Hal Royaltey (hal) Mon 10 Jul 06 12:49
In seventh grade, Angie Coiro was chosen to read the morning announcements at Coquillard Middle School in South Bend, Indiana. She has been unable to shut up ever since. She's been working in radio and television since the early eighties, in Indiana, Hawaii, and ultimately San Francisco. After 15 years in public radio, she made the break to Air America last year, hosting Mother Jones Radio. She's received multiple awards for her work, most prestigiously the 2003 Public Radio News Directors award for the best public radio interview in the country that year. (Her guest: Salman Rushdie.) She's also a veteran of onstage live interviews and panels, most recently Mike Wallace, Martin Short, and Robert Thurman. She lives in the Bay Area with an everchanging cast of cats and (by contrast) a husband who's apparently planning to stay. Leading our interview with Angie is Ed Ward. Although he thinks of himself more as a writer, Ed Ward has had a parallel radio career of sorts over the years, starting as a classical and folk DJ at WYSO-FM in Yellow Springs, Ohio, during his college days, and short stints on KFAT-FM and KPIG-FM in the '70s. In 1987, he was offered a "rock and roll historian" slot on an emerging NPR show, Fresh Air, a post he holds to this day. After moving to Berlin in 1993, he joined the staff of the brand-new JazzRadio Berlin from 1995-2000, hosting several jazz shows each week, as well as Blue Monday, featuring blues, R&B, soul, and gospel, which became one of the most popular shows in the city despite being broadcast in English, and he misses doing it. But he still thinks of himself primarily as a writer. Welcome to the Inkwell, Angie and Ed!
Angie (coiro) Mon 10 Jul 06 21:18
Thanks, Hal! And welcome, one and all. Ready when you are, Mr. Ward. Is this thing on?
Berliner (captward) Tue 11 Jul 06 09:55
Sorry, it was that switch over *there,* not this one here... I guess the first, most obvious question is...why radio? It's a really odd medium, a really solitary one most of the time. You never really know if anyone's listening, or, if they are, how many of them are. Seems to me that if you were one of those people who couldn't shut up, you'd pick something like law or acting or something. Was radio your intention, or did you fall into it accidentally?
Angie (coiro) Tue 11 Jul 06 11:41
Okay, that was downright creepy - did you get ahold of my high school yearbook? Because there you'll see listed as my career goals, "Criminal law; theatre." As a kid I enjoyed any kind of performance - did all the school plays, of course. And I did pursue acting as my first career choice. I had it all down, including earning my first Tony at age 31. (Why 31? Don't ask - I have no idea.) Remember that famous cartoon of the physics formula on the blackboard, where the crucial middle step is replaced by "... and then a miracle happens ..."? That was the gist of my theatre plans. I was in Indiana, knew I'd end up on Broadway, but left out the middle steps. So I waited with fluctuating patience for the Theatre Miracle. By then, the radio seed had actually been planted, although I hadn't paid much attention to it. In seventh grade, we had to take Home Ec. Perhaps this was the necessary death of any homemaking ambitions I might have had, because they cleared out pretty damned quick. First assignment: toast under the broiler, cocoa on the stove. My cocoa boiled over while I was busy rescuing the cinders of my toast just below. Then we moved to the sewing side. Lacking both skills and experience, I chose to make a beach bag: a tube of material sewn up the one side; a circle of cloth sewn to the bottom of the tube, a drawstring cinching the other end. At no point in the instructions did they tell me to remove the paper patterns from the cloth pieces. So I left them pinned on. I ended up with a very prickly beach bag with a brown paper lining. Meanwhile, the rest of the class had moved on to skirts or shirts. Come the end-of-semester fashion show, the two teachers had no idea what to do with me. I could hardly wear my beach bag. Inspiration: they'd make me the show narrator! Whaddya know - the principal watched the fashion show, and asked me to do the morning PA announcements from then on. I thought that was cool. I certainly didn't connect it to any career possibilities that I remember. Years later, while awaiting the Theatre Miracle, I did some "Question Gal on the Street" sort of stuff for the local educational radio station - that was my first year in college. And a colleague in local theatre got me my first paid voiceover gig - Holiday Rambler. They asked at the end what I charged. I shrugged - "Thiry-five dollars?" And it was so. (Since then, I've acquired an agent.) I will answer your question, by the way. The answer is in Hawaii - next post.
