The Last of the Iron Lungs

This post is part of a series of posts featuring the stories from our STEM Story Project, which was made possible by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

As storms raged through Oklahoma earlier this year, Martha Lillard waited them out from inside her iron lung. She is one of just dozens of polio survivors who still rely on iron lungs to breathe.

The Last of the Iron Lungs, produced by Julia Scott for our STEM Story Project, is a portrait of Martha, who contracted polio in 1953. To Martha, the 1940s machine is comfort and survival, and she is not interested in modern machines. As a researcher explains in the story, new machines operate differently, forcing air into the lungs in a way that doesn’t feel right for iron lung patients. Take a listen all the way through to hear about Martha’s dreams of driving inside her iron lung:

Julia Scott sent us some thoughts about her experience producing this story:

“Martha’s story is fascinating enough on its own. It’s a radio producer’s dream to be able to capture the kinds of sounds no one will ever hear again – the mechanical bellows, pushing air through a machine older than Martha herself.

“Reporting this story made me realize how distant and abstracted polio has become in our national memory. Martha’s bedroom is dominated by her iron lung, a relic of history that most people my age may never even have heard of (I’m 32). To her, it’s a trusted companion and a lifelong friend. But the iron lung symbolized one of the most terrifying, unpredictable health epidemics of the 20th century. Archival photos like this one brought home the sheer scale of the outbreak – and the prospect of lifelong paralysis that thousands of people endured.

“One of the highlights of this project was being able to try out Martha’s iron lung – something I was a little scared to do. I laid down on the sliding cot, pushed my head through her foam neck collar and she sealed me in. It wasn’t claustrophobic, but I wasn’t counting on how hard it would be stop drawing breath and let the respirator take over pushing my diaphragm in and out, forcing air to whoosh into my throat. “Stop trying to breathe!” Martha instructed. For her, lying in the iron lung is the most comfortable sensation in the world.

“Since the story has aired I’ve received emails from people whose families were touched by polio, grandfathers and great-aunts who spent time in an iron lung but graduated to breathing on their own. They see Martha’s story as part of the same continuum.”

Want more? Check out our other STEM Story Project pieces.

Seeking PRX Remix Assistant Producer

Job Description
PRX Remix Assistant Producer

This position has been filled


The PRX Remix Assistant Producer will seek, find, screen, and recommend great story-driven audio for use on PRX Remix. If you are a critical and even somewhat obsessive listener to public radio, podcasts, intriguing sound of various kinds, and can pick out the most compelling audio from the mediocre and mundane, your curatorial ears might be just the right fit for PRX Remix.

Working under the direction of PRX Remix Program Director Roman Mars, and coordinating with PRX editorial staff, you will also get your hands dirty writing, producing, recording, editing, voicing and interviewing to create short-form interstitial content for use on PRX Remix. You will be in frequent touch with producers and podcasters about using their work, and communicate closely with the PRX team.

Strong candidates should have:

  • Great ears and great taste – you’re open-minded but discerning, and in sync with the PRX Remix sensibility.
  • Great chops – you can quickly edit audio using your favorite tools of choice like ProTools, Hindenburg, and know your way around and tools like Dropbox, SoundCloud.
  • Great writing – you can whip up short copy for promos and pieces, fire off well-composed emails to producers, collaborators, partners, and occasionally contribute to the PRX blog and social media presence.
  • Great personality – collaborative, enthusiastic, adventurous, with the maturity to work with minimal direct supervision and communicate across a busy team.
  • Great balls of fire!

We strongly prefer that the producer work out of our Cambridge, Mass. office. However, if you are interested and do not live here, you may still apply. This is a part-time opportunity with some flexibility in scheduling. Exact hours and days per week will be dependent on the chosen applicant.

To apply, upload your cover letter and resume here. Application deadline is 11:59 PM ET on Friday, August 16.

Please email jobs [at] prx [dot] org with any questions.

About PRX Remix

PRX Remix is for people who love to listen to great stories. We handpick the best short works from shows like The Moth, 99% Invisible, and Snap Judgment, from independent radio makers on, and from podcasters everywhere. Then we mix it up in a never-ending stream. PRX Remix can be heard on XM 123, mobile apps, and stations around the country. Learn more.

