PRX Remix August Picks: Magic skates, a boy genius, and a roundabout

Welcome to the second edition of our PRX Remix picks. This month, I’ve got three totally unique stories for you this month. They’ll take you from a roller rink in Wisconsin, to an improv comedy troupe in Tennessee, to a dangerous intersection in Massachusetts where a controversial road proposal pits local government against townsfolk.

“The Magic Skates” from Where@bouts

This might be the first-ever podcast episode hosted by someone wearing roller skates. Yes, you read that right. The episode begins with the host, so-called “Mad Genius”, roller skating around a rink. From the sound of it, he’s only learning. It’s a fitting way to open a story about the sounds of a roller rink, guided by roller derby star Jeanne Du Snark, a blocker for the Vaudeville Vixens in Madison, Wisconsin.

The story comes into its own when Mad Genius remixes the sounds of the roller rink into a song reflecting Du Snark’s experience. This is the calling card of Where@bouts—exploring a sense of place through found sounds, then remixing those sounds into a song. Mad Genius describes the show as an “art popcast,” but whatever you call it, it’s incredibly unique and well-produced.

PRX Remix pick #1
Roller derby is not for the faint of heart

Through song, we learn about how the roller derby offered Du Snark a new kind of challenge and thrill after finishing her Division I soccer career, not to mention a louder, more devoted fanbase. We hear about her intense tryout process just to make the team, and about how she has narcolepsy and feels more awake, literally, while skating than doing anything else. All this is set to an incredibly catchy rhythm, anchored by the sounds of fans chanting and skates scraping the rink. Even Du Snark’s voice somehow feels melodic in the hands of Mad Genius. The remixed composition actually adds to the story. I’m curious to hear more from Mad Genius and Where@bouts in the future.

“The Genius Improviser” from Neighbors

PRX Remix pick #2
This dog is a genius

“Genius” is a term thrown around lightly whenever someone does anything intellectually impressive. Michael Kearney, however, is one of the few who actually fits the definition. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Kearney is the youngest person ever to graduate college, at just 10 years old. But neither Kearney’s genius nor his fame are the crux of this story. No, this is an entertaining and thoughtfully told account of an extraordinary person on a familiar journey—a journey to find community, to feel a sense of belonging, and to figure out what it means to be successful. Kearney isn’t an obvious fit to run his local improv comedy outfit. But it becomes clear as the story progresses, both Kearney and his fellow improvisers are better off because of it.

This episode comes from Nashville Public Radio’s Neighbors podcast, which started out as an independent show from producer Jakob Lewis. Lewis is also the creator of The Heard audio collective. Neighbors was recognized with an award for this episode from the Academy of Podcasters at this year’s Podcast Movement conference in Chicago.

“Driving In Circles” from Martine Powers

Traffic engineering is not typically a topic that inspires much excitement. A proposal to replace a traditional intersection with a roundabout is not an  obviously interesting story. Somehow,  producer Martine Powers has defied all odds and turned a story about traffic engineering into this piece that takes a fascinating look at human psychology. She made a controversy about road design in a small town feel as high-stakes as a Jason Bourne chase scene—more high-stakes, actually, if you consider how terrible the new Jason Bourne movie is.

PRX Remix pick #2
Roundabout mock-up

Roundabouts are in vogue these days with local governments and public works departments. There’s data showing they decrease crashes and crash severity,  and they’re cheaper to maintain than traditional intersections. But townsfolk, like the ones at the center of this story, can be reticent to change a system that mostly works fine. The roundabout seems like total chaos, with no signs indicating when to stop and go.

Formerly of The Boston Globe, Martine Powers is now a metro reporter for The Washington Post. According to her bio, she has a self-described knack for “making boring stuff interesting.” I can’t help but agree.

How To Listen to PRX Remix:

Download the PRX Remix app or go to prx.mx and press ‘play’. If you’re a satellite radio listener, check out channel 123 on Sirius XM or XM radio. If you’re a traditionalist and stick to the radio dial, check these listings to find PRX Remix on a station near you.

Josh Swartz is the curator of PRX Remix. Email him at remix@prx.org with questions and suggestions.

The PRX Podcast Garage Grand Opening

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The Podcast Garage!

We are so excited to announce the opening of our Podcast Garage, the first community audio and media arts training facility in Boston. The space will provide low-cost recording studios, free co-working space and educational, listening and networking events. The educational tracks will include media arts training, networking, and community storytelling. The space is meant to foster knowledge sharing and community connectivity, plus develop partnerships with the Allston-Brighton neighborhood. We can’t wait to connect more closely with local audiomakers, both amateurs and veterans alike.

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Local to Boston? Come celebrate with us tonight! We are throwing an opening party at 5:30 pm at the Garage home, 267 Western Ave in Allston, MA. Come mix and mingle with PRX, the City of Boston and local podcast personalities including Megan Tan from Radiotopia’s Millennial. We’ll also have a guest appearance from Joe Richman of Radio Diaries. You can tour and demo our podcast studios, plus taste Aeronaut beer and local food truck snacks. Visit podcastgarage.org for a calendar of events, pricing information and more. Check out pictures of our space on Instagram @PRXOfficial and under the hashtag #PRXPodcastGarage.

Get all the details below in our press release:

PRX Opens the ‘Podcast Garage’, Boston’s First Podcast Studio

With low-cost recording studios, free co-working space, and educational and networking events, the PRX ‘Podcast Garage’ provides an affordable resource and community hub for local audio storytellers

Cambridge, MA (August 3, 2016) PRX, the award-winning public media company, announced today the grand opening of the Podcast Garage, the first community audio and media arts training facility in Boston. The PRX Podcast Garage will serve as a recording space and educational center, dedicated to the craft of audio storytelling.

At the Garage, emerging and experienced podcasters will have access to low-cost recording studios, free co-working space and educational and networking events. The sound-isolated studios include high-end recording and sound equipment from companies like Shure, Sonos and Sennheiser, plus hardware to record phone interviews. Audio editing tools like Hindenburg and Pro Tools will also be provided. The space includes a larger studio that can record up to four people, plus a smaller sound booth for vocal tracking. Producers are welcome to bring an engineer or self-operate the control room.

