Hi! I’m Josh, the new PRX Remix curator. My radio background starts with…well, film.
I graduated from Middlebury College in Vermont in February 2015 with a degree in film and sociology. While at school, I produced documentaries on topics ranging from New York’s parole system to my professor’s pet fish. Out of the classroom, I found my way to the Narrative Journalism Fellowship and produced audio profiles of fellow students. Engaging in filmmaking and audio work simultaneously provided an opportunity for me to figure out what the hell I wanted to pursue after graduation. Since I’m here, it should come as no surprise that I fell in love with radio – both the process of making it and the power of listening to it.
After graduation I jumped from small-town Vermont to small-town Massachusetts. I was a student in the Spring 2015 radio-intensive Transom Story Workshop on Cape Cod, where I developed my radio chops and, importantly, first learned about PRX and PRX Remix. In June and July I trekked to the beautiful Adirondacks in New York to do some freelance work for North Country Public Radio. There’s a 24/7 Remix station up there, so I spent a lot of time listening while gazing at grazing cows.
Now, here I am, sitting in an armchair in public radio utopia a.k.a. the PRX offices of Harvard Square. It will be an adjustment back to city life after four and a half years of living in small towns in Vermont, Massachusetts, and New York, but this is exactly where I want to be.
In addition to being immersed in Remix radio waves and PRX life generally, I will also be launching a podcast soon! Sneak peek: it’s called Bandwagon and it involves Bernie Sanders.
More about me – I love road trips, eating pho, TV show binges, skiing, lying in grass, and naps (especially while lying in grass).
I listen to radio almost nonstop for my job, and the more I listen, the more I notice trends. Producers can fall back on patterns that have worked and feel good.
We all know the ingredients of a good story: characters, conflict, hooks, turns, surprise, visual or sensory details, scenes, reflection… It’s easy to start listing these as checkboxes in our minds.
The problem is that once we operate according to checkboxes, we start making boring radio. We settle for an obvious descriptive detail, or check off the “surprising box” with a structure that isn’t surprising. Great intention can lead to lazy execution.
Here are 10 openers I’ve heard again and again from public radio producers and podcasters. They’re easy. They’re appealing. They’re overused.
1. The “Not Your Typical”
The concept behind the “Not Your Typical” beginning is that a character seems average—but there’s a twist. Often I’ll hear a reporter take some time to set a scene, then drop what’s supposed to be the big reveal—that this story is different.
Other times, a story might even open with a sentence like “Jane Doe is not your typical biker.” Even if this is the best concept to begin with, there must be a more compelling way to write or illustrate it.
More fundamentally, it’s not enough for a piece’s only “surprise” to be, say, that old people are doing something young people typically do. That kind of surprise wears off. It’s a reason to start reporting, but it alone won’t justify putting the piece together. A story needs another nugget, maybe an emotional one, to sing.
2. The “I’m Standing Next To”
“I’m standing next to the oldest building in the city. It’s been here for three hundred years…”
I get the sense that this just feels like a solid way to use natural sound. But you can put that ambi under literally any words you want. Better to use the little time you have to set up an interesting observation or metaphor.
There are infinite other ways to begin, so why not come up with some truly fantastic sentences?
3. The Physical Description
Including visual detail for the sake of checking of the “visual box” isn’t useful. When used well, an image can and should knock you over, change the way you see something, unsettle you or pull you in so that it’s impossible to move on with your day until you learn everything you can about it.
Unless the physical traits of a main character are extremely unusual or central to the story, hold off—and even then, resist if you can. Most of the time this isn’t the most interesting way to begin.
4. The Directions
“To get to Joe’s house, you drive five miles west of town until you hit a dirt road winding toward the base of the mountain, then…”
An extraordinary number of stories begin with the reporter giving directions, in some cases for no ostensible purpose. Even when directions do reveal something valuable, visualizing geography requires a lot of imagination on the listeners’ part. It’s too much work to require before you’ve convinced them the story is worth listening to.
Often, I zone out.
5. The Warm And Sunny
Isn’t weather what we talk about with strangers when we can’t think of anything interesting to say? Yes, radio thrives on sensory scenes. But producers need to write them vividly and with precision and purpose. If you want to stun listeners with the top of your story, don’t start with a weather report.