Latest Producer News: New Partnerships and Purchasers

Hey audio-makers! We have lots to report, from PRX Remix going mobile, to new purchasers on PRX (like PRI’s The World!), to websites that make your transcripts for you. Take a look at our latest newsletter for producers right here.

Sign up to get the next producer newsletter in your email. We promise it’ll be worth the inbox space!

Global Story Project Roundup & Carriage

With support from the Open Society Foundations, PRX recently had an open call for stories from around the world, called the Global Story Project. We received over 200 proposals and picked 19 producers, who created hour-long documentaries, series of short pieces, historical journeys, and personal commentaries — and introduced us to issues and people that we won’t soon forget.

Here’s a map of where the stories took place. Click to see piece titles, where they aired, producer names, and links to listen:

View Global Story Project in a larger map

We’re thrilled with the hard work the producers put into their productions, as evidenced by where they aired: Snap Judgment, PRI’s The World, RTE Ireland,, dozens of public stations around the country, The Story with Dick Gordon, 99% Invisible, PRX Remix, and Making Contact, among others.

In addition to the map, you can find all of the stories in this playlist. Click launch popup player to listen through them all, or pick and choose from the descriptions.

Stations and programs: Join your colleagues and grab Global Story Project pieces for air. Find them all here and click on the titles to buy them on the following pages. If you need help, get in touch.

Stay tuned for science, technology, engineering, and math pieces from our latest open call, the STEM Story Project, coming July 15.

Global Story Project Feature: The Symphony of Sirens, Revisited

This post is part of our series highlighting productions from our Global Story Project.

Have you ever thought of your home town as having its own sound? What about how different your city probably sounded 90 years ago?

Moscow-based producer Charles Maynes introduces us to composer Arseny Avraamov, whose 1923 Symphony of Sirens, with no existing recordings, makes it the stuff of legend… and perfect for a creative, experimental audio piece. Take a listen to The Symphony of Sirens, Revisited:

Charles filled us in on what attracted him to Avraamov and his symphony:

“You know, this is a story I first became fixated on several years ago but had no idea how to make. How do you produce a radio story about a music performance from nearly a hundred years ago that no one had recorded? I didn’t know. And so after doing a bit of research, I decided there wasn’t enough ‘there’ to carry a story. So I did what I thought was the smart thing — I dropped it.

“I guess in that way, the title of the story — ‘Symphony of Sirens, Revisited’ — is truer than you might think. With a gentle nudge from PRX (my way of saying thanks!), this is literally me taking another swing at the Avraamov legend. I still don’t know if it ‘works’, but I do find it interesting to think, production-wise, about the little things I do now vs. what I would have done then. The conceit of the piece was to do it as a (kind of) detective story, but the mechanics of the production involved attention to transitions, pacing, and the occasional hint of audio pyrotechnics. Production tricks, in other words. They may not be good tricks, but they’re my tricks — except, of course, for the ones I stole!”

Meta Moth Moments

When worlds collide… sounds like the title to a Moth show, no?

Well, worlds are really colliding here tonight. PRX’s Lead Software Developer, Rebecca Nesson, will be telling a story at the Moth Mainstage at the Somerville Theatre, just a couple T stops up from our office. Mainstages are The Moth’s flagship shows with hand-picked storytellers.

By day Becca works on PRX’s mobile apps, including those for This American Life, Radiolab, and The Moth (forthcoming). We didn’t know she had a talent for telling stories as well.

At a Boston open mic Moth StorySLAM in February, Becca put her name in the hat and was called up to tell her story. The audience reception was fantastic, the story was beautiful, and the Moth asked her to tell it at tonight’s sold-out Mainstage. The theme tonight is Learning Curves and will include five storytellers. We’ll be there rooting her on.

In other news…

Moth StorySLAMS are expanding to more cities throughout the U.S. PRXer Audrey Mardavich has been producing sold-out SLAMS in Boston for six months, so another one has been added by audience demand. The new SLAM is produced by yours truly (Genevieve Sponsler).