Berliner (captward) Tue 11 Jul 06 11:48
So you were doing voice-over work -- a staple of starving actors and actresses -- before you got into radio. What happened to criminal law? You decided you weren't *that* kind of girl?
Angie (coiro) Tue 11 Jul 06 12:02
Oh, I think I could've been that kind of girl. I do love the logic and intricacy of legal argument. (Maybe that road-not-taken explains my current addiction to the entire Law and Order catalogue, to the exclusion of most other TV.) But I was utterly unprepared for college. No real sense of direction, no discipline either, I'm sorry to say. I'm definitely a late bloomer. I took all the stage and theatre classes on the roster, but things like the 8:30am botany class were a truly ill fit. Meanwhile, I was becoming something of a low-level star on the local theatre circuit. I was pulling leads, getting good reviews, the pet of local directors. So only the one career direction was getting any real reinforcement. But the eventual Theatre Miracle turned out more of a Cupid Miracle. My husband and I met doing summer theatre in South Bend. He'd come home between college and grad school, and a friend brought him in as a last-minute replacement for an actor who dropped out. Close of the season, I followed him to Hawaii, to find acting work while he did his grad work. Hawaii is not a hot-spot of the acting industry. Write that down in case it's of use to you someday. So I went looking for, and found, more voiceover work. That's what I intended when I started contacting radio stations. I figured I'd voice some ID's, maybe some spots. But one manager asked me to sit down and tell him the story of the three bears. Um, okay. He then declared me perfect advertising sales material (oh, so wrong!!), and gave me the job. I was absolutely dreadful, totally out of place as a salesperson. But I got a boost from the station traffic reporter*, who promoted me to the boss as a good vacation fill-in. From there, I sold my own arts feature in morning drive - two minutes of daily arts events, sponsored by my client, voiced by me - and eventually did the same thing for a weekend show: The Hawaii Women's Network. So that's how I ended up in radio. I occasionally glance back in the mirror at acting, but it hasn't moved anywhere near first priority in this phase of life. I still do voiceover though. I absolutely love that work. *Traffic reporting in the 80s in Hawaii was a great story in itself, but I've already rambled on.
Berliner (captward) Tue 11 Jul 06 12:34
Hmmm, but now you've got me interested. I've only been in Hawaii once, and spent most of my time on Oahu, but I can say I saw traffic stuff there I've never seen before: a lane of the Interstate (and just which states is it "inter," anyway?) closed off because a mango tree was shedding mangoes, and a pineapple falling off the back of a truck, only to be gently and adeptly scooped up by the local boy driving just ahead of me, without breaking (or braking) a sweat. So, since we know you went on to further traffic reporting, I wouldn't mind hearing a little about that, either. Hey, we have time!