6. The “Okay! So…”
Starting with an off-the-cuff “Okay! So…” is huge right now. It’s colloquial, it’s personal, and it signals we’re jumping into action.
Brilliant producers use this line on brilliant shows, and it works.
But the Okay So has become such a go-to that to me, it’s starting to feel inauthentic, even cliché. When I hear it, I can feel a little manipulated, and I start focusing on the production instead of the story. Unless there’s a really compelling reason to begin with these words—and often there is!—avoid this one.
By refusing to rely on a trick, you’ll force yourself to write something new and strong.
7. The Long Intro
If you listen to PRX Remix, you know that I’m moving toward short intros—or often no host intro at all. I’m all for diving right in and letting a little mystery linger.
8. The Non-Narrated My Name Is
This one’s simple. Except in rare circumstances, start with strong tape, not a self-ID.
9. The Very Important Information
There are lots of issues I care about, but rarely will a story’s importance alone keep me listening.
Don’t start with a fact-vegetable and then assume that I’ll stay with you because I know vegetables are good for me. Start your story with an amuse bouche—a tiny appetizer that bursts with flavor when I pop it in my mouth and leaves me drooling for the main course.
And then I’ll probably eat my vegetables—er, listen to the facts.
10. Anything that isn’t stunning
A first sentence should transfix your listener. It’s competing with music, television, and all of the internet, so find the hook. Pick the detail you can’t stop thinking about and move it to the top. Challenge yourself to find new ways to write about things—which often means pushing yourself to push beyond the first few drafts—or to go deep right away.
So when I’m working, I repeat to myself:
Don’t start the way you think you have to.
When in doubt, write it better.
When uninspired, think Nancy Updike and her talk Die, Mediocrity, Die. (She has tips for what you should do, not just what you shouldn’t.)
If someone were to draw a picture of me when I was a little girl: I’d be standing in the middle of a tomato garden with seeds and juice dripping off my chin.
If someone were to draw a picture of me last year: I’d be on stage, at a Moth StorySLAM, baring my soul to complete strangers.
If someone were to draw a picture of me last month: I’d be in a hot & sweaty muscle confusion class, Eye of the Tiger blasting in the background.
If someone were to draw a picture of me last week: I’d be sitting on a porch swing next to a 95 year old farmer in West Virginia, recording his life story.
If someone were to draw a picture of me today: I’d be literally jumping up & down with excitement – I’m an official part of the PRX Crew as the newest Manager of Development and Operations!!!
My name is Gina James. After studying Cultural Anthropology + Business Administration at BU, I’ve journeyed through various industries (education, travel, hospitality, tech) … to finally land where my heart has always been: public radio.
For the last 12 months I have focused mostly on the craft of gathering oral history. It was this past year when I had an ‘aha’ moment of a lifetime. I love listening to stories via audio because unlike other forms of media, you must rely on your heart to truly assess the content. You are able to experience an individual’s true voice instead of the masks that can be created through literary tricks.
Radio is Real.
I can’t wait to bring more of it to every pocket of our world.
BONUS: Winners of The Sarahs and the Very, Very, Short, Short Stories Contest will be featured on PRX Remix — PRX’s 24/7 stream of the best independently created audio stories — airing online, SiriusXM 123, and broadcast stations around the country.
Each month we’ll be highlighting a different PRX producer to find out what they’re working on and hear about the challenges they face as indies as well as the stuff that gets them stoked.
This month, our intern Alexandra Morrow interviewed producer Megan Tan about her radio show Millennial. We were really excited to find out more about Megan, how she got started, and what’s next for the show.
For those who haven’t listened, what is Millennial about?
It’s about life post-graduation through the eyes of one person (me) in an Alex Blumberg / Start Up kind of way. It’s a narrative driven, first-person perspective podcast about maneuvering your 20s, after graduating college, and all the things that nobody teaches you.
I want to become a radio producer and really this project was just so that I could create a portfolio piece so I could show people, “Hey look I want to be a radio producer and look I’m making radio!” Using audio was really just so that I could get practice and hone a craft that I felt really insecure about.
