Radiotopia Turns 2!

radiotopia1000x600-birthday2

Two years ago this month we launched Radiotopia under PRX as an experiment. Last year, our COO Kerri Hoffman wrote an anniversary post reflecting on the incredible success from our first year. Since then, we’ve been building, learning, fixing, reaching, celebrating, and doing it all over again. To quote Albert Einstein, “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” This rings true for us, and we built Radiotopia with talented producers who share that ethos. Even in the light of our success so far we continue to ask questions and seek feedback.

    Radiotopia year two, by the numbers:

  • 10M monthly downloads (up from 5.7M this time last year)
  • 13 total shows (up from 7 last year)
  • 50% of our shows produced and hosted by women (women are also sound engineers, producers, researchers and in leadership positions throughout the network)
  • 20,097 donations to our fall fundraising campaign
  • 82% chose to become monthly donors
  • $52.95 average yearly donation ($28.45 average one-time donation last year). Nearly double from our last campaign, plus the money will recur yearly.
  • 98 donors elected to be part of our internal committee that vets new shows
  • 11,000 donors will be receiving hand-minted, hand-painted challenge coins
  • 60 countries represented in our donor pool
  • Countless love letters
  • 1 exclusive Breakmaster Cylinder remix
keytar
Keytar Bear Reppin’ Radiotopia

There were many other notable milestones for us in 2015. The Knight Foundation gave us $1M over two years, allowing us to improve our capacity and infrastructure, and hire our first executive producer, Julie Shapiro. The grant also provided the means to establish a show Pilot Fund, which will be launching soon and will help bring new, diverse talent into the podcast environment.

For more than a dozen years, PRX has distributed the work of independent producers. We have always taken risks: long before the iTunes store was launched, we built a podcasting tool to listen to the RSS feed of your local public radio station on demand (we called it ‘TiVo for radio’). Our PRX Remix channel,  a 24-hour stream of stories on rotation, has introduced podcasts to bigger, broadcast audiences. We were monetizing audio content before it had a supportive economy. All these stepping stones, combined with lessons we learned from our partner Roman Mars, led PRX to the development of Radiotopia.

A fierce champion of new voices, new formats, and new business models, PRX has become a magnet for awesome shows, as evidenced by this network we’ve curated. Two years in, we can safely say Radiotopia has evolved from an experiment into a thriving audio community of listeners and makers. Now we’re busy planning and executing what comes next.

Our Radiotopia hosts have come a long way. Check them out before they were stars in our Facebook album.

The 12th Annual Zeitfunk Awards

PRX 2015 by the Numbers. Click for larger view.
PRX 2015 by the Numbers. Click for larger view.

As a pre-show to the Grammys, PRX has its own award ceremony—The Zeitfunks.

Each year we tally up our licenses and listens to give you a picture of some of our top audio stories. Below you’ll find a list of producers, programs and stations who have sold the most in the PRX Marketplace. These numbers are calculated from individual licenses of stories on PRX. Subscription-only shows like This American Life and The Moth are not considered in these results.

PRX has partnered with Hindenburg Systems, who has generously offered the first place winners two-year licenses for Journalist PRO audio editing software as well as copies of the Hindenburg Field Recorder app. Thanks, Hindenburg!

Congrats to our winners and cheers to another amazing year! Join in on the celebration – #Zeitfunk2015

Mary Stucky, Executive Dir. of Round Earth Media
Mary Stucky, Executive Dir. of Round Earth Media
Daniel Wargo with his Zeitfunk Trophy
Daniel Wargo with his Zeitfunk Trophy
Deutsche Welle News Staff Copyright © DW
DW News Staff Copyright © DW
ChavoBart's Bridgett Ennis & Erika Hopman
ChavoBart’s Bridgett Ennis & Erika Hopman
KALW staff after their Public Radio (Dance) Party
KALW staff after their Public Radio (Dance) Party

Most Licensed Piece

1st Place: Immigration Uncovered
2nd: The Sporkful: Thanksgiving Is For Eaters – 2015
3rd: Confronting Hatred: 70 Years After the Holocaust
4th: We’ve Never Been The Same: A War Story
5th: Best of the Best: The 2015 Third Coast Festival Broadcast


