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inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #0 of 168: 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!
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #1 of 168: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #2 of 168: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #3 of 168: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #4 of 168: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #5 of 168: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #6 of 168: 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!
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #7 of 168: 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!"
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #8 of 168: 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. 
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #9 of 168: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #10 of 168: Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Wed 12 Jul 06 13:25
    
(NOTE: Offsite readers with questions or comments can email them to
<inkwell@well.com> to have them added to this conversation)
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #11 of 168: Angie (coiro) Wed 12 Jul 06 13:40
    
I'm off creating radio just now -- back this afternoon to tackle more.
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #12 of 168: Berliner (captward) Wed 12 Jul 06 13:58
    
And I'm going to bed! This 9-hour difference is really something. 
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #13 of 168: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #14 of 168: 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 ...
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #15 of 168: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #16 of 168: 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!
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #17 of 168: 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?
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #18 of 168: 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.
 
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #19 of 168: 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!
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #20 of 168: 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? 
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #21 of 168: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #22 of 168: 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.
 
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #23 of 168: 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. 
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #24 of 168: 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.
  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #25 of 168: 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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