“As a global leader committed to growing audio content, talent and technology, we’re thrilled to bring our mission to life in a physical studio that serves our very own community,” said Kerri Hoffman, CEO of PRX. “The Podcast Garage will be our skunkworks—a laboratory where diverse voices can hone their stories and talent.”

In the community space of the Garage, PRX will program events within three main tracks: media arts training, networking, and community storytelling. It will offer a calendar of diverse events including:

  • Audio production and narrative skill-building workshops
  • Podcast training sessions and mentoring opportunities led by veteran radio producers
  • Free networking events focused on technology, distribution, and marketing lead by industry thought-leaders
  • Listening events

The Podcast Garage will also work to develop partnerships with the Allston-Brighton neighborhood to collaborate on community-focused storytelling projects and workshops. Located at 267 Western Ave in Allston, the PRX Podcast Garage  is an exciting addition to Zone 3, a Harvard-sparked initiative to explore experimental programs, events, and retail along Western Ave. In crossing the Charles River to set up a home in Allston Brighton, PRX is putting down roots in one of Boston’s most dynamic and diverse neighborhoodsone that is brimming with energy and becoming a go-to creative destination for experimental art and retail.

By tapping into expertise from PRX’s partners like Transom, Center for Documentary Studies, Center for Investigative Reporting, Radiotopia, AIR, Women Audio Makers, WBUR, WGBH, and the Harvard community, Boston’s independent podcaster community can learn new skills, get feedback on their work in a safe space, and use professional-quality technology to create their own audio content.
“As an independent producer, I know you can’t make great work by yourself,” said Megan Tan, host of Radiotopia’s Millennial podcast. “You need a village. You need honest feedback and people who will guide you as you stumble through the creative process. I’ve collaborated with people remotely, but the dream is always to be together in one place, so you’re not alone during the frustrating moments or the victory dances. The Podcast Garage is going to be that place. I’ll definitely be making use of the space.”
The Podcast Garage is now open for public use, Monday-Thursday from 12-8 pm, and Friday from 12-5 pm. PRX is also accepting reservations for studio time and ideas for public programming. Visit podcastgarage.org for a calendar of events, pricing information and more. Check out pictures of our space on Instagram @PRXOfficial and under the hashtag #PRXPodcastGarage.

Inside the Podcast Studio: the Outside Podcast

This month on Inside the Podcast Studio, we go behind the scenes of the Outside Podcast from Outside magazine. Learn more about how the show came to be, and about it’s funny, charismatic hosts Peter Frick-Wright and Robbie Carver (with cameos from Mike Roberts, Outside magazine’s executive editor).

On the Podcast

PRX: Tell us about how the podcast came to be

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Pete: Basically we got super lucky. Robbie and I had been doing a very infrequent, outdoors-focused podcast, 30 Minutes West, for a couple of years. PRX approached me to do science work with funds provided by the Sloan Foundation. Right around that time I started doing print work for Outside and really liked working with those folks. I had coffee with our editor, Michael Roberts, and pitched him the idea of Outside launching a podcast. He said that they already had some podcast stuff in the works, but the ideas he outlined didn’t draw on Outside’s reputation for longform storytelling. I played him a couple of episodes from 30 Minutes West to show what I had in mind, and I think that worked. Meanwhile, we’d kept in touch with PRX and knew that they had funding for science stories, so it made sense to pitch both entities on one project.

PRX: Tell us about the team behind the show
Pete is a freelance writer who went to SALT a couple of years ago, just trying to add more tools to his storytelling toolbox. Robbie went to grad school for nonfiction writing and we met at a John Jeremiah Sullivan reading. It’s nice to share many of same favorite authors, it gives us a common vocabulary for talking about things we’re trying to do on the podcast.

PRX: Where do you find story ideas for the show?
Robbie: The first two episodes of the Science of Survival series came from stories in Outside’s archives. We really wanted to begin with a close connection to the magazine. So we sat down with a bunch of back issues, and just started reading. Mike sent us stories as well, and a few pieces seemed like they would benefit from an audio treatment, so we jumped on those. We worked with the original authors, but also tried to make it our own.

Pete: The rest of our stories just sort of fall from the sky. We don’t go looking for them, we just recognize stuff that’s surprising and interesting and seems like it might have a built-in narrative arc. Sometimes it’s an article I’m reading, sometimes it’s a matter of realizing that a subject is way more interesting than I thought, or sometimes I hear a story at a party and laugh along with everyone, then later corral the storyteller for more details. Makes you really popular.

PRX: We love the theme music on the show, how was that created?
We’d seen a short outdoors video that was focused purely on the sounds of outdoor adventure, and really liked it. That served as the general inspiration, and from there we began sketching out a small scene that would capture both the feeling of outdoors and survival. We set up a tent in Robbie’s basement to get a good zipper sound, and then started pulling it together with music Robbie created. The most entertaining conversation centered around how much of this one wolf sound to put in. It went like this:

Robbie: We need more wolf.
Pete: I don’t know, it seems like there’s too much wolf.
Robbie: I added an extra wolf, what do you think?
Pete: I took out the first wolf but you can keep the second wolf.
Robbie: Fine, but we’re keeping the drums.
Pete: Deal. By the way I made the wolf quieter.

PRX: How do you think the podcast can complement your magazine articles?
Mike: First off, let me be clear: we developed this podcast to be a standalone storytelling platform. If and when it can complement a piece in the print magazine or on outsideonline.com, great. But that’s not the goal. That said, there are opportunities to use the podcast to mine elements of stories that work better in audio format. A great example is the second episode in the Science of Survival series, which told the remarkable tale of Phil Broscovak, a man who seemed to be chased by lightening wherever he went. Broscovak was a central character in a 2014 Outside print feature about lightning strikes, and we included a short video interview with him in the online version of the story. But when Peter and Robbie reached out to him, they uncovered a remarkably powerful emotional element that was best conveyed through Broscovak’s voice, the voices of his family members, and the terrifying sound of approaching storms.