Most Licensed Producer

1st Place: Daniel Wargo for The Stone Age
2nd: Philip Nusbaum for Bluegrass Review
3rd: Stephen R Webb for Stuck in the Psychedelic Era
4th: Michael Park for The International Americana Music Show
5th: Al Grauer for Travelers in the Night


Most Licensed Group

1st Place: Deutsche Welle
2nd: Vinyl Cafe
3rd: With Good Reason
4th: BackStory with the American History Guys
5th: Jonny Meister for Bluesnet Radio


Most Licensed Debut Accounts

1st Place: ChavoBart Digital Media
2nd: Kim Clark for Dig!
3rd: Transistor
4th: Vic Muenzer for CD Syndications
5th: American Homefront Project


Most Licensed by PRX Remix

1st Place: KALW
2nd: SALT
3rd: BackStory with the American History Guys
4th: WFMT Radio Network
5th: Benjamen Walker

prx-logo_large
hindenburglogo

Inside the Podcast Studio: The Memory Palace

We’re kicking off a new series this month called Inside the Podcast Studio. While we won’t be asking producers what they’d like to hear when they arrive at the pearly gates, à la James Lipton, we will be exploring their “studios”—including bedrooms, closets, favorite coffee shops—to learn more about how and where creators make their magic. We kick off the series with Nate DiMeo from The Memory Palace.

The Memory Palace, from our Radiotopia network , is a podcast that tells short, surprising stories of the past. Nate started the show as a side project in 2008, and since then it has gone from being a way to get his own radio show, to an art project with an audience, to a full-fledged business. This month, he launched his latest season and will now produce at a biweekly cadence, to the delight of his devoted fans. We went behind the scenes with DiMeo to find out what his space really looks like and what makes his show tick.

On the show

What is The Memory Palace’s (TMP) tagline?
If you, person reading this, have a good one, let me know. I don’t. I find it difficult to elevator-pitch The Memory Palace. Not that it’s all that complicated: it’s a storytelling podcast about the past that features essays about American history, put to music. That covers it, right? But, here’s the thing: I don’t know if I would listen to that show. So, what Memory_Palace_Logo_RGBcomes out, on this imaginary elevator ride, is something like that, followed by some rushed version of “but-it’s-got-more-going-on-than-that” delivered in varying degrees of confidence, depending on the day. I know I don’t explain it well because I’ll often meet people who haven’t yet heard the show, who listen and return to me later with a report, and seem genuinely surprised that it’s good. They are surprised there’s something deeper going on with it than “things that slipped through the cracks,” or “surprising stories,” or, with all due respect to their excellent, vital work, “Stuff You Missed in History Class,”  an existing podcast in the same vein.

TMP’s odd earnestness, the idiosyncrasy of the subject-selection, the care and the craft, is a hard thing to explain on the ride up to the 7th floor. Or, at least to explain in a way that doesn’t make me seem like a jackass.

Where do you find stories for TMP?
The real answer is everywhere. I’m not a history buff; I know a lot about American history, but nearly all of my history knowledge comes directly from researching a specific topic. I’m culturally omnivorous by nature. I like knowing a lot of stuff about a lot of stuff. I’m reading (and listening to) novels, reading magazines, watching good (and crap) tv, listening obsessively (and widely) to music, and screwing around on Twitter and other sites all the damn time. Some weird fact will jump out from a novel, or something I stumble across online. Something that breaks through the noise, some sparkling thing that jumps up for a moment from the churn and the rush of the information stream, and moves me in some way. Sometimes it’s pretty straightforward: some historical factoid or interesting person that I’d never heard of before, or hadn’t thought of in awhile.

IMG_1851
Postcards from a few of DiMeo’s episode themes

Often, subjects come from merely an idea about the world. For
example: a little riff in a John Banville novel where the protagonist was in a Banvillian moment of self-delusion, grappling with how his past choices may have rippled out and harmed people. This scene got me thinking about the psychology of that deeply human struggle: that internal conversation we all engage in in one way or another, trying to sort out our past actions and understand their repercussions, and negotiate our feelings about those actions. That idea reminded me of Thomas Midgley, the inventor of leaded gasoline, and got me thinking about how he must have felt knowing that he’d poisoned people. Which led me to research the context around the issue and his work so that I got the story straight. I wanted to get as close as I could to how he felt,  so I could put myself in his shoes in a way that was responsible to the reality of the situation, respectful to the dead, and true, in an almost poetic sense.