Angie Coiro (coiro) Tue 11 Jul 06 22:59
The "interstate" bit always provoked local smiles. Call it what it is - a freeway - and the feds don't put out. Call it an "Interstate", and voila! - federal funding! Traffic reporting on Oahu in the 80s had very little in common with what was going on in big Mainland cities. For one thing, we only had one freeway going east/west (the H-1), and two North/South highways (the Pali, and the Likelike). Traffic was sooooo predictable. How predictable was it? For our station, our hoot of a traffic guy had written down all the reports, each on its own business card-sized, laminated note: "4:20pm: Traffic into Kaneohe is heavy just as you get into town. The Likelike slows at the banana patch." Then there was June. When I moved to SF, I discovered that traffic offices have a lot of emergency service scanners going. At my Honolulu station, we had one - and we had June, our stringer. A "stringer", for those outside the business, is an independent contractor who provides irregular reports to a newsroom - on a beat that isn't busy enough to merit regular coverage, for example, or as a backup to the regular reporter on a busy beat. I never met June, the traffic stringer. But Roger, the regular traffic reporter, had an ongoing telephonic relationship with her for years. He said her tiny apartment was unbelievable - CB radios and all kinds of scanners, going all the time. She'd pick up fires or accidents or police activity on these, and call her stations. She always stuck around for gossip after each item. In a sense, she was the ultimate outsider: nobody hung out with her, I don't think she had much of a private life. But what we'd pick up from her and through her indicated she knew where at least some bodies were buried. And: the traffic plane. The non-existent traffic plane! K59, the big powerhouse AM station that dwarfed all the others, had its own plane. We did, too, at one point, and we had a regular sponsor - a local bank - for the "airborne" traffic reports. When the plane died a mournful, quiet death, the station didn't have money to fix it. So - as I heard the story many years ago - rather than go back to the sponsoring bank and say, "Hey, no moah plane, brah!", Roger the traffic guy came up with a novel fix. He took one of those old palm-sized transistor radios; tuned it slightly off a station, so that you could hear hiss and static and words you couldn't quite make out; then held it above and toward the microphone as he yelled out the report over all this "airborne" ambience. The bank eventually figured it out and told him to quit it. I could tell Roger stories forever. So, before we leave him - just one more: It was a big, big deal when the old Kaiser hospital was imploded. So for morning drive, Roger and the morning talk guy did their show from the top of a nearby hotel. For better or worse, mimosas and bloody marys made up the bulk of breakfast for this special event. The last report Roger gave that morning ran something like this: "Yeah, Mike ... traffic! Traffic's moving east! and traffic's moving west! and there are LOTS and LOTS of cars! Back to you!"
Berliner (captward) Wed 12 Jul 06 01:33
So you were doing okay on Hawaiian radio, but if I get my chronology right, next stop was San Francisco, which is a whole 'nother league. I have this picture of Little Angie, clutching her reels of tape, arriving in San Francisco, waving her little fist, and saying "I'll conquer you!" Something tells me it wasn't quite like that, though. Something else tells me the odds must have been formidable.
Public persona (jmcarlin) Wed 12 Jul 06 12:59
To ask a different kind of question: Sometimes when I listen to interviews, the interviewee has obviously spent too much time learning how to ignore questions. Instead they repeat and repeat and repeat and repeat their talking points. As the listener, it drives me right up a tree; sometimes so badly that I change the channel assuming that no useful information will be forthcoming. How do you deal with such people emotionally and conversationally? Do you have any suggestions to pass along to try to break through that often used method of avoiding answering questions?
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Wed 12 Jul 06 13:25
(NOTE: Offsite readers with questions or comments can email them to <firstname.lastname@example.org> to have them added to this conversation)
Angie (coiro) Wed 12 Jul 06 13:40
I'm off creating radio just now -- back this afternoon to tackle more.
Berliner (captward) Wed 12 Jul 06 13:58
And I'm going to bed! This 9-hour difference is really something.