I notice you said because you “want to become a radio producer.” Do you not consider yourself a radio producer, now?
When I talk to people they say, “You already are a radio producer! You are making radio!” But I feel like I’m half a radio producer and half I-have-no-idea-what-I’m-doing. I’m making it all by myself. I still have tons to learn. I feel like a very immature kind of radio producer, if that makes any sense. I’ll be making the 6th episode of Millennial soon and this podcast is literally the first time I have ever produced anything (audio wise). I used to do videos, so I do have some knowledge about story structure and working with audio, but before this I never worked solely with audio.
For a first try you’re doing a pretty incredible job.
It wasn’t until recently that I started re-listening to my old work (like the first episodes of Millennial). After I published them I would shed it off like it was bad skin. I would think, “oh God I’m glad that’s over, moving forward!” I couldn’t re-listen to it for a long time. It’s hard listening all the flaws, all the things you can do better.
Do you still feel like there are things about your work or about Millennial that are always nagging you. You said you feel that there are always things you can do better?
Oh sure, I mean I don’t know anything about sound production. I don’t know anything about sound engineering. I am constantly on Transom. I am constantly on AIR, and on YouTube. I’m constantly taking notes. I always have one of my best friends who isn’t in radio listen to an episode before I publish it – just to tell me if the levels are good. I’ll call up an old friend from college who used to be my roommate and I’ll say, “Hey can I just borrow 20 minutes of your time and can you please tell me if there are parts of this that are too soft, or too loud?”
How has Millennial changed the way you think about your future?
I think a lot of the things that I was really scared of when I started this are so much more tangible than they have ever been, which is remarkable. I write down a lot of goals. I write down lots of lists and things that I want. For a while I had a list and I took a picture of it with my iPhone and had it as my background. A lot of things I had written just felt unachievable. One of those things was making a podcast. But now because I’ve created Millennial, a lot of the things that I wanted I’ve gotten lot closer to.
Is that list changing?
Oh yeah. There will always be lots of lists. The list is definitely changing. You always want to be reaching for things you perceive as impossible. But what I’m learning is to really be patient. I remember talking to an old friend of mine and she said, “Megan you do this thing where you envision yourself jumping between cliffs. You’re jumping between two cliffs and when you’re in mid-air you raise the bar of that cliff. So you’re naturally going to fall, because you increase your expectations as your going towards them.” So instead of doing that I feel like I’ve purposefully thought about longevity and steady efforts.
That’s something I didn’t think of when I graduated college. When I graduated college and when I was making the very first episodes of Millennial I wanted everything now. I felt like I was already failing because I didn’t have a job in my field. And now… this is a very long answer.
No this is great!
…welcome to life as a millennial!
Hey, I’m a millennial too. I have one more year until I graduate.
That’s so exciting. I guess… I just feel like I’ve been able to take a breath. I’ve been able to make some pivotal decisions in terms of how I want to carve out my life for the future. I’ve worked at a restaurant for almost a year now, but I’m also making something that I really love, and I feel like that’s worth it because later that will turn into something.
When did you graduate?
I graduated last year, in 2014. But I’m older. A lot of people think I’m 22. But I’m 24. I took some time off from school to do a Radiolab internship at WNYC and I also went to a small liberal arts school in California for a year. But I didn’t like that so I went to a school in Kentucky to study photojournalism. Then I took a year off. So my route hasn’t really been the ‘ideal four years.’ I graduated high school when I was 17 so, it feels good to be done. It feels really good to be done.
Have you gotten any feedback from people listening to Millennial?
I get some really great emails from people. I recently received a donation, and you can always put a little message in it. The donation was from a mother, and she said, “I’m raising millennials, thank you for allowing me to understand what’s happening.”
I’ve also gotten emails with feedback from people saying “thank you for being so honest. I always thought that I was alone in this.” Mostly I hear from people who are in our same shoes and are trying to figure out what to do after graduation.
When you were talking about your list you said, “there’s always something bigger and better that you’re adding to it.” Your dream is always evolving. You mentioned the bar and the cliff. Do you have any big goals for Millennial, or is that top secret information?