PRX: What makes your show ideal for the podcast format?
Pete: For starters, a lot of our pieces run 30-45 minutes and it’s hard to get those on traditional radio. But more than that, Robbie and I are both hardcore literature nerds, and we approach the different elements of sound as tools for storytelling. If you’ve ever taken a literature criticism class you’ve probably heard a lot of conversation about high-minded rhetorical devices like allusions, metaphors, tropes, and the like. Audio has all those things, plus music and sound effects and thousands of little microemotions communicated through the voice. So we do our best to harness all those things and get them working together. Some days we’re better at it than others.

Outside Podcast
Robbie in the snow for episode #1

PRX: Your show is so sound rich. Can you describe the most interesting scenario you’ve yourselves in to get authentic sound?
Pete: The craziest scenario was definitely the time we drove to Mount Hood, skied into the woods, stripped Robbie down to just rain pants and buried him in snow. Since our piece was on hypothermia, we wanted truly authentic freezing sounds, and we got them. (Listen to the episode here)

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Peter in the hot tub

Robbie: I got my revenge a few months later when we did something similar to Pete, sitting him in a 67 degree hot tub, with a wetsuit on, for two hours to see how quickly his core temperature dropped. His mom got so nervous she intervened. (Listen to the episode here)

 

 

On the Space

PRX: Where do you literally do your work? Can you walk us through that space?
Pete: I rent the top floor of a big house in Portland, and there’s an extra bedroom up there that I turned into an office. I migrate between a sitting desk, a standing desk, and a hammock that I bolted into the wall. Sometimes in the summer I take the hammock to the park and work there.

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Robbie: I used to have an office but now I have a kid, so I’ve staked out a corner of the basement and filled it with audio gear and “music composition for dummies” manuals. Keyboards and guitars sit on top of a futon that Pete let me borrow but now won’t take back. Since the basement is underground, the acoustics are fantastic, so I’ll probably stay there.

PRX: Do you have a thinking or reflection space– somewhere you go to gather creative inspiration?
Pete: I go on runs, and will sometimes just sort of pace around the house muttering things, but I travel so much that I’ve really tried to untether myself from feeling like I need to work or think in a specific physical location. Otherwise I’d always have that excuse and wouldn’t get anything done.

Robbie: I go on long bike rides. That’s definitely where I do my best thinking.

PRX: How do you record your show? What type of equipment does your team use for at home recording vs. in the field? 
Pete: Pretty much everything goes into a Marantz PMD 661. I like it because it’s really easy to use in the field and there’s only a few buttons to press. I can hand it to someone and teach them how to record in just a few minutes. In the field we use a Audio Technica 897 shotgun microphone for almost everything. At home I narrate into a Audio Technica 4040 mic. We edit most of our stories in Hindenburg, but for really complicated sound design we’ll use Reaper since the sound effects are a lot more nimble and precise. Robbie makes music in Logic and uses an electric guitar—our secret weapon—to get sounds that he couldn’t get out of a keyboard.

My desk is a mix of ponderosa pine and some sort of ceramic composite. My chair is also pine.

PRX: What soundproofing techniques do you use for narration?
Pete: I would have answered this question very differently a few months ago. I used to duck into closets and throw blankets over everything trying to get better sound. But over the last few months of recording narration I’ve found that as long as it’s quiet and the mic is very, very close to my mouth, people can’t really hear the difference between being at my desk and being in a room with foam on the walls. That’s one advantage of intense clutter. It deadens the sound. Seriously.

On Podcasting

PRX: What do you think makes a great podcast host? Tell us more about Pete and what makes him unique? 
Mike: All the best hosts share one ability: they hold your attention and artfully guide you through a listening experience. Peter does this with an incredible combination of talents. He’s a dyed in the wool investigative journalist. He knows how to structure a story. He’s damn good audio engineer. He has a fantastic voice for audio. And—this is key—he clearly has fun doing the work. That comes through in every episode. Oh, and he lets his mom call the shots when it comes to safety.

PRX: How do you envision the future of the podcasting landscape?
Mike: I think we’re just about at the peak of the podcasting bubble right now. There are so many projects and experiments coming together at the moment that I think we’re going to have a couple of years of a really crowded audio space, and then some of them are going to start dying off and going away. The trick will be to figure out a way to stand out among an increasingly large crowd of talented audio producers.

Check out the Outside podcast in iTunes.

What’s in My Buds? With David Brancaccio

On the lastest edition of What’s in My Buds? we chat with David Brancaccio. David Brancaccio is a master of the industry: he is the former host of NOW on PBS, and current host and senior editor of American Public Media’s Marketplace Morning Report, where he runs two related podcasts per morning.  He also hosts the Esquire Classic podcast from Esquire Magazine and PRX (check it out if you haven’t listened yet!). Find out what David is listening to now:

David Brancaccio in studio
David Brancaccio in studio

What show do you wake up or fall asleep to?
You want to hear my guilty pleasure?  I mean, besides those sleep podcasts that bore you into unconsciousness (not by accident; the ones specifically designed to bore you to sleep). For something energizing, riveting and informative, often charmingly so, I listen to a podcast from the BBC’s domestic service, Radio Four. It is a great podcast that does obituaries, mostly British obituaries. Last Word is a series of profiles of fascinating people whom we lost over the previous week. These are people who had fascinating lives, often previously unknown to me. A punk poet; A Taliban leader; a British physicist who was expert on the electromagnetic properties of nuclear isotopes.  Plus the podcast has a great title: “Last Word“.

What show do you rave to your friends about?
Besides my Esquire Classic podcast—which I ceremoniously stream into a big Bluetooth speaker in the kitchen while we are cooking, so there is no escape—my favorite podcasts are those produced by my buddies. They include Brendan and Rico on Dinner Party DownloadActuality with Marketplace’s Sabri Ben-Achour, and Codebreaker with Marketplace’s Ben Johnson.

David Brancaccio
David Brancaccio

If you were to start your own podcast, what would the subject be?
Last Word inspires a podcast I would like to host someday:  How about an obituary show about people who are just fine and very much alive?  We could could borrow from Monty Python and call my podcast “I’m not Dead!”. Readers of this blog are welcome to suggest a more respectful title.