Angie (coiro) Wed 12 Jul 06 17:48
Okay! Barring any changes in the news scene, Mother Jones Radio has been put to bed for the week. Back to Ed's questions, then Jerry's. Although by the time I left Hawaii I had my own weekend show, I discovered that meant absolutely nothing in San Francisco, the fifth largest radio market in the country. In fact, the VO (voiceover) work didn't translate either - more on that in a moment. I hoped to widen the perspective of the Hawaii's Women's Network show, make it something that would appeal to a broader market. In retrospect, I did none of the footwork that might have made that workable. No market studies, no analysis of potential advertisers, nothing. Just walking into the new market - "Hi! I've got this show! Want it? Want me?" Okay, perhaps not in so many words. But I was less than sophisticated in my attempts. On the other hand, I perservered. I collected a file of rejection letters from nearly every station in the 9-county region. At the same time, I was auditioning for local and regional theatre gigs, and trying to break into voiceover. The VO market was quite different here. Having an agent was key. Getting into the acting unions, SAG and AFTRA, was the only way to get the big stuff. I had no agent, and none of them were particularly interested in seeing me. I faced the same conundrum every actor does trying to get a union card: you have to get hired for a union gig to apply for the card. (I ultimately not only became a member of both, but was a key organizer in the unionization of Metro Traffic - a company that, until then, had rebuffed every effort nationwide to go union.) Speaking of Metro Traffic - that was the second of two breaks I got. The first was KALW, public radio for SF by the San Francisco Unified School District. They were willing to train me to be a board operator/announcer. About the same time, I called Metro to ask about work. No jobs available, they told me. I said, "Well, can I just come in and watch? See what you do?" Apparently Joe, the boss, hadn't heard that one before, and was a bit surprised. Couldn't see any problem with it, though, so I went in, tape in hand. I got the grand tour, watched a shift, then Joe asked if I'd like to start doing fill-in work. I stayed at Metro for ten years. I started with fill-in and weekends - oh, those loooong 2am-9am shifts. One report every 30 minutes on KGO, the big talk station here, and nothing in between. (Not like that anymore, as Metro and its competitors provide news, traffic, wire copy, sports, computer feeds, around the clock.) I'd turn out the lights in the office and watch the Bay Bridge, listen to the murmur of the scanners. The stations liked me, and that's ultimately all that mattered. I worked my way up to afternoon anchor, the main reporter with a station load that fluctuated between 6 and 8 per shift. I learned to do the very cool stuff I'd seen the other anchors do when I took my tour - in the middle of a report, keeping my mouth running while picking up the details of a new crash off the scanner and weaving it into my report on the fly. Playing with the DJs at just the right level - enhance the show, don't think you ARE the show. Lining up the airborne reporters so the four of us practically sang in chorus, no dead spots, clean tosses, nice firm outs. I really loved that work. I don't think my brain functioned at such a relentless level before or since. It was a standard of mental juggling I'd never have thought I could learn. I'd applied to KQED for work, but was turned down. Once I popped up on their station via Metro reports, they called me back and asked me to come in for an interview. I started filling in as board operator/announcer there, too. It's funny how the things that awe you at first -- "Oooh, I'm walking into this big ABC news center in this huge town!" "Oh, my gosh, I'm on KQED .. KQED!!!" -- turn out to be just like everybody's jobs. There's good stuff, there's bad stuff, and lo and behold, it's not this alternative world of the hyper cool it appears from the outside to a neophyte. It's a job. But it took me a long time to get there, board-op announcing at KQED.
Angie (coiro) Wed 12 Jul 06 18:14
I'd heard the call letters my whole life - KQED productions would turn up on Channel 34, the public TV station I grew up with (and did volunteer VO work for). And I knew they were one of the heaviest hitters on the Public Broadcasting scene. I had two things against me in my training. The awe was one; I was afraid to touch anything, which is something a board tech can't avoid. And -- I'm a technophobe. Recall my experiences trying to operate a stove, a broiler, and a sewing machine. From the electrical to the digital, I am afraid of that which I don't understand. I was absolutely intimidated and terrified. My first solo shift was a disaster. We were still using big reels of tape at the time (oh, now hush with the snide remarks, that wasn't THAT long ago), on some half-dozen mounted decks. I still couldn't fully grasp how the content got from the satellite channels to the tape itself. I resorted to making up little stories: "The demodulator is like a house. It stands there, like a house, it doesn't change. The channel is like a renter. It comes to live in the house, but it doesn't get to keep it. It has to go away when its time is over. The tape is in the back yard; the only way the channel can get to the tape is through the house." Push a button one way, and you'll hear what's on the tape. Push it the other way, and you hear what channel is being fed to the machine. Leave it the wrong way, and the wrong show goes on the air. At seven pm, I hit what was supposed to be Fresh Air. It wasn't. (For those of you who remember this show - it was John Hockenberry's HEAT.) I couldn't imagine who'd let that renter into that house. The phone rings - it's Norm Howard. Now he's a beloved buddy - at the time, he was one of the terrifying legends that populated this place. "You're playing the wrong show!" But he did tell me how to fix it. That was the end of my confidence that I could manage this gig. I sobbed between breaks. I called my husband, who'd walk me through the next break - "is the log in front of you? Is the next tape ready?" I was completely ready to go back to staring at the Bay Bridge from 2am to 9pm. But over the years I got more comfortable. I'm still no tech wiz, but I take it more in stride. During my last years at the station - before making the move to Mother Jones Radio - I recall that I actually took the station off the air one night when I was doing the transmitter readings. Hit the wrong button and everything got very quiet. Whoops! Turned it back on. An hour or so later, I walked back over to that rack. "Now what the heck did I do? Did I do -- THIS?" And damned if I hadn't taken the station off the air again. I put it back on. Stayed completely calm. Progress of a sort, I guess. Now to Jerry's question ...
