Hello! I’m Paloma the new Distribution Manager and Customer Support Specialist at PRX. I blame my love of radio and storytelling on my mom and dad who still don’t understand what it is I do in the wonderful world of public radio. “Are you on air,” they ask, “No.” “Then what do you do?”
I attended Columbia College in Chicago, where I earned my degree in Radio Talent/ Production. While a student at Columbia, I started interning at 98.7 WFMT and was promptly offered a full time job as a production assistant upon graduation. I spent quite a number of years at WFMT and wore many hats: board operator, production, producer, engineer, IT, operations, etc…
This led me to working with two of the people that not only mentored me but gave me advice and supported me when I needed it most, the late Studs Terkel and Andrew Patner.
In 2014 The WFMT Radio Network started offering their content via SubAuto. This resulted in my promotion to Production and Syndication Manager at the Network and thus my relationship with PRX began. By coincidence, I actually started working at PRX two years to the date that I starting working with them for the WFMT Radio Network switchover.
I’m super excited to be part of the team and can’t wait to see what adventures await me!
More about me: I hail from Chicago. In my spare time I like traveling, concerts, reading, zombies, creating sound art pieces, listening to podcasts with my mom on Sunday mornings (although, now remotely) and special effects makeup.
PRX’s Radiotopia launched in 2014, in partnership with Roman Mars (99% Invisible) and six other podcasts, and has since grown to 13 acclaimed story-driven shows. Now, thanks to support from the Knight Foundation, we’re looking to grow and diversify the network, nurture fresh talent, and reach new audiences. Hence, Podquest—an open call for new shows that align with Radiotopia’s mission: to support motivated, independent producers and original shows that champion creativity, rich narratives, and high production value. Podquest pitches will be accepted March 17 – April 17, 2016. Finalists will be selected by a committee of Radiotopia producers and PRX staff, with input from 99 donors who volunteered to help shape the future of Radiotopia. Besides being a quest to find new talent, Podquest is also a study in what it takes to support ambitious, independent producers working to bring their shows to life. By the end of Podquest, we’ll invite at least one new show to join Radiotopia. Throughout the initiative we’ll offer support ($10,000 each plus editorial, business, marketing and tech help) to three finalists, and include them in a public conversation about the process. 10 semi-finalists will also earn $300, office hours with Radiotopia producers, a free 2-year membership with PRX, free Hindenburg editing software, and memberships with the media talent network AIRmedia.org. Want to submit an idea to Podquest? First read more about Podquest and the entry process, and if you still have questions, drop a line to email@example.com. In the meantime, follow along with the adventure on our Twitter and Facebook pages, or via the #podquest hashtag. And to get in the spirit, check out this little clip of audio goodness featuring some of your favorite Radiotopians.
**Update, Podquest is now closed for entries as of April 17, 2016.**
Thank you to all who nominated their favorite youth-made radio stories of 2015. Young people are making a tremendous amount of insightful and engaging radio, and we want to highlight some of that work. Keep it up!
We also want to give an important shout-out to the amazing educators who are working hard to train the next generation of radio-makers. Thank you.
Take a listen to these stories which range from displacement in East Boston to falling in love with composing music to a day in the life of a popular Egyptian street food vendor.
Because we had so many fabulous submissions, some not available on PRX, we have also included a short list below of more phenomenal youth-made radio stories from 2015:
PRX is thrilled to welcome a new special series of episodes on its podcast, Transistor. The episodes, called Trace Elements, feature hosts Cristina Quinn and Alison Bruzek as they take us on an off-road trip into the science that connects us.
Each episode explores something new. Whether it’s a medical mystery, the future of social robots, or implanting foreign objects into your body — Trace Elements is on it.
The first episode introduces us to a man who woke up from a hospital procedure and no longer felt any fear. Learn more and listen here, and get the official press release below.
PRX and Transistor Podcast Introduce Trace Elements Series
Cambridge, MA (March 10, 2016)—Award-winning public media company PRX is launching a new series of episodes on its popular science podcast, Transistor. The five special episodes, called Trace Elements, are produced by and feature dynamic hosts Cristina Quinn and Alison Bruzek. The series is meant to be an off-road trip into the science that connects us.
The episodes are part of PRX’s commitment to creating and distributing new science programming, especially from women, on Transistor. The podcast is supported with funds provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Quinn and Bruzek both work as journalists in the Boston area.
“Cristina and Alison’s style is what attracted us to these episodes. They ask the right questions about science, and their curiosity and chemistry make science stories utterly engaging,” said PRX Chief Content Officer John Barth.
