State of the Re:Union with Al Letson, from PRX and NPR

State of the Re:Union
State of the Re:Union

Apropos of today’s State of the Union speech from the President, and Apple’s “Slate of the Union” introducing the unfortunately named iPad…

We’re thrilled to be working with Al on his “SOTRU” project. Ever since we heard Al’s first 2-minute entry in the Public Radio Quest a few years back we’ve been big believers in his talent and vision here at PRX. We knew to expect great things from Al, and when the Corporation for Public Broadcasting decided to back his new venture with gusto in 2010, we made sure to jump in and lend a hand.

We are also trying out a new partnership with our friends at NPR, resulting in a co-distribution arrangement that will also enable Al to appear on some NPR programs in addition to distributing his show to PRX and NPR member stations. This is kind of how NPR works with some “presenting” stations like WBUR (“On Point”) or WHYY (“Fresh Air”).

Make sure to check out Al’s work on PRX now, and check back for more episodes coming soon. Al and his ninja team in Jacksonville have also revamped the SOTRU website.

Below is the announcement that just went out to public radio stations from our main man on the station marketing front, Izzi Smith:

New for Spring – State of the Re:Union with Al Letson

Fresh Stories on Building and Rebuilding Communities

PRX and NPR are excited to announce the spring season of State of the Re:Union with Al Letson.  With generous support from CPB, Public Radio Talent Quest winner Al Letson is producing 5 all-new shows this spring.  State of the Re:Union (SOTRU) is presented by PRX and co-distributed by PRX and NPR.

There’s so much talk about “community” that sometimes we lose perspective on the real stories of the people working to make homes, lives, and neighborhoods across the country.  In State of the Re:Union, Al Letson is traveling the country to find those stories, and tell them with grace, perspective, and deep curiosity.

Where much of today’s news and media outlets highlight the divisions and conflicts that separate us, SOTRU explores the resonating themes, stories, challenges and cultural components that create communities across the country and celebrate the commonality that links us as a people.

Letson brings his formidable stage and poetry slam skills to the mic in each State of the Re:Union episode.  Not since Radiolab have you heard music, rhythm, and pacing used to deepen the story.  During the Talent Quest, PRX talked about the value of “hostiness.”

There will be 5, all new hours of State of the Re:Union this spring.  Preview audio will be available on March 1, and broadcast rights open April 30, 2010.  The programs are available free to all PRX and NPR member stations.  Here’s a preview of some of the stories in the spring season:

Greensburg, Kansas –

On one night in May of 2007, a tornado wiped Greensburg, Kansas, off the map. The town’s residents have decided to not only resurrect the town, but to rebuild in a true spirit of renewal. State of the Re:Union examines the profound devastation and the rigors and rewards of this innovative rebirth.

Brooklyn, NY –

State of the Re:Union visits New York City’s most populated borough to examine how this diverse collection of communities handles the friction of change, the pull of tradition, and discovers that special something that makes this neighborhood so celebrated.

Timber Town –

Back in the timber industry’s heyday, small mill towns in Oregon were thriving. Business was booming. Then in the early 1990s, the saws stopped. The mills shut down and their economies crumbled. State of the Re:Union surveys how a town, that has lost its identity, reinvents itself.

A fall season of six State of the Re:Union programs will be available in September 2010.

PRX at PRPD 2009


We’re just back from the Public Radio Program Directors conference in Cleveland, OH, where PRX was a whirlwind of activity. John Barth is on the PRPD Board of Directors and moderated several panels, and I also joined a panel on Mobile Technology and Public Radio. It was terrific to see so many independent producers in attendance, a credit to PRPD’s partnership with the Association of Independents in Radio (AIR) and the participation of the Third Coast International Audio Festival, which announced its Awards here this year. PRX works closely with both AIR and Third Coast so it was extra fun to have our friends in the mix at every turn.
PRX booth

Also in the house in a big way were PRX Talent Quest winners Al Letson and Glynn Washington, fresh off a year of pilot development for Al’s State of the Re:Union and Glynn’s Snap Judgment shows funded by CPB. Al gave the conference-ending “benediction” with his unique flourish of poetry, art and generous spirit. He blew the place away. This is the third year we’ve had Al and Glynn in our midst and public radio is starting to wake up to the overdue realization that these guys – along with remarkably talented producers in AIR’s MQ2 project – are exactly where the future needs to be.