I read, watch and listen widely. And, on a kind of ridiculous but totally real level, all I’m doing is trying to be moved. To tap into that sense of wonder that drives so many of the stories. Something went down on The Bachelor the other night that helped me understand a story I’ve currently got on the calendar for April.

The “what” is rooted in the meaning of the story. Why was it that this particular factoid or moment jumped out and grabbed me? Why did it connect? What is this story going to say about my life, or the listener’s life, today in 2016? What is the deeper meaning of this story? What is this story—beyond subject matter, facts, and context—about?

Ultimately, a Memory Palace story is a story from the past that is secretly about the present.

TMP episodes are so carefully composed and have a musicality about them. How do you approach the sound and feel of the show?
Like a song, actually. I draw a lot of inspiration from songwriting and the form of a pop song. Songs have inherent abilities that I try to tap into.  Nothing is quite able to pull off the alchemy that turns language and sentiment into emotion like a song. The pop song itself is a magical thing: there is so much variety and power in the simple combination of verse-chorus-verse-bridge-chorus-out. So much emotion can be packed into a tight package, and that’s precisely what I’m trying to do in any given episode. I’m often thinking about the ways songs sound and the feelings they’re able to achieve, thinking “this story should feel like driving on an open road, leaving some bad decisions behind.” There are times when I might try to capture a feeling evoked by a specific song; even though the story itself will ultimately wind up sounding nothing like it, the same feeling might still drive it. I think of my vocal track as an instrument, I think of the “scenes” in terms of movements.

IMG_1850
DiMeo’s editing setup

Is there anything inherently “podcast-y” about TMP? Do you think the stories could work just as well on the radio?
No. If anything, I think the format is a little odd and non-podcast-y. Between the brevity and lack of guests, it remains a bit of an outlier as a podcast. But the beauty of podcasts is that we haven’t yet succumbed to a rigid definition of what the medium is, or closed off possibilities to what it could be.

That said, I’d love to have the show on the radio more often. People often ask me why I don’t have episode descriptions on the podcast feed. It’s because I want people to come into a story with as few expectations as possible. On the most basic level, if there’s a twist coming, I don’t want to telegraph it, I want to pull the listener along on a path where each paragraph is a new discovery. That instinct comes in part from wanting to simulate the experience of listening to the radio. With the radio, you don’t really know what you’re going to get or what song is coming up next. You flip the dial and catch something on NPR mid-stream.

Radio has the power to change your day out of nowhere, and that is sometimes lost with podcasting. Podcasting is inherently intentional: you choose what you want to listen to and when. By withholding information, I’m trying to take some of that power back.

It’s ultimately how I prefer to experience things. In a perfect world, a Memory Palace story would slip in, unexpected, in the middle of a radio program and change your day.

On his space

Where do you literally do your work? Can you walk us through that space?
The early parts of the process—researching, reading, rough drafts, playing around with structure and language—happen all over. I like to get out of the house, it makes me more productive. There are a couple of coffee shops I go to (Vita, in Silverlake, or one over near the Grove in L.A., on Beverly). I make sure not to ask for the Wi-Fi password if I’m writing because I have internet impulse control issues. I get an iced tea, usually green. There are

DiMeo's view from the West Hollywood Library
DiMeo’s view from the West Hollywood Library

also a couple of libraries where I like to write.  There’s a particular desk on the second floor of a new library in West Hollywood that has a great view of the Hollywood Hills and a giant window, so you’re kind of floating out over San Vicente Boulevard. That’s my spot if the research is done and I’m really trying to write a draft down from beginning to end.