Angie (coiro) Wed 12 Jul 06 18:37
How that's handled on the air depends a lot on the game you're playing. Frankly - and we all know this - too damned much airtime is given over to shows where posturing is the whole point. People gather to hear heads knocked together, and if anything of value slips into the conversation, it's sheer accident. I'm fortunate that I've never had to work on that kind of show. (I am knocking all available wood - a mortgage is a mortgage, and I know I've been lucky so far to only do what I like.) All the radio I've done has at its heart a sincere effort to illuminate and educate. In those venues, it's my job to try to get honest answers. Failing that, I need to at least make it clear that I've made the effort. At some point, the obfuscation from the guest IS the answer. It tells the listening audience all they need to know about that person's directness and responsiveness, whether their desire to communicate is sincere. Most often, for me that takes the form of repeating the question. ONCE. Very rarely, a second time, making a total of three efforts. The second time will be essentially the same phrasing, prefaced with "The question was ...". The repeated phrasing makes it clear. I, the guest, and the audience all know this is the second shot to give an honest answer. If another non-answer comes back, I'll either give it a beat - enough hesitance to establish that I've given up, that we're not going to bother anymore - or say, "so you're not willing to address ...". That latter technique is only worth it if I think there's a remote chance I can get a comment. If it's someone I think will take it as a cue to bloviate further though, I won't bother. The bottom line is, I can't force anybody to say anything, and in a sense, it's not my job. It IS my job to pursue honest answers, and make sure it's clear to the listener that every opportunity has been given to get one on the air. I won't cross the line into heckling. I think it demeans all involved, and rarely accomplishes anything. On Mother Jones Radio a few months back, I had a guest who's known for dodging questions and making unsubstantiated statements. Working with him, I took on a "Columbo" sort of role - the so-dumb-he's-smart detective. When he'd dodge a question, I'd apologize for not making it clear, and ask him again. He was ready to be attacked, and puzzled when it didn't happen. So his still-polite non-answers would get fuzzier and more outrageous. I'd repeat things he said as if clarifying; but anyone paying attention would grasp that I was holding his least reasonable statements up to the light to make sure they were underlined. Listening back to that, it occurred to me that some listeners might have been frustrated that I didn't go on the attack. But we got more, so much more out of him this way. He said things on the air to us he'd never admitted anywhere else. The head-slamming gabfest was his natural habitat. He was utterly disarmed in this calmer, quiet venue. Yeah, the show lacked fireworks. But it generated some great light. That's been one of the goals of MJR. I'm sure it looked odd to some to higher a long-time public radio voice for a commercial radio project. But we all had the same goal. We wanted to take news and events from a progressive journalistic point of view, and incorporate the tone of respect and intelligence you hear on the best public radio shows. Because we air on Air America, we can incorporate more sassiness, more fun, a few more well-aimed jabs here and there. But it's neither pure liberal talk nor staid public radio discourse. It's an experiment in a largely uncharted middle ground. I shouldn't assume everyone reading this is acquainted with Mother Jones Radio. Here's our page: <http://www.motherjones.com/radio/index.html> Look to the right of my picture down on the bottom, and you'll see a link to our audio archive, if you'd like to give a listen.