How do you envision the future of the podcasting landscape?
I must tell you the word “podcasting” will go away. Subscribing to a series of podcasts, in the way one subscribes to a magazine, will go away. But on-demand audio will not go away. Audio storytelling, both factual and fictional, is woven into our DNA. We’ve been doing it since we lived in caves. The future version of “podcasts” will all be available at the flick of a finger or an iris-scanned flick of the eye. Audio had a great advantage: it can be absorbed as we do something else, cooking dinner, driving our not-quite-autonomous vehicles. For both audio creators and listeners, I believe, it will be a lush future.

 

PRX Remix: Audio Discovery Made Simple

The Problem

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The moment you realize you have 100,000+ podcasts from which to choose

The audio storytelling landscape is a vast, potentially daunting place for amateurs and radio veterans alike. Questions frequently arise like: How do you find your new favorite show? How do you listen to great pieces that aren’t part of an ongoing series? How do you fill your day with high-quality content with which you aren’t already familiar? How do you cut down on time spent browsing and get to listening faster? Cue PRX Remix.

The Solution: PRX Remix

When you discover PRX Remix and realize how easy it is to hear incredible stories
When you discover PRX Remix and realize how easy it is to hear incredible stories

Remix is a never-ending, highly curated storytelling channel from PRX.

We believe people fall in love with shows by listening to, not reading about, them. With Remix, all you need to do is hit ‘play’ and we do the rest.

 

What you will hear on this “never-ending storytelling channel”

At any moment you can tap into a curated bounty of fantastic stories via Remix. You’ll hear from popular podcasts like Gravy, Criminal, and The Longest Shortest Time as well as more under-the-radar pods like Scene On Radio, Rumble Strip Vermont, and Sift. Remix also houses the most creative broadcast pieces from stations like KALW, KFAI and WBEZ and fresh station-based series like Out Of The Blocks from WYPR, Kind World from WBUR and Radio Rookies from WNYC. Hear live storytelling from The Moth, Mortified, TEDTalks, and Live Law and archival interviews from Blank on Blank. We also include audio storytelling orgs like Long Haul Productions, Now Here This, This Land Press, and Third Coast. You’ll even hear scored voicemails from One Hello World, 8-year old hosts from Third Grade Audio, and random tape from Random Tape. That’s only a tiny fraction of what’s on there!

Because of the huge amount content on Remix, each month I’m featuring three of my favorite new pieces on our blog to whet your appetite. Without further ado…

“Ode to Coffee” by Urayoan Noel

This piece comes from PoetryNow, a series from The WFMT Radio Network and the Poetry Foundation. The show is an audio immersion into the concept behind a single poem. You’ll hear the poet read his or her poem and then discuss the (often surprising) motivations for writing it. It’s a simple, short (four minutes), and effective format that delivers poetry to listeners in a way that feels both relatable and compelling.

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Coffee habits differ between cultures

“Ode to Coffee” is a wonderful installment in the series. It focuses on a rhythmic poem about the pleasures of coffee, how different cultures affect that pleasure, and what coffee means to poet Urayoan Noel. It’s charming, and gets at the deeper tensions that arise from identifying with multiple cultures and speaking different languages. It made me crave a steaming cup of joe, even though I’m not a coffee drinker.

“Losing Yourself” from Ibby Caputo

This piece is a documentary about a reporter’s experience dealing with cancer at a young age. She features powerful tape captured in the hospital when she first became sick, mixed with her reflections 10 years later. Moments when Ibby shares her diagnosis with her dad or describes the “chemo tree” next to her bed give listeners raw, heartbreaking and wonderfully specific insights into an unexpected struggle. Even seemingly mundane actions, like ordering room service, feel profound under the circumstances.

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Journalist Ibby Caputo receiving chemo in 2007

We should all be thanking Ibby for sticking with this piece and giving listeners access to such a personal part of her life–the result is quite beautiful. Ibby is a Boston-based journalist whose work has aired on a huge variety of programs, from WGBH’s The World to Australia’s Radiotonic.

Alec Baldwin – Reported Side Effects of Ambien

Yes, this piece is exactly what it sounds like: famous actor Alec Baldwin does a dramatic reading of the side effects of the sedative Ambien. It’s pretty amazing, especially considering Ambien is a slightly terrifying drug that can cause side effects like giant hives, sleep cooking, and even a loss of one’s own sense of reality. It’s a silly, surprising, thoroughly entertaining diversion that made me literally laugh out loud in the middle of the PRX office.

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What Alec Baldwin might look like after taking Ambien

This is just one of many installments from a series called The Phone Book, featuring other well-known people doing dramatic readings of mundane things, like Dick Cavett reading newspaper corrections, Barbara Rosenblat reading a list of Roman Catholic patron saints and Garrison Keillor reading reasons for admission to a 19th-century insane asylum.

As Remix curator, I’ll be back next month with more features. For suggestions, or to have your work featured, you can reach me via email at josh.swartz@prx.org or on Twitter @joshbswartz.

 

How To Listen to PRX Remix:
Download the PRX Remix app or go to prx.mx and press ‘play’. If you’re a satellite radio kind of person, check out channel 123 on Sirius XM or XM radio. If you’re a traditionalist and stick to the radio dial, check these listings to find Remix on a station near you.

New MP2 Encoders Available From PRX and Hindenburg

I’m pleased to announce that Hindenburg Systems has created the next generation of PRX MP2 audio encoding software, for immediate download and use, for free, by all broadcast radio producers.

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“Supporting great audio storytellers is our biggest passion. When we met PRX, we knew we had found a kindred spirit. Since then we have worked hand-in-hand to create solutions that make the technical side of storytelling via PRX as easy as possible. This free MP2 encoder is one example, and there are loads more in our apps on our website”, said Chris Mottes, CEO of Hindenburg Systems.

Like Hindenburg, our goal at PRX has always been to help producers connect with their best audience. When we first started, we faced challenges that have largely disappeared, like will a producer have enough bandwidth to upload their audio files, or even be able to play an mp3 on our site? Other challenges have persisted, like correctly encoding audio to public radio’s broadcast standard: the beautiful, exotic, but esoteric MP2.

