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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.

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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…

Onwards!

Annie

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.

Contact:

Kathleen Unwin
Station Relations Director
PRX
314-963-9763
kathleen [at] prx [dot] org
twitter: @KathleenUnwin

Matter announces new class of startups

Matter-Three-Jump

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.vc.

_____________________________________________________________________________

PRESS RELEASE

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 http://matter.vc/press/.

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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 http://matter.vc/press/.

About PRX
PRX is an award-winning nonprofit public media company, harnessing innovative technology to bring significant stories to millions of people. PRX.org 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. www.kqed.org

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 knightfoundation.org.

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.

BEFORE:

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.

AFTER:

Kathleen Unwin Joins PRX as Station Relations Director

Today we are welcoming the newest PRXer, Station Relations Director Kathleen Unwin. She’ll be working from “PRX’s Midwest Bureau” — St. Louis. To start, she’ll handle marketing for The Moth Radio Hour and will work with stations to determine where the series fits best for their audiences.

We’ll have our traditional welcome post written by Kathleen very soon. In the meantime, check out the press release below for detail.


PRESS RELEASE

Contact John Barth, Managing Director
Telephone 973-219-6533
Email john@prx.org
Website www.prx.org

Unwin Joins PRX

Cambridge, Mass., May 13, 2014 — PRX is very pleased to welcome Kathleen Unwin to PRX in the new role of Station Relations Director.

Many public radio colleagues know Kathleen as the marketing and advertising manager of Current where she built a respected reputation for superb client service, deep knowledge of public broadcasting and a sophisticated sense of publishing in a changing media environment.

“Kathleen brings a publishing mindset and experience to PRX as we forge into expanded marketing activity for programs. Kathleen brings a wealth of experience in marketing and sponsorship sales with her,” said John Barth, Managing Director.

Kathleen started in her role May 1 and will handle marketing for The Moth Radio Hour, as well as other PRX services, programs, and strategic projects.

PRX oversaw the licensing of more than 20,000 programs to stations last year. It has helped build the success of signature programs like The Moth Radio Hour, Sound Opinions, 99% Invisible, and many others. In February it launched the Radiotopia podcast network, and has recent claims to both a Peabody and a Webby.

Hold That Thought: Before & After

HTT-Logo

Claire Navarro has taken on a huge task with her podcast Hold That Thought. Each week she interviews a professor about research at Washington University in St. Louis. I know I’m going to learn something cool each time I listen.

But even with fascinating subject matter, hosting a show like this is tough. Claire told us she wants to make research interesting to listeners tuned out of the academic world. So when we dove into an episode for Second Ear (our monthly mini-workshop for producers), we used that lens to talk about writing, hosting, interviewing, and mixing. Here are her original version and the revised version. Take a listen and read about our process and more below.

BEFORE:

AFTER:

When I listen to Hold That Thought, I occasionally get the sense that Claire has so much material that it’s hard to know what to do with it. Each researcher has investigated a number of compelling topics, and it’s hard to incorporate them all.

Our advice? Find the story. Instead of profiling a professor and his research, devote each episode to a single story — one with a beginning, middle and end, with characters, conflict, and surprise — and let that guide the structure. Be okay with the fact that a lot of great research won’t make the cut.

Once you know what that story is, get to it. Hook the listener as quickly as possible. Don’t dillydally with a long formal intro before getting to the meat. Then never let the suspense fade.

Then we talked about writing and hosting. Claire has taken on a beast writing about academia. Her voice has to carry drama when the research gets dry.  And, especially for radio, she has to translate jargon to colloquial speech. Claire already knew she had to write like she talks, but she pointed out that she’s so entrenched in the academic world, words like “collaborate” and “examine” do sound colloquial to her. So Genevieve and I suggested to try again what she already knew: sit down with a friend — maybe even take a shot first — and just tell the story. Let yourself be silly. Record yourself. Then listen to your tape and pay attention the words you used. You can even use that recording in the final mix.

In her second version, Claire takes this to heart. She introduces the show in just one line. Then she jumps into a story about herself. And what a difference! I feel like she’s talking to me, Erika.