Trace Elements launches on Transistor March 10 with an episode titled, “The Reset”. The episode focuses on a man who no longer feels fear following a hospital procedure. It’s part medical mystery, part psychological quandary, and it urges listeners to reflect on how fears can define us.
PRX is shaping the future of public media content, talent and technology. PRX is a leading creator and distributor, connecting audio producers with their most engaged, supportive audiences across broadcast, web and mobile. A fierce champion of new voices, new formats, and new business models, PRX advocates for the entrepreneurial producer. PRX is an award-winning media company, reaching millions of weekly listeners worldwide. For over a dozen years, PRX has operated public radio’s largest distribution marketplace, offering thousands of audio shows including This American Life, The Moth Radio Hour and Reveal. Follow us on Twitter at @prx.
Transistor is podcast of scientific curiosities and current events, featuring guest hosts, scientists, and story-driven reporters. Presented by radio & podcast powerhouse PRX, with support from the Sloan Foundation.
About Cristina Quinn and Alison Bruzek
Cristina Quinn is a radio and TV journalist. She got her on-air start in Japan, hosting “Let’s English!” for FM-Aizu. Stateside, she’s been WGBH’s Weekend Edition anchor in Boston and became the station’s first midday news anchor. Cristina has done in-depth reporting on innovations in science, technology, and social issues. Her stories air locally on WGBH radio and TV’s Greater Boston, and have aired nationally on NPR News, PRI’s The World, and Innovation Hub. She has a journalism degree from UMass Amherst and a master’s in visual and media arts from Emerson College.
Alison Bruzek is a science writer and radio producer. Originally from the nation’s heartland, she has been known to occasionally reprise her Minnesotan accent. She is currently a freelance producer for WBUR in Boston. Prior to that, she worked as a video producer for WGBH. Before she came to radio, she developed science curriculum and science center programs with The HistoryMakers, an African American video oral history collection.
Welcome to the February edition of “What’s in My Buds?”. This month we talked with Vanessa Ishii from Stitcher. Vanessa serves as content editor and partner manager there, where she gets to listen to incredible stories all day long. But the listening doesn’t stop when she leaves the office—she can be found listening to content in the car, in her kitchen, and in public, laughing or tearing up to her favorite podcasts. Her favorite part of her job is working with content creators, learning about their storytelling process, and connecting their work with the right audience.
From Vanessa: “For what it’s worth: I keep catching myself asking new people I meet what podcasts they listen to, assuming everyone listens as much as I do. Not everyone does. But they should, and I tell them that.”
Check out some of her favorite shows below.
What is your go-to podcast and why?
Initially, I thought my go-to podcast was either The Worst Idea of All Time or Earwolf’s Ronna & Beverly but according to my Stitcher listening stats (screengrabs attached), it looks like I lean most heavily on My Brother, My Brother, and Me from Maximum Fun. This is probably my go-to because their show is a blend of what I expect from a podcast: it’s published on a regular schedule, it makes me laugh, it’s informative at times, and the McElroy brothers do a splendid job of making me feel included, like I’m part of their tribe.
What show do you wake up to?
I wake up to a personalized feed of news updates from sources like the AP, NPR, FOX, APM’s Marketplace, PRI’s The World, CBC and so on.
What is your favorite listening environment? My car. Otherwise I catch myself surfing my phone or computer and have to rewind 30 seconds to hear something I missed.
What show do you rave to your friends about? Superego; it was my gateway podcast. Once I finished binge-listening to their available episodes, I discovered Ronna & Beverly, which led to Comedy Bang Bang, and now I can’t stop adding to my Favorites playlist. I just saw Superego perform live for the first time at SF Sketchfest this year. Why do I rave about Superego? I listen to a variety of hard news, politics, science, and tech content all day for work. So I look forward to high-quality comic relief when I’m listening purely for pleasure.
Who is your favorite podcast personality?
Paul F. Tompkins, hands down. Best interviewer with the best guests, best interviewee, best improviser, best impersonator, with a breadth of knowledge that never ceases to entertain. Basically, he’s King of Podcasts.
How do you envision the future of the podcasting industry?
I imagine that film studios, TV networks, perhaps even record labels will begin to pump out supplemental podcasts for viewers to consume as an audio equivalent to the “second screen” experience. Right now, there’s a lot of fan recap, fan fiction, even punishment podcasts (Worst Idea of All Time), but not a lot of the original content producers are investing resources into their own “official” podcasts. The argument can be made that their wheelhouse is video not audio, but they all have websites, Twitter accounts, etc. Why not podcasts, too?
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
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.
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.
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 comes 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.
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.
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
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).
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.
Every 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.
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find all the Esquire Classic episodes on PRX.org.
Written by John Barth, chief content officer at PRX.
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.”