long musical phrase. Of course there would be swells and pauses and plateaus, but the larger arc had to be there.

A lot of our notes were micro-edits. We thought she could make it shorter by tightening clips and cutting repetitive lines. We tried to refine the structure by trimming and reorganizing sections. But we told her what we tell all Second Ear producers: revise how you see fit. Use our suggestions, throw them out, rework them as your own.

Here’s what Annie came up with.