Claire wasn’t going to have time to interview her subject again, but we talked through ideas for next time. Interviewing professors can be a challenge. They’re used to talking about their research a certain way, so you have to help them break habits. And then you have to dig around to excavate the story that will drive your piece. For a story, you need emotion. Claire understands that as well as anyone, and she works to make every limited minute with her subject count. Here’s what we talked about.

  • When you meet her for the interview, project the emotions you want to get out of her. If you want to her to sound excited, be excited, interested, animated. You’ll set the tone.
  • Ask how she started. How did her own story lead to this work?
  • Ask what surprised her. How were her own notions challenged by the data?
  • Ask how the research is personal. Was there a moment when she got emotional about her findings or while working with the kids and their parents?
  • If it’s not personal to the researcher, who is it personal to? Who will this affect?
  • Ask for an “aha” or breakthrough moment.
  • Ask her for the funniest moment she remembers. Even if it doesn’t end up being relevant to the story, it might loosen her up. And if it’s really funny, it might be just what you need in the final version.
  • Ask who would disagree with her and then have her respond to their criticisms. Or find the opposing researcher beforehand, interview him, and play the tape for her so she can respond.
  • Set up hypotheticals. For example, if she could tell parents one thing to do to improve their kids’ reading, what would it be?
  • Set up metaphors. If this looked like x, what would y be?
  • Tell her to pretend she’s explaining the experiment to a ten-year-old.
  • Ask what she couldn’t put in the published paper that she found interesting.
  • Find an example, perhaps in pop culture. If it’s video or audio, play it for her. Have her react. Is the example connected? Is it missing the point?
  • Ask her to describe scenes vividly. Slow her down to take it moment by moment. Ask for senses — taste, smell, sight, feeling.

Finally, we told Claire what we tell everyone: make it shorter. It will force you to tighten. Plus, it’ll make the story more attractive to purchasing stations. Claire made it look easy. She got her ten-minute story down to under five.

Stay tuned for more from our next Second Ear producer this month! Follow us with #SecondEar on Twitter.



From Radiotopia: Six days of stories about the shadows we cast

Three months into Radiotopia, and audiences are doubling and even tripling for many of the podcasts! PRX and the podcasters have banded together for more than logistical support, however. We are creators, and we’re excited to try new things. We’ve decided to cluster all our new podcasts into one week, and all our stories will explore something we’re calling The Long Shadow. Shadows were once the way we told time, and all the stories this week deal with some past, present, or future person or event that has an impact across time and space. We don’t yet fully know how these stories will resonate with one another. That’s where you come in. Subscribe to all the shows, and you’ll get one or more a day in your feed. What happens when all of Radiotopia comes to your ears in a concentrated dose? We want to know. Write to us at info@radiotopia.fm. And please consider helping our producers do more great work like this. Radiotopia needs your support to continue bringing great stories like these to a wider audience. Thank you! Here’s the Long Shadow schedule:

  • Monday, May 12 | Radio Diaries: The story of Forrest Carter, a man whose past life casts a huge shadow on the new one he tries to create.
  • Tuesday, May 13 | 99% Invisible: Roman Mars asks, how does one design a label that says “danger” 10,000 years from now? Love + Radio: A woman is chosen to go to Mars in 2024, and she has to live in the shadow of uncertainty until then.
  • Wednesday, May 14 | The Truth: Voyager Found, a drama which imagines how images and sounds of Earth are received in a world far away.
  • Thursday, May 15 | Fugitive Waves: French Manicure, the story of a woman so affected by one moment on film that it alters her outlook on an unimaginably hard life.
  • Friday, May 16 | Strangers: Lea Thau speaks with those who are shadows of their former selves, or literally shadows, because of a crime years ago atop the Empire State Building.
  • Saturday, May 17 | Theory of Everything: Benjamen Walker explores the shadow of philosopher Walter Benjamin, whose writings offer us guidance as we transition from the analog to the digital.