But then there comes a point where I have to be able to talk while I write so I know how everything sounds, and I can’t do that at the library. So I hole up in our converted garage. There’s a skylight. There’s a white swivel chair that I have to remember to sit straight up in, or my neck gets all weird. There’s a pile of history books stacked up which put my laptop at eye level (again, with the neck).  And that’s that. I mix the episode there, too (after recording it, huddled under a mattress topper. Or if it’s too loud because someone’s mowing a lawn or hammering something, I take the mattress thingy into my daughter’s room which is cozy and has a rug that helps deaden the sound. Sometimes I prop my elbow up on her big, stuffed bunny named Big Bunny).

IMG_1852
DiMeo’s recording tent (for real)

Follow The Memory Palace on Twitter @thememorypalace. Subscribe to the podcast in iTunes here.

Case Study: Esquire Classic Podcast for Broadcast

Podcast to broadcast.

mundt
Todd Mundt

We kick around this notion all the time at PRX: can the stories and styles that work so well in the highly intimate podcast medium also work in the mass form of radio?

Some do, some really don’t, and I am skeptical of podcast-to-broadcast working in every case. But KUOW in Seattle is one of those daring stations that’s willing to try something at least once. A few weeks back Todd Mundt, managing producer at KUOW, reached out to PRX saying he’s a big fan of the Esquire Classic podcast that we produce with Esquire magazine.

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 5.58.46 PMEvery two weeks, Esquire editor Tyler Cabot, host David Brancaccio (and anchor of the Marketplace Morning Report from APM), producer Curtis Fox and I select a nonfiction story from the Esquire archives. The Esquire Classic podcast then dissects the story and its background—the assignment, editing, twists and turns—and its newfound context in the 21st century. Cindy Katz, an actor, usually reads excerpts live and David interviews an expert: the article’s original  author, editor, or someone else who really knows the material.

Todd suggested trying an episode for broadcast in Seattle. “The larger KUOW view is that we find, curate and present the most interesting content from wherever we can get it,“ he said. That mindset attracted him to an episode about a Tom Wolfe story profiling Silicon Valley pioneer Robert Noyce. Noyce was a major developer of the silicon chip, and helped create the entrepreneurial culture that we now associate with innovation. Brancaccio interviewed acclaimed tech reporter Kara Swisher of Re/code for the podcast.

Noycesq
Robert Noyce

“It was a moment to present a story the [Seattle] audience would find interesting,” said Todd. “This was a creation moment for Silicon Valley, the whole ethos of it, and Kara is in a unique position as a chronicler. With Brancaccio known to the audience, you have it all come together.”

The challenge was to take a 30-minute podcast and make it sound right on air. Todd worked with producers Caroline Chamberlain and Curtis Fox to break the podcast into four sections. Caroline had to craft tight and contextual host leads that really fit each excerpt. “We chose to serialize [the podcast], and that is harder. As you get deeper in, you get to parts two or three or four, and you have to do more backfilling of information in host intros, which we try to keep to no more than 25 seconds,” said Todd. He and Caroline went through many drafts. The Esquire Classic excerpts ran on consecutive days within a cutaway in All Things Considered (ATC). “It worked because I think of ATC as a bit of a step back from the day’s news. Plus our listening is high then.”

PRX is interested in working with other stations on this notion of podcast-to-broadcast. If you are station that’s game for surprising your audience with newly contextualized, original content, please get in touch at john@prx.org. You can find all the Esquire Classic episodes on PRX.org.

Written by John Barth, chief content officer at PRX.

What’s in My Buds? Featuring Craig Newmark from craigslist

Craig Newmark is the founder of craigslist. He is a self-described nerd, web pioneer, speaker, philanthropist, and advocate of technology for the public good. Craig has had an illustrious career, but it’s not widely known that he’s also a longtime podcast enthusiast, and a Radiotopia lover. When we dropped him an email, Craig told us, “I love the written word, and hearing it performed across areas that fascinate me. That includes storytelling, history, and comedy. With podcasts, I get to enjoy whenever I like.”

Photo credit: Bleacher+Everard

We talked to Craig about some of his favorites.

What is your go-to podcast and why?
That’d be a combination of WTF with Marc Maron, Judge John Hodgman, and Welcome to Nightvale. That included The Thrilling Adventure Hour [now sunsetted]; I miss it a lot.

All very smart, funny, and articulate.