While widely used in broadcast for its balance of brevity and accuracy, the MP2 format is not otherwise well known. When PRX launched in 2002, the public radio system lacked an affordable solution to encode MP2s. To clear this roadblock preventing producers from uploading to PRX, we built and gave away MP2 encoders for Mac and PC.

Fast forward a bit, we are now lucky to have Hindenburg as a partner. Hindenburg is focused not just on music or audio editing in general, but on radio production, and specifically on journalists, storytellers, and podcasters. This is the same community PRX is dedicated to serving. It makes perfect sense for these masters of production software to create the successors to the PRX encoders, and it’s consistent with their ongoing commitment and generosity to public radio to offer them up for free.

When I first met Chris, Preben and Nick (I think at a Third Coast years ago), I could tell we’d get along. Their small but focused team was working to take the pain out of audio production, just as ours was working on removing the pain of distribution. The Hindenburg team boasts some of the most forward-thinking and creative technologists I’ve worked with. They are good partners who have supported a multitude of projects like Radiotopia’s Podquest, not to mention excellent company and storytellers in their own right.

With their successful track record of creating audio tools, and making complex editing simple, I trust them to make software that transforms every audio file in public radio.

I look forward to PRX working on more projects with Hindenburg, but in the meantime, get ’em while they’re hot! Head over and download the new MP2 encoders now.

Introducing: the Radiotopia Podquest finalists!

Earlier this year Radiotopia launched Podquest, an open call for new podcast ideas. 1,537 people from 53 countries submitted ideas about every topic under the sun. Check out a portion of those topics here

Radiotopia Executive Producer Julie Shapiro led a committee of 11 PRX staff and Radiotopia producers in reviewing the entries, ultimately narrowing the field to 10 impressive semifinalists. 99 Radiotopia donors also reviewed the top 50 entries, weighing in with their top choices for the semifinalists.

In the beginning, we intended to choose three finalists, awarding them each $10,000 and additional editorial and technical support to produce three pilot episodes, and then inviting one show into Radiotopia at the end of the year. But… we couldn’t choose just three (we wanted to choose all 10!). In the end, we settled on four finalists, the PQ4:

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From left to right: Meat, Villian-ish, The Difference Between, Ear Hustle


Ear Hustle brings you the hidden stories of life inside prison, told and produced from the perspective of those who live it. (Nigel Poor, Antwan Williams, Earlonne Woods)

Meat, a podcast from Europe about our bodies and the lives we live because of them (Jonathan Zenti)

The Difference Between dives into the world of “information doppelgängers”—the stuff you always confuse for that other thing—to find out what makes them truly unique. (Jericho Saria and Hadrian Santos)

Villain-ish, a show about gaining new perspectives on dubious figures we’ve been taught to revile, and exploring the hidden details we may have never considered. (Vivian Le)

“The range of ideas and talent represented by the PQ4 kind of blows my mind, and showcases exactly what we were seeking through Podquest—new voices and ideas not yet represented in Radiotopia”, said Julie Shapiro, executive producer of Radiotopia. “I can’t wait to hear how their pilot episodes develop in the next few months.”

The PQ4 will be introduced on stage on July 7th at Podcast Movement in Chicago, and will then spend July through September working on their pilots. We’ll announce our final winner (or winners—we’re committed to inviting at least one finalist into Radiotopia) before the end of the year.

Learn more about the PQ here, and read some thoughts and feedback from our judges below.

On The Difference Between: It’s just so enjoyable to listen to Jericho and Hadrian. They have great on-air chemistry that you don’t hear that often. Add to that their imagination and intelligence, and all together you’ve got a very promising combination.” (Helen Zaltzman, The Allusionist host and Podquest judge)

On Ear Hustle: “Prison fiction has been popular for years, but it’s time to hear real stories, and I expect these to be even more enlightening. One of Podquest’s goals is to give voice to under-represented groups, and Ear Hustle definitely achieves that.” (Bruce Ryan, Radiotopia donor and Podquest reviewer)

On Meat: “This show’s premise is deceptively simple, but Meat is digging into the most vulnerable corners of what it’s like to be a person. It’s a reminder that the world sees us differently than we see ourselves, for better or for worse. Audio is such an intense, perfect medium for stories about how our lives are shaped by our physical bodies, and Jonathan’s super creative use of sound makes this show one-of-a-kind.” (Lauren Spohrer, Criminal producer and Podquest judge)

On Villian-ish: “From the first time I heard Villian-ish pitched, I could imagine the endless stories the program could tell: from nerdy, sociological reportage to sweeping narratives, all about the very essence of conflict and storytelling. And after talking with Vivian, I could tell she had the spark and passion to pull it off. I’m eager to hear what she creates.” (Roman Mars, 99% Invisible, Podquest judge and partner in Radiotopia.)

Podquest is supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation,  Hindenburg Systems, the media talent network AIRmedia.org, and Blue Microphones.

Chasing Hillary Rodham

I’m sort of a geek when it comes to archival audio. The kind of audio that has been locked away just like that scene in Indiana Jones—it’s there somewhere, just waiting to be set free! 

Hillary Rodham ClintonOne piece of audio that’s been on my wish list is from 1969, when a young Hillary Rodham (Clinton) became the first student to deliver a commencement speech at Wellesley College’s graduation ceremony. Like many college students, Hillary Rodham’s experience was transformative. As she wrote in her autobiography, “I arrived at Wellesley carrying my father’s political beliefs and my mother’s dreams, and left with the beginnings of my own.”

On top of that, this was during the tumultuous ’60s—her speech reflected her steps toward adulthood during that disruptive time.

I knew hearing her voice and such a piece of audio history would be amazing, so I kept my eyes open. A few weeks ago, on the eve of the California primary, Wellesley College released excerpts of the speech audio in a produced YouTube video. It only took a few phone calls and an engaging conversation for Wellesley to release the full Hillary audio to PRX, with its ’60s self-actualization language, hints at Earth-shattering change, and a touching poem at the end.