The WFMT Radio Network Moves Catalog to PRX

Today we are officially welcoming The WFMT Radio Network to PRX. The distributor and producer of dozens of series over hundreds of stations is now using PRX to distribute daily and weekly programs via our SubAuto system. Get all the detail in the press release below.


PRESS RELEASE
For information and interviews:
Patrick Kowalczyk, patrick@pkpr.com

WFMT Radio Network partners with PRX
in Comprehensive Distribution Agreement

Major independent producer and distributor of music and spoken word shifts entire
catalog to web-based broadcast distribution service

Chicago, Ill. (May 8, 2014). — The WFMT Radio Network announced today that it will begin delivering its entire catalog of programs through the Public Radio Exchange (PRX).

For over 40 years, The WFMT Radio Network in Chicago has been a major independent producer and distributor of classical, folk, jazz, and spoken word programming. The Network syndicates three daily programs, more than a dozen weekly series and several dozen specials each year aired by more than 300 stations (950 including translators and repeaters), reaching a cumulative 10-12 million listeners each week in the United States and 5-6 million listeners internationally.

PRX is public radio’s largest distribution marketplace, offering thousands of programs through a web-based platform that handles licensing, carriage billing, and metrics. PRX’s new subscription automation service (SubAuto) is already in use by hundreds of stations carrying The Moth Radio Hour, Sound Opinions, America’s Test Kitchen, American Routes, and other major programs. PRX has also expanded public media listening into new territories via its award-winning mobile apps and its PRX Remix stream.

“We are delighted to partner with PRX. Their innovative, user-friendly distribution tools will help us provide our U.S.-based affiliate stations with an even wider variety of programs in different formats, and to continue to expand our international production and distribution activities. The future has never looked brighter for us and we’re excited to be growing the Network in partnership with PRX,” said WFMT Radio Network Director of Syndication Tony Macaluso.

“The WFMT Radio Network is the source of an incredible catalog of arts and spoken word programming, and we are excited to join forces to extend its reach,” said PRX CEO Jake Shapiro. “PRX has built the bridge between broadcast and digital distribution, giving multi-faceted organizations such as The WFMT Radio Network opportunities to expand audience, impact, and revenue.”

The WFMT Radio Network will be moving off ContentDepot by July 1, 2014. PRX and The WFMT Radio Network are working with each station on the transition to the new service. Stations will not be charged any additional fees to access programs through PRX’s delivery system.

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About The WFMT Radio Network
The WFMT Radio Network currently syndicates three daily radio programs/networks (Exploring Music with Bill McGlaughlin, the Beethoven Network, and the Jazz Network), more than a dozen weekly series (including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Salzburg Festival, Relevant Tones, and Fiesta) and more than two dozen specials and short series each year. The WFMT Radio Network has also been pioneering online streaming of radio archives, including a site devoted to the popular daily program Exploring Music and the forthcoming Studs Terkel Radio Archive, which will feature more than 5,000+ interviews conducted by Terkel during his 40+ years at WFMT plus new work based on the archive.

These programs are used by more 300 primary stations (950+ including translators and repeaters) plus major national radio networks in more than 50 other countries. The Network is also an active member of the European Broadcasting Union (one of just five U.S. members). All told, WFMT Radio Network programs reach between 10 and 12 million listeners (Nielsen verified) per week in the United States plus another 5-6 million listeners per week internationally.

About PRX
PRX is an award-winning nonprofit public media company, harnessing innovative technology to bring significant stories to millions of people. PRX.org 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.


Our Second ‘Second Ear’

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Time sure flies. It’s been a month, and Second Ear is back.

Got a radio story you’ve been meaning to polish? Want some some fresh expert ears to listen to your piece? Send it our way. If chosen, you’ll get a private editing session, a blog post about your work, face time on our homepage—where stations scout for stories—and lots of social media love.

We’re open for submissions May 1-5. Just answer a few questions and send us a link. The process is painless and, well, darn fun.

Round one producers will be revealing their work soon! Follow @prx and #SecondEar on Twitter to hear the latest.

 

Image from Shutterstock.