What show do you fall asleep to?
Most often it’s WTF; it depends on what’s newly available, and my mood.

What show do you wake up to?
I might complete what I had been listening to while sleeping, but then I go to either NPR One, or the local streams from KQED, WNYC, or WAMU, depending on where I am.

What is your favorite listening environment?
In bed, or walking to work.

What show do you rave to your friends about?
WTF, Welcome to Nightvale, The History of English, The History of Rome, The Thrilling Adventure Hour. Those are what come up in conversation.

How would you describe a podcast to a six-year-old?
It’s people talking, like radio, whenever you feel like listening. (Not sure if six-year-olds know what radio is).

Who is your favorite podcast personality?
A combination of Cecil Baldwin, Marc Maron, John Hodgman, Mike Duncan.

Some of Craig’s favorites

If you were to start your own podcast what would the subject be?
Maybe what being a 1950’s, old-school nerd is about, but that subject is limited.

What is a podcast that doesn’t currently exist that you think should?
I need something that I enjoyed as much as The Thrilling Adventure Hour or The Bugle.

If you’re not listening to a podcast, what do you put on to listen to?
Mostly NPR One, or the local streams from KQED, WNYC, or WAMU, depending on where I am.

 

 

 

 

David Sedaris On Michael Ian Black’s How to be Amazing

IMG_2613

How to Be Amazing with Michael Ian Black is a weekly, interview-style show where Michael sits down with some of today’s most provocative writers, entertainers, artists, innovative thinkers and politicians for humorous, thought-provoking conversations that dive into the creative process, and the intricate minds of some of the most influential voices of our time.

Today, the show releases the first episode of a two-part series with David Sedaris, a humorist, comedian, author, and radio contributor. In the episodes, Michael chats with David about his amazing life and career, and how growing up ‘Sedaris’ helped shape him. The first episode is particularly revealing, as David discusses how he crafts his stories and how his career as a writer and performer turned out to be so successful. He reveals how he developed his writing style, and how attending school with visual artists in Chicago helped hone his speaking style. He also describes attending author readings in college, which taught him what not to do when he was at the podium. David later goes on to painstakingly discuss the ways his audience can break his heart, and how he copes. He even reveals how much money he makes a year (seriously).

In part 2, launching December 30th, David talks at length about his father. He describes how hard his dad was on him growing up, and how that has actually made him grateful. It is incredibly poignant and unguarded.

Check out the first episode here.

 

2015 Radiotopia Holiday Gift Guide

Presenting the 2015 Radiotopia Gift Guide: the best presents for that audio nerd in your life.

Grab some goods from all 13 Radiotopia shows.

Posters, stickers, notebooks and more!

T-shirts Galore

Radiotopia

The Truth

99% Invisible

The Memory Palace
The Allusionist
Fugitive Waves from the Kitchen Sisters
Love+Radio
Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything
Radio Diaries
Strangers
The Heart
Song Exploder
Mortified
Criminal

New Podcast: Orbital Path with Michelle Thaller

orbitalpath-500x500

Please welcome the newest podcast from PRX, Orbital Path.

Hosted by NASA astronomer Michelle Thaller, the series takes a look at the big questions of the cosmos and what the answers can reveal about life here on Earth. Space, stars, the universe, and us — for space lovers or just the curious.

The debut episode features the infamous Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy, as Michelle and Phil talk about why aliens get the credit for almost everything unexplainable. And episode two is in the works with another guest you won’t want to miss.

Subscribe on iTunes and beyond.

Orbital Path is produced by award-winning reporter Lauren Ober based at WAMU in Washington, DC. Many thanks to the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for making the show possible, along with PRX’s STEM Story Project and Transistor, our podcast featuring science stories from reporters near and far.

Thank you, also, to Carl.

Reveal Podcast to Go Weekly in January

Reveal, the nation’s first investigative reporting radio series and podcast, will start releasing episodes on a weekly cadence beginning January 9, 2016.

PRX launched Reveal in conjunction with the Center for Investigate Reporting in January 2015, and saw a great deal of success in its first year. The show managed to inspire state and federal legislation, reforms in school policing, and additional attention to worker safety in the oil industry, among other things. With such high demand from audiences, CIR and PRX decided to produce more frequent episodes in order to raise the standard for investigative reporting.