What strikes the listener most is how much Hillary Rodham’s voice has changed…reflecting her own coming-of-age journey. Listen here:

Here is the full transcript: Remarks of Hillary Rodham

I am very glad that Miss Adams made it clear that what I am speaking for today is all of us —the 400 of us—and I find myself in a familiar position, that of reacting, something that our generation has been doing for quite a while now. We’re not in the positions yet of leadership and power, but we do have that indispensable element of criticizing and constructive protest and I find myself reacting just briefly to some of the things that Senator Brooke said. This has to be quick because I do have a little speech to give.

Part of the problem with just empathy with professed goals is that empathy doesn’t do us anything. We’ve had lots of empathy; we’ve had lots of sympathy, but we feel that for too long our leaders have viewed politics as the art of the possible. And the challenge now is to practice politics as the art of making what appears to be impossible possible. What does it mean to hear that 13.3 percent of the people in this country are below the poverty line? That’s a percentage. We’re not interested in social reconstruction; it’s human reconstruction. How can we talk about percentages and trends? The complexities are not lost in our analyses, but perhaps they’re just put into what we consider a more human and eventually a more progressive perspective.

The question about possible and impossible was one that we brought with us to Wellesley four years ago. We arrived not yet knowing what was not possible. Consequently, we expected a lot. Our attitudes are easily understood having grown up, having come to consciousness in the first five years of this decade—years dominated by men with dreams, men in the civil rights movement, the Peace Corps, the space program—so we arrived at Wellesley and we found, as all of us have found, that there was a gap between expectation and realities. But it wasn’t a discouraging gap and it didn’t turn us into cynical, bitter old women at the age of 18. It just inspired us to do something about that gap. What we did is often difficult for some people to understand. They ask us quite often: “Why, if you’re dissatisfied, do you stay in a place?” Well, if you didn’t care a lot about it you wouldn’t stay. It’s almost as though my mother used to say, “You know I’ll always love you but there are times when I certainly won’t like you.” Our love for this place, this particular place, Wellesley College, coupled with our freedom from the burden of an inauthentic reality allowed us to question basic assumptions underlying our education.

Before the days of the media orchestrated demonstrations, we had our own gathering over in Founder’s parking lot. We protested against the rigid academic distribution requirement. We worked for a pass-fail system. We worked for a say in some of the process of academic decision making. And luckily we were at a place where, when we questioned the meaning of a liberal arts education there were people with enough imagination to respond to that questioning. So we have made progress. We have achieved some of the things that we initially saw as lacking in that gap between expectation and reality. Our concerns were not, of course, solely academic as all of us know. We worried about inside Wellesley questions of admissions, the kind of people that were coming to Wellesley, the kind of people that should be coming to Wellesley, the process for getting them here. We questioned about what responsibility we should have both for our lives as individuals and for our lives as members of a collective group.

Coupled with our concerns for the Wellesley inside here in the community were our concerns for what happened beyond Hathaway House. We wanted to know what relationship Wellesley was going to have to the outer world. We were lucky in that Miss Adams, one of the first things she did was set up a cross-registration with MIT because everyone knows that education just can’t have any parochial bounds anymore. One of the other things that we did was the Upward Bound program. There are so many other things that we could talk about; so many attempts to kind of—at least the way we saw it—pull ourselves into the world outside. And I think we’ve succeeded. There will be an Upward Bound program, just for one example, on the campus this summer.

Many of the issues that I’ve mentioned—those of sharing power and responsibility, those of assuming power and responsibility—have been general concerns on campuses throughout the world. But underlying those concerns there is a theme, a theme which is so trite and so old because the words are so familiar. It talks about integrity and trust and respect. Words have a funny way of trapping our minds on the way to our tongues but there are necessary means even in this multimedia age for attempting to come to grasps with some of the inarticulate maybe even inarticulable things that we’re feeling.

We are, all of us, exploring a world that none of us even understands and attempting to create within that uncertainty. But there are some things we feel, feelings that our prevailing, acquisitive, and competitive corporate life, including tragically the universities, is not the way of life for us. We’re searching for more immediate, ecstatic, and penetrating modes of living. And so our questions, our questions about our institutions, about our colleges, about our churches, about our government continue. The questions about those institutions are familiar to all of us. We have seen them heralded across the newspapers. Senator Brooke has suggested some of them this morning. But along with using these words—integrity, trust, and respect—in regard to institutions and leaders, we’re perhaps harshest with them in regard to ourselves.

Every protest, every dissent, whether it’s an individual academic paper or Founder’s parking lot demonstration, is unabashedly an attempt to forge an identity in this particular age. That attempt at forging for many of us over the past four years has meant coming to terms with our humanness. Within the context of a society that we perceive—now we can talk about reality, and I would like to talk about reality sometime, authentic reality, inauthentic reality, and what we have to accept of what we see—but our perception of it is that it hovers often between the possibility of disaster and the potentiality for imaginatively responding to men’s needs. There’s a very strange conservative strain that goes through a lot of New Left, collegiate protests that I find very intriguing because it harkens back to a lot of the old virtues, to the fulfillment of original ideas. And it’s also a very unique American experience. It’s such a great adventure. If the experiment in human living doesn’t work in this country, in this age, it’s not going to work anywhere.

But we also know that to be educated, the goal of it must be human liberation. A liberation enabling each of us to fulfill our capacity so as to be free to create within and around ourselves. To be educated to freedom must be evidenced in action, and here again is where we ask ourselves, as we have asked our parents and our teachers, questions about integrity, trust, and respect. Those three words mean different things to all of us. Some of the things they can mean, for instance: Integrity, the courage to be whole, to try to mold an entire person in this particular context, living in relation to one another in the full poetry of existence. If the only tool we have ultimately to use is our lives, so we use it in the way we can by choosing a way to live that will demonstrate the way we feel and the way we know. Integrity—a man like Paul Santmire. Trust. This is one word that when I asked the class at our rehearsal what it was they wanted me to say for them, everyone came up to me and said “Talk about trust, talk about the lack of trust both for us and the way we feel about others. Talk about the trust bust.” What can you say about it? What can you say about a feeling that permeates a generation and that perhaps is not even understood by those who are distrusted? All we can do is keep trying again and again and again. There’s that wonderful line in “East Coker” by Eliot about there’s only the trying, again and again and again; to win again what we’ve lost before.