Angie (coiro) Wed 12 Jul 06 18:39
>>I'm sure it looked odd to some to higher a long-time public radio voice for a commercial radio project. oops - of course, that should be "hire", not "higher". I guess I feel I elevate the discourse!
John Ross (johnross) Wed 12 Jul 06 18:52
Whose idea was MJR? Did you sell the concept to them, or did they come to you with a format already in mind?
Public persona (jmcarlin) Wed 12 Jul 06 19:56
> When he'd dodge a question, I'd apologize for not making it > clear, and ask him again. He was ready to be attacked, and puzzled when > it didn't happen. Angie, thanks. That makes great good sense to me.
Angie (coiro) Wed 12 Jul 06 22:32
Sure, Jerry. John, I wasn't present from the very beginning - in fact, the auditions for the anchor position were over by the time I heard about it. So I'm not sure who had the very first idea. But there's no question about creative powers behind the show: Jay Harris, the magazine's publisher, who's very keen on harnessing the power of all forms of media; and Peter Laufer. Laufer's media credits go on and on; some of the Bay Area folk may remember him from his news work on the legendary KSAN. He designed the show, got it launched, and served as consultant for the first year. (If you want to check out his very impressive bio, it's at <http://www.peterlaufer.com/>.) I was working at KQED. In my fifteenth year by then, it was clear there was no more progress to be made; I'd gone as far as I could. One of the show producers asked me if I'd heard from Peter Laufer about this Mother Jones gig. Once we ascertained that he hadn't just said "Peter Lawford" (which for purposes of this conversation was confusing, his being dead and all), I grabbed the info and then the phone. Peter told me the decision was all but made but agreed to let me audition. And that was it - they liked it, and I was in. June 19th was the first-year anniversary of the show. It's going well. We're consistently in or near the top 5 most downloaded political programs on iTunes; we've done an hour interview on LinkTV in conjunction with our special oceans issue; we just wrapped up a live stage appearance in Seattle, interviewing Randi Rhodes, Ron Reagan, and Dan Savage. Not bad!
Berliner (captward) Thu 13 Jul 06 00:36
Angie, you spent yesterday at work. What does a day at work at Mother Jones Radio consist of?
Angie (coiro) Thu 13 Jul 06 10:01
On an ideal week, Wednesday is recording day. It's the culmination of a process that begins the week before, as the producer sifts through possible program segments. There are four segments; rarely nowadays we'll do more than one segment with one guest. Usually, it's four topics, on in each segment. The week prior, producer Katrina Rill sifts through potential topics, putting a rough show sketch in order. If a book author is scheduled for the near future, I'm already reading. Ideally, I get the book as much as several weeks in advance. Once in a while, I've only got it the night before. She emails and calls to keep me in the loop, as she gets ideas in order. Tuesday, we review and evaluate the last week's show in a "post mortem". Then Katrina goes over the week's guest and topic list, and we finalize it. When we record it all on Wednesday, the energy is consistent and we have a better "feel" for the show as a whole. But we can and do record on other days of the week as necessary. The final show has to be ftp'd to Air America by close of business Thursday. Show segments range from 6 to 12 minutes, depending on how we jimmy the clock. So let's take an average Wednesday: I'll have recordings scheduled from 10am. (Katrina, bless her heart, knows exactly how much enthusiam I have for early-morning intellectual exercises. I have no idea how I worked morning drive and split shifts for all those years.) We'll run a timer while I conduct each interview, shooting for approximate times. For example, yesterday I talked to former Senator Gary Hart. We knew we wanted him in the first segment, which times out at 11 minutes. I talked to him for about 10 minutes. That left time on either end of the segment to do the show open, tease the coming topics, and forward-promote one of them at the end. We do the same for each of the other three segments. In between, Katrina is working on topics for the coming weeks, getting me books, offering me specific guests, and getting them on the schedule. We do have flexibility. One of our guests scheduled for the shorter segment was Joseph Margulies, who took the Rasul/Guantanamo case to the Supreme Court and has a new book out on the legal fight and the history of wartime torture and the law. As it turns out, his segment was more topical than we knew when we booked it; Tuesday this week, the White House conceded that Common Article 3 *does* apply to detainees. So I kept him on longer than planned, to cover it more thoroughly. We'll often put that longer interview online, and refer listeners to the website to hear it. In this case, though, my first questions to Gary Hart hadn't really "caught"; the interview came alive about two minutes in. So we flopped the segments. When it airs Sunday, the Margulies interview will open the show. Hart's edited interview, which is much more brisk and interesting in the edited cut, will air second. Wednesday is also the day we cut the promo - that is, produce the :30 commercial for the show that airs on AAR stations beginning Friday. Sometimes we'll take a particularly intriguing quote from an interview we've got lined up for the week, and build a promo around it. Otherwise, we'll do it straight, no audio clip. And that's the week's work. Yesterday we put the show to bed. In my briefcase, I have a documentary DVD by Michael Franti, a book by George Soros, and another on the life of Chinese peasants. Those are the latest to add to the pile.