Read the full details on the launch below:

“REVEAL,” NATION’S FIRST PUBLIC RADIO SERIES DEVOTED TO
INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM, EXPANDS TO WEEKLY EPISODES

Launched by CIR & PRX, Peabody Award-winning program ramps up frequency after its first year inspires reforms, policy changes, and debates nationwide

Emeryville, California– Capping a successful first year that inspired state and federal legislation, reforms in school policing, and additional attention to worker safety in the oil industry, “Reveal,” the nation’s first public radio show and podcast devoted to investigative reporting, will expand from monthly to weekly episodes beginning on January 9, 2016.

The Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) and PRX launched “Reveal” as a monthly show in January 2015. The show’s instant impact on policy and growing popularity among radio and podcast audiences reflect the seamless and successful translation of CIR’s award-winning reporting to the audio format. Founded in 1977, CIR is the nation’s longest-running independent, multi-platform investigative reporting organization. PRX is the public media company that distributes programs like This American Life, The Moth Radio Hour, and the Radiotopia podcast network.

Hosted by the award-winning Al Letson, creator of the public radio series “State of the Re:Union,” “Reveal” breaks down complex investigations into compelling, narrative-driven stories that inform, engage and often inspire audiences to act.

Each episode of “Reveal” is built around a theme and features an original investigative story along with related pieces that provide context, texture, and a deeper understanding of the topic. The show is based on reporting from CIR’s newsroom as well as from media partners around the world, and benefits from CIR’s signature approach to collaboration with other nonprofit and for-profit newsrooms including the Center for Public Integrity, Texas Tribune, The Houston Chronicle, New Hampshire Public Radio, WNYC, WAMU in Washington, D.C., Michigan Radio, and others.

The original “Reveal” pilot won a George Foster Peabody Award, one of broadcasting’s highest honors, for its September 2013 story about how the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs feeds veterans’ addictions to prescription opiates. Resulting policy changes resulted in 100,000 fewer veterans being prescribed opiates by the VA. Other episodes from the past year have led to increased accountability of oil companies for worker safety and the introduction of school police reforms in Virginia to protect students with behavior issues from abuse.

The new weekly version will be aired on major market stations in Seattle, Washington DC, San Diego, Miami and Boston, among others.

“For nearly forty years, CIR has set the bar for investigative reporting on multiple platforms, and we’re thrilled that our high standards have thrived in a new format, with a new generation of fans,” said Joaquin Alvarado, CEO of The Center for Investigative Reporting. “We look forward to having a platform on a weekly basis for the kind of high-impact journalism that holds the powerful accountable, shines a bright light on injustice, and protects the most vulnerable in our society.”

“‘Reveal’ has demonstrated its ability to deliver high-quality investigative stories that resonate with audiences on both an intellectual and emotional level,” said Kerri Hoffman, COO of PRX. “The increased frequency to a weekly program raises the standard for investigative reporting at a time when many news organizations are cutting back.”

Significant funding for “Reveal” comes from The Reva and David Logan Foundation, which in 2014 awarded CIR a three-year grant for the series, citing its founders’ commitment to investigative journalism as the “guardian of the public interest.” Other major supporters of Reveal include The Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Knight Foundation and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

About The Center For Investigative Reporting
The Center for Investigative Reporting is the nation’s first independent, multi-platform investigative reporting organization. Devoted to holding powerful interests accountable to the public trust, CIR creatively employs cutting-edge technology and innovative storytelling to reveal injustice, spark change at all levels of society and influence public dialogue on critical issues. CIR produces high-impact reporting across print, video, TV, radio and online platforms and is the recipient of the prestigious MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions, winner of a 2013 Emmy Award and a 2014 George Foster Peabody Award, and a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2012 (for local reporting) and 2013 (for public service). Learn more at revealnews.org.

About PRX
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. Follow us on Twitter at @prx.