Yeah, I do have some big bars for Millennial. I don’t know if I’ll talk about them. When I’m making an episode I’m just hoping that each episode is better than the one before, or as good as the one before. That’s on the list all the time: to make this episode as good as it can be.
The tricky thing about this podcast is, I’m documenting my life and enough really crazy amazing things, or interesting things have to be happening in for it to be a good podcast. So I question the longevity of it, but I also think there’s a potential for it to boomerang in a different direction.
I would really love to work with the best podcasters out there and with a team of people who would help me, or for people to see the potential for the podcast and for me as a host. To be able to say, “We believe in you. Let’s work on this together. We have a lot of tools and resources. Let’s collaborate.” But that would be the dream; to miraculously be lifted out of my a closet in Maine and be taken to a really beautiful studio somewhere and for a huge crew to be working on Millennial with me. But I feel like I’m in mid-air right now and while that can be a goal of mine, I also know that just making really good work is something I still need to focus on.
Like, you don’t want to dream before the dream gets away from you?
Yeah. Also you I know how it’s all going to pan out. But I do know at this moment there are people that are listening. They want a sixth episode and I want to make a sixth episode, so I just need to focus on making that sixth episode. Like when you look at great podcasts…people work really hard for a really long time. It’s not until 5 years down the road that they get picked up. So I feel like I still need to put in my time with that. I still need to just continue to prove to myself that I can make good content and that should be my focus.
That’s a big chunk. Also balancing working a full time job with making the podcast. I was putting in 40 hours a week at the restaurant. To be able to sit down at my computer after a long day standing on your feet, is hard. So maybe I’ll be working with some of my favorite podcast heroes in the future. That would be the dream.
You said your dream is to work with your favorite podcast heroes. Who are your podcast heroes?
Millennial was inspired by Alex Blumberg’s StartUp Podcast. Just the way that he structured StartUp is really great. I mean, I fell in love with that podcast and I remember watching a Creative Lively where he did a presentation. He was teaching a 2-day class online and I watched the entire 2-days because I just wanted to learn. I remember him saying, “what you need to do, is you just need to create something, You need to just imitate people and practice.” And I remember going to Ben, my boyfriend, and saying, “Ben! Alex Blumberg is telling me I can just be like him! So I’m just going to try it out!” So Alex Blumberg is definitely one of my podcast heroes.
I really love all the people at RadioLab because I know them personally. Molly Webster is one of my people. Matt Kielty, Kelsey Padgett, Jad Abumrad, Alex Kapelman. These are just my favs. My good people. I really like Starlee Kine, I really like Chana Joffe Walt. I like Sean Cole. All the people at Gimlet are great. Everybody in ReplyAll… There are just so many. There are a lot of really great people out there. I really also like the Radio Community. It’s very nurturing and people are always willing to help. They know how hard it is.
Well, thank you so much for speaking with me. I know I’ve taken up a lot of your time and asked a lot of questions, but is there anything that I haven’t asked that you would like to say?
Hmm… I think it’s funny how when you get recognition via the internet, your life on a day to day basis is still the same. When Millennialfirst started getting a lot of press all of a sudden people I didn’t know were emailing me. But then I would go to the restaurant and no one would care, or no one would know who I was. That different dynamic was so funny. But it’s humbling because a lot has changed, but at the same time it feels like not a lot has changed.
PRX is pleased to present our newest show, How to Be Amazing with Michael Ian Black. In it, the acclaimed actor, comedian, and author asks some of the most talented and innovative people of our time how they became so amazing.
How to Be Amazing is freely available as a podcast – listen on iTunes, SoundCloud, or another favorite podcast app. Laugh, be inspired, and tell your friends!
For information, interviews, photos contact:
Patrick Kowalczyk, firstname.lastname@example.org
Scott Piro, email@example.com
MICHAEL IAN BLACK’S “HOW TO BE AMAZING” WITH AMY SCHUMER, BOB ODENKIRK, TAVI GEVINSON AND MORE TO NOW BE AVAILABLE AS A FREE PODCAST VIA PRX
New York, NY (May 27, 2015) – Amy Schumer, Bob Odenkirk, Miranda July, and Tavi Gevinson will be among the guests revealing how they became amazing in a laugh-out-loud podcast hosted by comedian and actor Michael Ian Black that will be distributed for free by PRX, the award-winning public media company, starting today.
