Saturday, February 12, 2011

Chapter 1: I Am Obsessed With Radio

My friend Nathan says that adding the word "radio" to anything automatically makes said thing uncool. Waves - cool. Radio waves - not cool. Host - cool. Radio host - not cool. Ham - cool. Ham radio - not cool.

But I'd take radio over ham any day, and not just because I'm a vegetarian. I love, love, love radio, especially that holy grail of nerdiness, public radio (Can you say "Schweaty balls?"). If I could marry radio, I would. If I could BE radio, I would.

On the first day of every semester, my professors in the theatre department at the University of Wisconsin - Madison would warn us sternly that we should only pursue a career in acting if we "couldn't imagine doing anything else." I would watch as my classmates nodded emphatically, tears in their eyes, and described the glorious moment when they first KNEW, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they NEEDED to be an actor. And I would think, "Really? Does anyone actually NEED to be an actor?"

And then I discovered radio. The Moment came while listening to Elna Baker's story, "Babies Buying Babies," on This American Life. Suddenly I realized that there were people who actually made the radio I was listening to, that those people learned about all kinds of different things and wrote and listened and told stories and recorded sounds and put it all together, and best of all, that this was an actual JOB that existed - a job I NEEDED TO HAVE. Immediately.

That was three years ago. My illustrious career in public radio has yet to be fully realized, or even mostly realized, or even much more than a very tiny bit realized. Still, I will not be discouraged. Yes, my beloved This American Life has yet to respond to one of my story pitches and doesn't want me as their intern (yet, YET). True, I have tried and failed to follow the advice of seasoned radio professionals who encourage me to "just get a job" at my "local NPR affiliate" as though they're suggesting I pick up a paper route for some extra cash. But I have recently received my first encouraging signs.

One of my beloved teachers at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke, John Biewen, says there are dozens of dollars to be made in radio, and I am about to get my hands on a few of them. I recently submitted a pitch to the fabulous storytelling show Snap Judgment, and a few days later, got an email saying they were (gasp) interested. When they called to work out the details of my first paid production assignment, I was so excited I accidentally stabbed myself in the thigh with a toothpick. Then I ran around my apartment making martial arts-type gestures and yelling "YEAH, baby! NATIONAL! PUBLIC! RADIO! Woo!...Wait, is my leg bleeding?"

So now seemed as good a time as any to begin a Giant Project - radio at a breakneck pace. In the next 365 days, I will attempt to produce 100 audio pieces. Starting with my Snap Judgment assignment. And I'm going to tell YOU all about it, in the hope that it will entertain you (in either a "Wow, she's so great and smart and awesome at making radio!" way or a scary train-wreck reality T.V. way, depending on the outcome). In the spirit of full disclosure, I also have a selfish motive. I need to work my face off in order to get my foot in the door of public radio, and I need some kind of encouragement (bonus points for the sword of potential public humiliation dangling over my head) to actually produce these pieces and not procrastinate or wander off as has historically been my way.

Welcome to my radio project. I'm delighted to have you as my reader/scary threatening auditor. If you want to help me in this, the pursuit of my future, you might consider providing suggestions for topics or sending me intimidating grouchy emails if I'm not keeping at this. And, while I appreciate you VERY MUCH, I recognize that true motivation comes from within...or something. As C-Money Dickens puts it in the opening line of David Copperfield:
"Whether I turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station* will be held by anybody else, these pages must show."
(*Station - cool. Radio station - not cool.)

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