What’s in My Buds? Featuring PRX’s Josh Swartz

We’re kicking off a new blog series this week called What’s in My Buds?  The series will profile different members of the audio community, and allow them to tell, in their own words, what podcasts and shows they love to listen to. Our hope is to help our readers to get to know these people on a more personal level, and, of course, to get new show recommendations. Follow the series on social using the hashtag #PRXInMyBuds.
Our first entry comes from Josh Swartz, the PRX Remix curator right here at PRX.

From Josh:

IMG_4565

I listen to a lot of audio each week. In fact, it’s quite literally my job. So I want to take a moment to invite you into my headphones and share some of what I’ve been hearing. Here’s my day*, wavelength by wavelength:

My alarm goes off at 7:20 a.m. to the sweet, silvery tones of Roman Mars’ voice – thanks, Radiotopia Ringtones! Then I jump on the train at 8:15. I’ve never been a morning person and I’m not a coffee drinker so by this point I need a pick-me-up. Cue Errthang, a variety show helmed by everything-man Al Letson. Poet, playright, comic book writer, former host of State of the Re:Union and current host of Reveal, Letson is an accomplished storyteller with a magnetic personality and Errthang is a perfect vehicle to showcase his talents. The show balances casual, lively conversation with highly-produced stories —a recommended substitute for caffeine.

Once I settle into the office I peruse the new stories posted to the PRX website. Two series have stood out recently: Scene On Radio and Cargoland.

Scene On Radio comes from John Biewen and the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. It promises to feature past student work in combination with new stories, with an emphasis on active tape or “capturing the sounds of life happening,” as the description reads, in lieu of studio recording. The first handful of episodes are part of a sub-series called Contested, which aims to look at the world through sports. But these aren’t “sports stories,” per se. Or, at least, that’s not all they are. Biewen takes a wide tack and places the institution of sports as the object of inquiry, exploring the effect sports have on identity, community, and society. My favorite is Episode 2: Friends and Basketball, about the extent to which camaraderie on a girl’s high school basketball team transcends race and class status. Listen through to the end —it’s worth it.

Cargoland is a radio and podcast miniseries from Lu Olkowski and KCRW’s Independent Producer Project about the changes facing the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Olkowski does a masterful job providing a glimpse into the world of the thousands of workers whose lives revolve around cargo shipping containers. Believe me, this is not an area I knew anything about prior to listening; I was not aware that shipyards were used for any purposes other than Hollywood’s favorite backdrop for extravagant dance-offs, nefarious activity, or third-act fight scenes. But Cargoland made me care about this world and these people and I hope you give it a shot. Episode 4: The Pirate instantly became one of my favorite audio stories of all time. I’ll leave it at that.

It’s 3 p.m. and there’s a lull. I’ve listened to a lot of audio so far and my ears and brain are tired. I need a break from the stuff that requires energy to focus and absorb information. Enter The World According to Sound. I think of this show as the weird baby cousin once removed of Everything Sounds. Each episode is a 90-second story about sound like you’ve never heard: a French flatulent artist, a language made entirely of whistles or, my personal favorite, an Italian pop song sung entirely in gibberish English. They’re short, they’re fun, and they’re filled with super bizarre noises. A much appreciated break from the heavy stuff. It’s after 5 p.m. and I head home. I’m walking and in need of something with a beat to propel me forward. But I don’t turn straight to music. Instead I hit play on Out Of The Blocks, a collaboration between electronic musician Wendel Patrick and radio producer Aaron Henkin for WYPR. The idea is to profile one Baltimore city block at a time. Patrick’s original compositions weave together individual stories from each block to produce a rhythmic, surprisingly moving, thoroughly engaging result.

I walk through my front door and settle in for the night. But I don’t ditch my headphones just yet. All the sounds of the day swirl around my head as I flip the mental switch from curator to producer. I get to work on my own podcast, Bandwagon, a show profiling the followers of a different cultural phenomenon each season. I’m currently producing a slew of episodes featuring stories from the Bernie Sanders Campaign. The latest is about an ex-marine leading a contingent of veteran support for the campaign. Also…a kazoo band.

So there you have it – a snippet of what’s playing inside my headphones these days. But there’s lots more! For further recommendations email me at josh.swartz@prx.org or just tune in to PRX Remix, a never-ending storytelling channel featuring all the shows mentioned above and many, many similarly great ones.

*This day is based on true events