If you haven’t yet checked out MQ2 head over to the website where much of the work is being featured – exceptional multimedia and radio production. I particularly was struck by Lu Olkowski’s “InVerse” project that Al highlighted during his speech. Check out a sample here, watch it full screen with the volume up.

For us, and by all accounts for many others at PRPD, the highpoint of the entire week was The Moth event at the City Club of Cleveland on Wednesday night.

We recorded the show for future inclusion in a Moth Radio Hour episode. Tom Shillue was the host for this event and did a fantastic and funny job, and the storytellers were Ed Gavigan, Elna Baker, and “DMC” of the legendary Run DMC. Below are my introductory comments to give some context for the project and PRX’s role in it.

Tom Shillue at The Moth at PRPD 2009 Cleveland
Tom Shillue at The Moth at PRPD 2009 Cleveland

Thank you Dave and WCPN/IdeaStream, thank you WKSU, and also a big thanks to Arthur Cohen, PRPD, and the City Club of Cleveland. This is the oldest continuous free speech forum in the country!

Please also join me in thanking everyone at PRX, the stations and producers who provided feedback, The Moth, Atlantic Public Media, and Izzi Smith, and especially our own Kerri Hoffman for all the hard work that’s gone into tonight and this project.

Our partners on this venture are The Moth – a truly remarkable group lead by Executive Director Lea Thau and Artistic Director Catherine Burns who are here tonight. The Moth is a nonprofit based in New York that got its start over a dozen years ago and does important community outreach work in addition to the performances they are known for.

And our other partner is Jay Allison, whom you all know well. Jay’s work in co-founding PRX, starting, and most recently producing This I Believe all point to the tremendous potential that he, and we, see in The Moth joining forces with public radio. Jay’s Open Studios Project, funded by CPB, has helped seed the production of this series.

This is a special night.

We may be in the waking moments of creating public radio’s next big hit.

This is the PRPD so you can expect a bit of hyperbole from the likes of me, but actually I mean it.

PRX works with literally thousands of producers, and tens of thousands of hours of programs.

But beyond distribution, we’ve always made it our mission to help showcase the best new voices and talent, the most innovative ideas, projects, and people who will help expand the reach and meaning of public media.

Once in a while something extraordinary emerges, and I feel it’s a kind of collective responsibility for all of us to help nurture it into existence.

Without question, The Moth is a phenomenon.

It is a living breathing experience that is already touching audiences on stages in communities across the country, through millions of podcast downloads, and, as of this past month, on over 170 public radio stations and counting.

The Moth speaks directly and powerfully to the public radio audience, but we are also bringing The Moth audience – and it’s a big and new and interesting one – to public radio.

This pilot series of 5 radio hours presented by PRX and produced by Jay Allison is creating a huge groundswell of response from listeners everywhere.

Some stations are already starting to re-air the series, and audiences are asking for more.

And there is more – lots more coming in 2010 – because it all starts with true stories told, on a stage like this, in dozens of performances a year.

Starting in New York, and then Los Angeles, and now with local productions in partnership with stations in Wisconsin, Pittsburg, Georgia, Detroit, Boston, Chicago, and more to come – creating a unique opportunity for participation and engagement.

I don’t need to wax poetic about the connection between compelling storytelling and public radio’s core values.

That’s best left to someone like PRX Talent Quest Winner Al Letson at his Benediction on Friday at 11:15 in Grand Ballroom A!! (Got your back Al!)

But this is why we are here. This is why The Moth Radio Hour is taking flight. And this is why we wanted to make sure you had the chance to experience The Moth live, in person here tonight.

Enjoy the show, come visit us at the PRX booth tomorrow. And thank you.