And then respect. There’s that mutuality of respect between people where you don’t see people as percentage points. Where you don’t manipulate people. Where you’re not interested in social engineering for people. The struggle for an integrated life existing in an atmosphere of communal trust and respect is one with desperately important political and social consequences. And the word consequences of course catapults us into the future. One of the most tragic things that happened yesterday, a beautiful day, was that I was talking to a woman who said that she wouldn’t want to be me for anything in the world. She wouldn’t want to live today and look ahead to what it is she sees because she’s afraid. Fear is always with us but we just don’t have time for it. Not now.

There are two people that I would like to thank before concluding. That’s Ellie Acheson, who is the spearhead for this, and also Nancy Scheibner who wrote this poem which is the last thing that I would like to read:

My entrance into the world of so-called “social problems”
Must be with quiet laughter, or not at all.
The hollow men of anger and bitterness
The bountiful ladies of righteous degradation
All must be left to a bygone age.
And the purpose of history is to provide a receptacle
For all those myths and oddments
Which oddly we have acquired
And from which we would become unburdened
To create a newer world
To translate the future into the past.
We have no need of false revolutions
In a world where categories tend to tyrannize our minds
And hang our wills up on narrow pegs.
It is well at every given moment to seek the limits in our lives.
And once those limits are understood
To understand that limitations no longer exist.
Earth could be fair. And you and I must be free
Not to save the world in a glorious crusade
Not to kill ourselves with a nameless gnawing pain
But to practice with all the skill of our being
The art of making possible.

Thanks.


Photo credit: Courtesy of Wellesley College Archives/Photo by Stimmell

Inside the Podcast Studio: HerMoney with Jean Chatzky

On this month’s edition of Inside the Podcast Studio, we sit down with Jean Chatzky, financial editor at NBC’s TODAY Show and creator of the HerMoney with Jean Chatzky podcast. Learn more about how Jean got into podcasting, and why her longtime television format has translated so well.

On the Show

Tell us about how the podcast came to be.
It came up in a brainstorming session with some terrific hermoney-3000x3000women I’ve been working with at Fidelity Investments. We were talking about ways to get more women talking about money, not just on special occasions, but on a regular basis. Someone (not me!) said podcast. And off we went.

What is your team like? How do you work together?
My internal team consists of a very small but dedicated and collaborative group of women. We get together to brainstorm show ideas, guests we want to book, topics we need to cover, then divide and conquer to make sure that we cross off every item on our lists.  What I love most about my team is that every person is willing to dive in and do whatever is needed to get the work done!  This is important because the podcast is just one of the things we do together—we produce a monthly in-school magazine called Your $ for two million fourth through sixth graders, research and write segments and stories for TODAY and Forbes.com, and created educational financial content for our corporate partners including Fidelity Investments and Pepsi-Co. On the podcast side, we’re highly supported by (and grateful to) our colleagues at PRX.

Where do you find stories for the show?
Life. Friends. Other media. The Internet. Seriously—I learned a long time ago to always have my ears tuned to that frequency. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been out to dinner with friends telling stories about their older parents, or insurance woes, or college tuition challenges or the fabulous TED Talk they saw, and I think: Story!

Tell us about your show and what makes it unique. Why are you so passionate about your subject matter?
HerMoney with Jean Chatzky is a continuing conversation to learn about money. Asking the questions I had to in-the-know people put me (as a woman) in the driver’s seat of my own financial life. It made me feel more confident, comfortable and in control. I want to help our listeners through the exact IMG_0184same experience. What I’ve also learned is that money is like a thread that winds through pretty much all aspects of life. So we won’t just talk about 12B-1 mutual fund fees and other boring minutia—we talk about relationships, kids, parents, work, life, fun, fear, challenging situations and using money as a tool to get what you want.

We love the fan questions section of the podcast. What questions do you get asked most often? What worries people the most?
I get a lot of common questions. Some of them include:
Do I have enough for retirement, college, emergencies, my first home (fill in the blank(?
Who can I trust to help me? And how can I find that person?
What’s the smart way to repay my student loan, mortgage, credit card bills (again, fill in the blank)?

Women are most worried about running out of money before they run out of time.

Spring Clean Your Finances
Jean on The TODAY Show

How do you think the podcast episodes can complement your presence on the TODAY Show?
I love the fact that I have more time! The wonderful thing about podcasting is that although we try to stick to a clock, we aren’t slaves to it. We can give our interviews time to breathe. In addition to answering the questions, I get to ask them. I’m a very good interviewer (three decades of practice will do that), but you don’t get to see that on TODAY!

Arianna Huffington
Jean with Arianna at HuffPo

What makes your show ideal for the podcast format?
The podcasting format gives us freedom to keep asking questions until we actually get a satisfactory answer—that’s very important in the world of money. Also, we’re featuring fascinating women—Arianna Huffington, Gretchen Rubin, Joanna Coles—we want to hear their stories, and we have plenty of time to do that.

On the Space

Where do you literally do your work? Can you walk us through that space?
I’m laughing because I work wherever I am. My most important tool is my MacBook Air. I bought my first one—when Apple launched it—because it enabled me to replace the six-pound laptop I was never without with a three-pound laptop. It saved my shoulder. I do a lot of different things, but they all involve writing: books, scripts, etc.

Do you have a thinking or reflection space—somewhere you go outside the studio to gather creative inspiration?
I like to tell people I get my best ideas when I’m on a run or in the shower.  Interestingly, I learned from this week’s episode that there’s science behind the fact that people get great ideas in the shower. Linda Kaplan-Thaler and Robin Koval, authors of the new book Grit to Great (and inventors of the “Aflac duck” among other campaigns) explained that when there is hot running water hitting your head, the blood vessels in your brain open up and you get creative.  That was the inspiration behind their commercial for Herbal Essences where the woman stood under the shower saying, “Yes, yes, yes”. (Well, that and other things).