As mentioned, SLAMS are open mic, so you never know who will get up on stage… come put your name in the hat!

(Sign up on the Moth mailing list and choose your city to get the latest info.)

(Hey, stations: Get on board with Moth popularity by airing The Moth Radio Hour weekly.)

Photo by Allison Evans.

Let’s get together… PRX STEM Story Project Facebook Group

During last week’s STEM Story Project webinar, a few producers expressed interest in a place they could chat about collaboration, science topics, budgeting, etc. So here you go: PRX STEM Story Project open group on Facebook.

STEM Story Project announcement | Application and guidelines

STEM Story Project Webinar Video is Up

We had a lot of producers at our PRX STEM Story Project webinar today. Thanks to all who hung out with us on a Friday afternoon!

The webinar covered our latest a new competition for funding to create audio productions. Many questions were answered. (Application and guidelines can be found here.)

On the call are PRX Managing Director John Barth and PRX Content Coordinator Genevieve Sponsler. Listening in is PRX STEM Associate Lily Bui.

PRX STEM Story Project Webinar from Public Radio Exchange (PRX) on Vimeo.

Global Story Project Feature: I Am Not the Only One

This is second in our series of posts highlighting productions from our Global Story Project.

Rwanda is the land of a thousand hills located in the
heart of Africa. An old saying goes “Rwanda is the
place where God comes to rest”.

April 6th is the 19th anniversary of the beginning of the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

In I Am Not the Only One from producer Arndt Peltner, two men who were children during the genocide look back and describe how they moved forward. Their parents were killed, they lost their community, and had to fight for their lives. Hear their stories:

Now for the backstory: Arndt wrote to us about his experience reporting this project.

“I have been travelling to Rwanda for some years, fascinated by the countryside and its people. But as a visitor you will notice very fast, that you can’t oversee the brutal history of the genocide. It doesn’t matter who you are talking with, at one point the question will come up, what they experienced in 1994, who they lost in the slaughter, how they survived, if parents or relatives or friends were victims or perpetrators.

“I met Richard through some friends at the German embassy, he started to work for them as a translator a while ago, translating for raped women in the eastern part of the Congo. Germany has some perpetrators of the war crimes in the Congo on trial.

“Freddy I met through researching another story about Rwanda at the genocide memorial. He was very open about what he experienced.”

Global Story Project Feature: An Overnight Metropolis

This is the first in a series of posts highlighting productions from our Global Story Project.

A street in Zeytinburnu, one of the neighborhoods
under earthquake risk.

An Overnight Metropolis is the story of city dynamics, eminent domain, and mother nature — and how they affect what we call home.

Producer Ashley Cleek takes us to Zeytinburnu, a district in Istanbul where many live in housing that may not withstand an earthquake. And with the city due for another major earthquake where two-thirds of the city’s three million homes could be at risk, residents are being asked to move. Take a listen (and check out a companion article from Ashley published in The Atlantic online!):

And now, the backstory: Ashley wrote to us about her experience reporting this project.

“Being able to return to a neighborhood multiple times allowed for a couple of key advantages in reporting. It allowed me to keep track of politicians’ promises and forecasts and actually hold them accountable for what they had said six months prior.

“Also, it’s not easy to let a stranger into your house, especially a foreigner with a microphone, but after returning to the neighborhood several times, families began to recognize me and trust me, as a journalist with a real interest in their neighborhood. People started calling me into their businesses to talk or haranguing their neighbors to stop and speak to me. It allowed for surprising character development. On one visit I met a man named ‘Zafer’ who was so suspicious of the government and his neighbors that he carried his apartment deed in his coat pocket and wouldn’t talk about the urban transformation in public.

“On my final trip to Zeytinburnu a few months later, I was walking down the street to catch the bus home when Zafer shouted from his window that he had changed his mind and was going with the government’s plan. That was the most surprising moment, to see a person change, and through his example possibly a neighborhood. None of that would have happened in a single day of reporting or without the help of PRX.”