How to Be Amazing launches from PRX with four free episodes featuring Odenkirk, Gevinson, Lin-Manuel Miranda (Broadway’s Hamilton, In the Heights), and author Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love). New episodes will then premiere every two weeks, with an eclectic lineup of guests that includes Kevin Smith (June 10), Amy Schumer (June 24), Carl Tanner (July 8), Brian Greene (July 22), and Miranda July (August 5). Under the partnership with PRX, How to Be Amazing episodes are first released to Audible.com members exclusively and then distributed as a free podcast by PRX.
In the biweekly series, Black takes listeners into the minds of some of today’s most fascinating people, pairing his sardonic wit and infectious curiosity with insights and advice from an eclectic range of guests who are at the top of their game.
A founding member of the groundbreaking comedy troupes The State and Stella, Black has starred in the television comedy series Ed, Viva Variety, and Michael & Michael Have Issues, as well as in the cult film Wet Hot American Summer. His upcoming projects include The Jim Gaffigan Show and Wet Hot American Summer: The First Day of Camp.
How to Be Amazing joins a select roster of signature shows from PRX, including The Moth Radio Hour, Reveal, and Snap Judgment. PRX is also the home of Radiotopia, a podcast network of the world’s best story-driven shows anchored by 99% Invisible, the popular design show from Roman Mars.
“To me, amazing people are all around us,” said Black. “I’m not necessarily interested in who has done the most in terms of quantity, but who has devoted themselves to something and made a real go of it. Failure can be just as amazing as success – sometimes more so, because we learn so much more from it.”
“It’s a treat to eavesdrop on Michael Ian Black’s conversations with people from a variety of backgrounds,” said Jake Shapiro, CEO of PRX. “Michael’s unique voice, sharp sense of humor, and infectious curiosity make this show a perfect fit for PRX.”
The first four episodes of How to Be Amazing are as follows:
#1 How to Be Amazing with Elizabeth Gilbert
In this episode, Michael talks to the best-selling author of Eat, Pray, Love about her creative process – where ideas come from, how she works, and how her childhood colors her adult life.
#2 How to Be Amazing with Lin-Manuel Miranda
The Tony Award winning-lyricist, whose musical In the Heights catapulted him onto the Broadway scene, discuss his new hit Broadway musical Hamilton and how he successfully combines his passion for hip-hop music and musical theater to make a career out of doing what he loves.
#3 How to Be Amazing with Tavi Gevinson
The teen editor and founder of Rookie sits down with Michael to discuss her path from eleven-year-old fashion blogger to running her own business and starring on Broadway. In this conversation, we learn how Tavi is successfully navigating a life people twice her age would struggle with.
#4 How to Be Amazing with Bob Odenkirk
Actor, comedian and author Bob Odenkirk to talk about his professional journey starting as a brash young writer for Saturday Night Live, to working as one half of the HBO cult comedy series, Mr. Show with Bob and David, to becoming a break out star in the hit series, Breaking Bad which spawned his own series, Better Call Saul. Along the way Odenkirk realizes that sometimes being a bull in a china shop isn’t always the best approach.
PRX is an award-winning nonprofit public media company, harnessing innovative technology to bring compelling stories to millions of people. PRX.org operates public radio’s largest distribution marketplace, offering tens of thousands of audio stories for broadcast and digital use, including This American Life, The Moth Radio Hour, Sound Opinions, State of the Re:Union, Snap Judgment, and WTF with Marc Maron. PRX Remix is PRX’s 24/7 channel featuring the best independent radio stories and new voices. 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 Knight Foundation.
Great stories thoughtfully curated for a potential audience of 60 million. It makes perfect sense, right? Spotify, the popular music streaming platform, is expanding to include podcasts, and PRX is proud to be a launch partner.
We were in the audience at last week’s announcement event when Spotify’s VP of User Experience and Design pointed to a big screen with the 99% Invisible logo and exclaimed, “I love that show!”
Ridiculously early the next morning, PRX CEO Jake Shapiro appeared on Bloomberg TV to talk about the power of podcasting in clear business terms: “It is a revenue producer.”