IMG_0199
Charles de Montebello of CDM Sound Studios

How do you record your show? What type of equipment does your team use for in-studio or at home recording vs. in the field? 
We record in CDM Sound Studios in Hell’s Kitchen—unless our guest needs us to come to them. Charles de Montebello of CDM does our editing. We’ve been in the studio at AOL on lower Broadway with Arianna Huffington, a WeWork conference room with a freelance producer to interview Giada DeLaurentiis, and at Milkboy The Studio in Philly with Jennifer Weiner.

On Podcasting

What can the podcast medium achieve that other media forms like broadcasts cannot?
Intimacy. It’s just me and you (and my guest) in your car, or in your ears, while you’re walking the dog (or swimming, or IMG_0178running). That’s very helpful when you’re talking about an intimate subject… and money is nothing if not intimate.

What do you think makes a great podcast host? Tell us more about what makes you unique as a podcast host?
A great podcast host is someone you want to jump out of the headphones and sit down with you for a cup of coffee. I think people see me that way — they feel like they know me from 20 years on TV. This is our opportunity to take our relationship to the next level.

How do you envision the future of podcasting landscape?
I think the future of podcasting is so exciting because it’s one more step in the democratization of content. My father ran network affiliated television stations during my childhood and there was such limited capacity that there were always terrific programs either never making it on the air or being cancelled too quickly.  Today, there are so many more homes for content that good programming has a greater opportunity to make it on the air initially and find its audience.  I am hopeful that we’re headed toward a rise in quality content that is more meaningful to the people who tune in.

Follow Jean Chatzky on Twitter @JeanChatzky. Subscribe to the podcast in iTunes here, and look out for new episodes every Wednesday.

What’s in My Buds? With Catherine from The Moth

This month, we chatted with Catherine Burns, longtime artistic director of The Moth. As one of the lead directors on the Moth’s MainStage for more than a decade, Catherine has helped hundreds of people craft their stories, including a Nobel Laureate, a retired New York City cop, a jaguar tracker and an exonerated prisoner. Along with Jay Allison she is the producer of The Moth Radio Hour, and the editor of the international best seller The Moth: 50 True Stories. Here’s what she’s listening to now.

CatherineBurns
Catherine

What show do you wake up to?
On my best days, I start with a very early morning workout. My constant companion is the radio show/podcast On Being, which is hosted by the ethereal Krista Tippett. In 2010 I became a parent for the first time. Those first months are a precious time in your life, but also completely exhausting and kind of isolating. But then one morning, Krista’s voice came over my public radio station (WNYC), and I was mesmerized.

The show features interviews with physicists, novelists, musicians, you name it-–all discussing the “Big Questions”. Why are we alive? How do we live into our questions and create a life for ourselves that is in tune with our deepest values? This was just what I needed. On the longest nights when I was up with my beloved infant son, barely staying awake and hanging on, I knew that if I could just make it until Krista’s voice came on the air, everything would be okay. I subscribed to the podcast and haven’t missed an episode since.  

 

What show do you fall asleep to?
I adore The Memory Palace podcast. I tend to listen to it at night when I’m getting ready for bed, trying to wind down from my day, because the host, Nate DiMeo, has a very soothing voice. Each episode takes you into a specific time in the past, as if you are a person living in that time. 
 

I first got hooked on an episode about the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. I grew up in Alabama, but have lived in New York City for nearly two decades, and I’m obsessed with stories about the city’s past. I knew a lot about the building of this iconic bridge, and honestly didn’t think there was much more I could learn. I was wrong. 

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Catherine and her son

Nate pulled me into the perils and challenges of that construction site in a completely fresh way. You feel like you are there, deep under the water, digging through the muck. More recent episodes cover a show lion named Leo, and what it was like to be a homesteader in the late 1800s (me and my now six-year-old son listened to that last one together as we’re currently reading all the Little House on the Prairie books, and are fascinated with that time period.)

What is your favorite listening environment?
I do much of my listening while commuting by foot and train. Like most of our artistic staff, I listen to 2-3 hours of audio a week, screening stories from The Moth’s 500+ annual live storytelling shows to determine what we’re going to put on The Moth Radio Hour and podcast. I have a 15-minute walk to the subway, and then a half hour ride to get to our office. I love listening on the go because I figure most of our fans also listen to The Moth in this way, so if I have trouble following a story while crossing the street or transferring trains, then so will they. We sometimes call this “the laundry test”: Can you fold laundry and follow this story? It’s important because few people listen to a podcast while sitting, staring at a blank wall with fancy headphones.

What’s a podcast that doesn’t currently exist that you think should?
Hands down–one hosted by Sharon Salzberg. She’s one of the greatest meditation teachers alive. She is so wise and funny (I’ve heard people refer to her as a “sit down comic” ). She has this way of humanizing meditation and Buddism, and making it easy to understand and put into practice. She’s one of the greatest storytellers alive (we’re working on getting her on The Moth stage.) She’s also a columnist for On Being’s website. Maybe they’ll do a spin-off with her!
*Editor’s note: it turns out, Sharon does have a podcast! Take a listen here

How do you envision the future of the podcasting landscape?
What I love about podcasting is that you can create a beautiful piece of audio that appeals to a very specific group of people, and give them access to that audio in an easy way. It’s so different from the 1970’s and 80’s when I grew up, where, if a TV show didn’t have millions of viewers, it was considered a failure. Nowadays, you can create art for a niche audience. You don’t need Games of Thrones or even Serial-level numbers to find an audience and be a success. I hope that we’ll continue to see more podcasts that take on micro-cultures and explore them in an original way.

We’re living in this magical time where many people have unprecedented on-demand access to media. I find a lot of inspiration in the author Seth Godin (another person who should have his own podcast!). He talks about making a product that you love, and going out and finding every single person in the world who would want it, and getting it to them. It’s the opposite of the Mad Men-era thinking, where they would first create a product and then try to convince everyone they had to have it IMMEDIATELY. It’s about finding the people who genuinely want what you are creating.
Moth Radio Podcast Logo

At The Moth, we take our podcast subscribers very seriously. Our broadcast numbers are much higher, but those 650,000+ podcast listeners? They are our core audience. They are the people who have signed up to get every new story we put out, sent directly to them. They are the backbone and the heart of our organization.

 

For more stories, subscribe to The Moth podcast in iTunes here.