Gail Williams (gail) Thu 13 Jul 06 10:06
Do you always get through the books and movies? If not, do you have any tips for getting an overview in just 20 minutes or so, so that you can still ask good questions? I asked a question of an author here once based on randomly opening a book I had not read (a work of fiction, the hardest to talk about without having read!). I read four pages, found an interesting anecdote and asked about it. According to the author it was unrelated to anything important or interesting in the storyline. So I've tended to say "haven't read it yet" since then.
Berliner (captward) Thu 13 Jul 06 10:08
You're a remarkable interviewer, from what I've experienced. You had me on Forum once when you also had some photographer who'd shot some punk photos -- not, as I remember, the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree -- and I guess I was there to try to help you nudge something interesting out of him. But I was astonished at how crisply the interview went; you never got bogged down, you switched topics just at the right moment, and kept the thing going at a great clip. That's a remarkable skill, and I was impressed. Keeping an interview going in real time like that without pissing off the interviewee or boring the audience to death is a skill. Do you have any insight into how you acquired that skill? Do you have any tips or tricks that you had to learn? And on the Forum show, you had live phone-ins which you also handled well. It's all too easy to insult a caller or just hang up on them. I'm not sure I could have handled them with your aplomb. Again, where do you think you picked up these skills, and how did you refine them? And <gail> slipped in with another good question.
Angie (coiro) Thu 13 Jul 06 10:52
Gail's question first: Absolutely, the best policy is to actually READ the book. That's why we try to schedule authors with enough lead time. Barring that, I try to read at least the introduction, the first chapter, and the last chapter. Then I skim what I can in between. I tell the guest ahead of time if I haven't had a chance to read the whole book, and I'll tell them what I have been able to read. They appreciate the honesty, and the experienced ones know how hard it is to get all the reading done. There are several differences between my last job, where I'd interview an author for an hour solely about the book; and this job, where we have just that brief window together, and there's usually some news- or magazine-related reason we have that person on. Like Joe Margulies yesterday; we discussed current events with his book as background. My old job required a much more detailed reading than this one. Even so, I read as much as I can, because who knows what news-relevant point or comparison I can make if I see all the material? Works of fiction are not my strong suit. I read very little fiction anymore (sad but true); even when I did, I'd never pretend to know good fiction from great. Ironically, the highest award I ever received (the 2003 PRNDI) was for an interview with Salman Rushdie - a challenge I deeply feared. I'd never read his work prior to his being scheduled. But of course his personal life and history are as fascinating as anything he's ever written, so the hour was a mix of both. Oh, and about your experience: it's SO dangerous to fake knowledge, it's not worth it. In a sense, you and the author are on the same team, weaving a dialogue the listener will enjoy. Can't cheat your teammate and expect to win. The "team" analogy only goes so far; obviously there are antagonistic elements to a good interview as well. But you can't start from a dishonest premise.
Gail Williams (gail) Thu 13 Jul 06 11:05
Yeah, I sure learned that. Even just asking the one question as a reader (rather than as an interviewer per se) about something that wasn't representative or important was sooo awkward in that case!
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