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.


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…



Best of the Best!

Each year the judges at The Third Coast International Audio Festival select the best new documentaries produced worldwide as part of the TC / Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Competition. The winners are the best of the best in radio. This 2-hour special, hosted by Gwen Macsai, collects the winning documentaries, interviews with the makers, and moments from the award ceremony held at the TCIAF conference in October.

If you only listen to two hours of radio this year, these two hours should be it!

A Channel from Brain to Heart.

Earlier this week all of we had the wonderful experience of reading this email:

“Here I am, trying, during my workday, to NOT think about remix radio, but I’m hooked. Somewhere I read an article referring to the programming as “driveway moments” and I thought that meant, perhaps, that everyone was sitting in their cars in their driveways, as I do, with the radio on after work because they couldn’t interrupt their PRX listening and go home. The stories and voices you bring to your listeners are inspiring, enlightening, touching, and so full of truth, or I guess I mean honesty. I am a bundle of resonance. I plan to retire next June and now I think I know what I want to do when I grow up. Love you guys. Thanks for opening a new channel between my brain and my heart.”


We were like whoa. Opening a new channel between the brain and the heart? That is the nicest things anyone has ever said to us! But it’s hardly us programmers who deserve these kudos. It’s the incredible talent we showcase on Remix. Whether it’s one of New Hampshire Public Radio’s expert hosts interviewing an NPR music critic unknown details of John Lennon’s life, or producer Jason Samilski creating a new kind of poetic landscape with his own voice, thoughts, and original banjo and accordian music — good radio does, somehow, put our brains in touch with our hearts.

Hear two new pieces, remixed in just last week:

And WALE, a radio poem supported by original music, produced by new PRX producer, Jason Samilski. Jason is a Toronto-based writer and sound producer who works in radio plays, music, and short stories. Listen:

Wale image

Bath image by Emanuela Franchini, Desert image by Jason Samilski.

Final Sale: An Audio Slideshow

For two months in 2006, Samantha Broun and Neal Menschel would show up at Winthrop Sherwin’s general store in West Groton, MA: Sam with a microphone and Neal with a camera. Together, they created an audio slideshow profiling Sherwin in anticipation of his retirement — after 70 years at the Sherwin Brothers’ Clover Farm Store. As of today, you can hear Sam’s audio on REMIX Radio. But I hate to sever Sam’s sound from Neal’s photography. Click below to enjoy their audio slideshow, from

Final Sale is 6:30 long, and requires Flash Player

REMIXing PopTech

PopTech is a network of world changing innovators and every year a bunch of them cloister together in Camden, Maine and give talks, exchange ideas, and solve the world’s problems. Then they’ll most likely get back home and crash into the wall of anti-innovation that surrounds us all, but for these few days in Camden (and in your home- they live stream all the talks!) it will feel like anything is possible. That feeling is infectious, intoxicating, and quite fun to listen to.

We play a few of the great PopTech audio programs from conferences past on the stream, but this year REMIX is actually going to be there. Our own world changing innovator Benjamen Walker (he of Too Much Information) is going to the talks, roaming the halls, and bringing back stories and snippets from the 2010 conference. Keep checking back here and tune in for updates.

In the meantime, here’s a talk that I really dig by public radio’s Kurt Andersen (Hands off, book people. He’s ours!):

PopTech’s Video feed

Why we do what we do

PRXer Matt MacDonald turned me on to the RSA Animate video series a couple weeks ago, and man alive, are they awesome. This episode tackles an issue that confounds a lot of people in the public radio profession: why do we work so hard on something that (usually) offers so little financial gain? It turns out, independent producers aren’t freaks when it comes to this disassociation of higher brain tasks and monetary gain. We’re normal! At least in that sense. Indies are freaky in plenty of other ways. Come to Chicago in October and we’ll prove it.

Oh, oh: I uploaded a great new piece today (well several, but this one deserves to be listened to separately when other ambient noise is at a minimum). It’s called Secrets and Noise by Amy Conger. The piece gets progressively louder “as more and more noises and voices come in to muffle the speaker who only wants to tell you a little something.” I really dig it, but fear some of its greatness could be lost if you heard it on the car stereo, zooming down the highway. Take the time now, dear listener.