Friday, September 28, 2007

Listening Close

Even though our Blog took a summer vacation, we sure didn't. For the past few months the Launch team has been recording sample tapes with our 10 host candidates and then hunkering down to do the seemingly impossible: picking just three of our extraordinary finalists to produce pilots with.

The process began in the beginning of July when we brought our hosts into the studio and out into the field. Some had never seen a recording studio before, much less manned a mic; some were so relaxed they kicked off their shoes, put up their feet, and immediately began playing host. Some tested their reporting skills, interviewing people from hot dog vendors in Chicago to law students in Washington, D.C. to a classroom full of moms and their kids. By early August, we had produced a ten-minute compilation tape which showcased each of our hosts' personalities, interests, and storytelling talents. We then turned to our station advisors for objective help. After considering their impressions, the Launch team met in New York in August for final deliberations. It was grueling work -- we wanted to work with everyone! We dissected each hosts' strengths and challenges, thought about which person and topic would broaden the public radio audience, and finally, discussed whose voice and perspective was completely fresh.

After 48 hours of closed-door talks, we finally had a decision -- and we were able to turn our attention to our next task: unveiling our dynamic hosts at the annual PRPD conference in Minneapolis ( We've also been spending a lot of time thinking about what shape our three pilots will take. What should the tone of the show be? What can we play with? What are the themes we want to explore? We'll be asking these questions again and again in the coming months and using our answers to guide us as we develop what we hope are three funny, moving, inspiring and completely different public radio programs.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Talent On Tape

We're currently working with a select group of potential hosts on their sample tapes. Each ten-minute sample will be a mosaic of each person's particular strengths, such as one-on-one interviews, narratives in the field, Q & A phone sessions with listeners, or commentaries. Topics run the gamut from social justice to hard science to pop culture.

Over the next month, these sample tapes will be evaluated by our advisory board so that we can decide soon whom to feature in our three pilots. As we spend more time with our extraordinary hosts – attending lectures with them at Caltech, recording them at a Major League Baseball game, meeting for lunch or listening to their previously recorded work – we're realizing just how creative we can get with our selection process. For example, we think that two of our candidates might be great as co-hosts.

We are also finding ways to resolve some potential challenges, such as the remote location of one of our candidates and the time constraints of some of the others. Still, despite the challenges, all of our potential hosts remain deeply committed to the project. It is great to see everyone's dedication to creating substantive, entertaining, and innovative programming for public radio, especially from those who have never worked in the medium.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Making More of Music

A program director emailed us recently and implored us to remember the power of music on the radio. We have been busy looking for the right hosts to introduce new audiences to that power.

A few of our potential hosts fit the bill. One is a conductor who has claimed many "firsts" in her career – the first woman to conduct a major American orchestra, and the first conductor to be named a MacArthur Fellow. She carries the baton from earlier great conductors, such as her teacher Leonard Bernstein.

We have also reached out to a highly skilled jazz pianist who not only entertains but also redefines genres. He's known for transforming hip-hop standards into jazz classics and reinventing the notion of "gangersterism." He has also been a lecturer and teacher at prestigious music schools across the country, and he and his family created a scholarship to recognize an outstanding junior and senior in jazz.

Another influential voice on the music scene is a journalist, novelist, former editor-at-large for Time, Inc. and former editor-in-chief at Vibe. She has also written for publications such as Rolling Stone, Spin, and knows a lot about Tupac Shakur.

Working with the strengths of these music mavens, we're bound to see some sparks!

On that "note," we'd like to end this entry by saying thanks to everyone who has been involved in this process so far. To those who have exchanged ideas with us over email or coffee, have guided us with technical or moral support, or have generously advised us about our pool of host talent – we offer our sincerest gratitude.

Monday, April 23, 2007

This month we have met a number of inspiring people who are involved in the mega-issues that involve all of us, like climate change, healthcare, education, poverty. They are working to affect change, or at least raise the level of conversation. They're personable, too, and curious about how public radio may complement their pursuits.

We spoke with a college president whose innovative leadership has helped broaden the curriculum and resources at her school, from global-oriented education programs to new learning and teaching technologies. She is also a former National Kellogg Fellow, an expert in public health, and a poet. We spoke to her about how her experience nurturing a community of learners might translate to connecting with a community of public radio listeners, who we know are curious and passionate about the world.

Before another one of our prospective hosts traveled to Africa recently on a research trip for his next book, he sat down with us to talk about his ideas. He's an award-winning novelist who is in Nigeria right now, speaking with people living with AIDS, working to develop characters and weave real voices into his fictional work about the disease. He keeps the daunting enormity of his subject matter in check by anticipating smaller tasks, like how to ask an older person he has just met about his or her sex life. An excellent listener and engaging speaker, he is eager to learn how to use the intimate medium of radio to bring these people to a larger audience.

One of our other contacts shifted gears a few years ago to produce a film with a powerful message. The documentary he produced has reinvigorated the grassroots notion that everyone can make a difference. Where global awareness matches creative energy, you find visionaries such as this Academy Award winning producer.

One common denominator for these idealist/pragmatists is this: they talk with people. It will be exciting to figure out how we might bring these conversations to the radio.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

The Launch Pad

Welcome to the LAUNCH Blog! We will be updating this site with the latest news about our project, so check in often to see what we're up to.

At the moment we're busy sniffing out talent from all over the country in our quest to find the next wave of public radio personalities. This is the place to come for updates on our meetings with leading artists, thinkers, academics performers and experts in a range of disciplines. We've already contacted several dynamos who have inspired us (and perhaps you, too) with their creativity and commitment. These include a revered former broadcast news host, a parenting guru, and one of the best-loved cookbook authors in America.
This week we're chatting with several prominent figures in the culinary world, the crème de la crème of cookbook authors and nutrition & health experts. Who knows -- maybe they will whet our appetites for foodie-infused radio programming.

Last week in L.A. we met with a nationally respected clinical psychologist who is currently touring the country to speak to parents about raising kids in today's complex world. She is the author of a New York Times bestseller and serves on the boards of several distinguished education associations. Her talent as a motivational and educational public speaker could translate well to a public radio show. Maybe we'd even get to go on tour with her.

A few weeks ago in New York we had lunch with a performance artist who wrote and stars in a politically-charged, one-woman show in New York and L.A., which showcases her talents as an actor, comedian, director, and memoirist. During the meal, she demonstrated her flair for improvisation by seamlessly breaking into one of her made-up characters, Svetlana, a Russian prostitute who attends the Academy Awards. She made us laugh and ponder. What more could you ask for in a public radio host?

The amazing thing about getting LAUNCH off the ground (so to speak) has been that almost everyone who hears about our project wants to be involved. Our struggle, we're quickly realizing, will be how to narrow down the ever-growing list of potential hosts we've compiled.
We are being willingly tugged in various directions in terms of show ideas, as we'd like our initial pilots to demonstrate a breadth of compelling topics. One of our potential hosts imagined a successful program to be both "playful and profound." We hope this is true of all of our final products; it also nicely sums up the process it takes to get there.