This partnership is part of a PRX strategy that we’ve been pursuing since the early days of digital audio distribution. Aggregation services like iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, SoundCloud, and, of course, Spotify are used by millions of people. By building distribution relationships with these services, PRX is bringing public radio to new audiences, and reaching existing audiences on the platforms they use regularly.
PRX is back with our third annual open call for science radio ideas — the STEM Story Project. STEM Stories from 2013 and 2014 aired on Here & Now, All Things Considered, Studio 360, our science podcast Transistor, PRX Remix, and numerous other podcasts and public radio stations around the country. We’re excited to do this again.
Starting June 1, we’ll accept proposals to create radio stories inspired by STEM topics (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). We have a pool of funding from the the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to distribute among multiple projects.
Our goals are to:
• Unleash highly creative, STEM-based original stories and productions
• Educate and excite listeners about STEM topics and issues
• Tell stories and explain STEM issues in new ways
Have questions? Comment below or email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. But please refer to the FAQ below and application guidelines first!
May the force be with you.
-John Barth & Genevieve Sponsler
The PRX STEM Story Project Team
What is PRX’s STEM Story Project?
An open call for proposals to create radio stories about STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). In the past two years, PRX has funded the creation of 29 STEM stories. They’ve aired on national shows like Here & Now, Studio 360, All Things Considered, our science podcast Transistor, and PRX Remix, in addition to being aired on stations throughout the country.
What are the dates?
PRX will accept proposals online between June 1 and July 1, 2015 at 11:59 p.m. ET. Accepted proposals will be announced in early September. Producers will then have two months to create their stories and publish them to PRX.org by November 1, 2015.
Who can apply?
We welcome any producers or writers with audio production experience to apply. Producers can be independent or station-based.
What if I don’t have audio production experience but want to submit a story? We recommend that you work with an audio producer to come up with a story proposal and to provide audio samples.
If I already received a grant last year, can I apply again this year?
If I applied last year and didn’t get a grant, can I apply again?
Yes, but you must apply with a different story than the one you submitted last year.
I have a podcast/an idea for a podcast. Can I submit my podcast as a proposal?
We cannot fund an entire series, but you can submit an entry for a single episode of your podcast. For example, in past STEM open calls PRX has funded single episodes of Criminal, 30 Minutes West, and Destination DIY.
What do I need to include in my application?
We’re looking for a proposal of your story idea, two audio samples of your previous work, and a proposed budget.
How long should my proposed audio story be?
We generally ask that the stories be 10 minutes or less. Shorter stories are more shareable online and more likely to get picked up by national shows, podcasts, and stations. Past stories we’ve funded have ranged from 6 to 18 minutes long, but again, with the majority being under 10 minutes.
How will proposals be chosen?
We will work with a team of science advisors and radio advisors to select proposals that best fit the project’s goals.
What should I include in my budget? Producer fees, engineering fees, travel expenses, and editor fees. If your proposal is chosen, we will contact you to revise your budget, if necessary. See the application form here for details.
How much funding do you tend to provide for each story? What is the average budget?
The total pool of money we have is about $50k, and in the past we have broken that up over 15 or so applicants. However, that being said, we don’t share more budget info than that. We want the flexibility to work with producers on stories that may surprise us, and change what we do year to year. Some stories require travel or big expenses, and some do not. So we want to see your budget, your freelance rate, etc. And then if we want to work together but the numbers aren’t quite doable, we talk about it with you.
I’m wondering how you go about funding station-based reporters. Does it go straight to the reporter, based on the time spent on the STEM story? Or does it go to the station? We set this up based on whatever rules/process you have regarding employment at the station and the nature of the story. If it is a station-based story that is one thing; if it is a total freelance thing, that might mean something else. If you are allowed to do freelance work and keep 100%, we do that. If stations get a cut no matter what, we have to abide by that. If stations demand 100%, we have to respect that. Let us know in the budget section of your application.
Will you be giving me any guidance during the production process? PRX requires at least one mandatory check-in during the production period to go over initial script drafts.
What happens after the stories are done?
PRX will work with you to get the pieces licensed to different stations within our network as well as placed on blogs + other digital platforms.