John Ross (johnross) Fri 14 Jul 06 10:42
If they have a crew of skilled tape cutters, why not? As long as they can keep the tape recorders working a find a supply of tape stock, it can sound just fine. And as a long-time tape cutter myself, there's a kind of tactile satisfaction to working with tape that I don't get when I do digital editing. I suppose it's one of those "whatever you grew up with" things.
Angie (coiro) Fri 14 Jul 06 11:40
Oh, I'm all for the tactile joys of editing tape. For whatever reason- yeah, probably because it's what I grew up with - it's more satisfying to be able to move a sigh, or an intake of breath, or squeeze an edit beautifully between two apparently conjoined consonants on tape than it is in digital. But most in the industry with any budget at all have joined the digital movement. Ed, do you know why FA is still cutting tape?
Berliner (captward) Fri 14 Jul 06 11:46
No idea. I told my producer I wasn't even aware you could still *get* tape and she cackled and said "Oh...we have our sources." Thinking of Fresh Air brings to mind one of my favorite places in its offices: the book room. Since there's no English-language bookstore in Berlin, I love to go pull galleys and finished books from the stacks there and ship them over if I can get them to agree to let me have them. Some, clearly, are destined for Terry to read for her interviews. And she *does* read them. This is something I'm amazed at: the ability to read a book as quickly as you have to when it's new and then be able to hold your own in a conversation with the author. Of course, a lot of publicists no doubt have sheets of suggested questions, but I have the feeling you wouldn't deign to use them. But you must read like crazy.
Angie (coiro) Fri 14 Jul 06 13:59
Not nearly as much as I would like to. I'm getting better about it, but my deep dark secret is that I am the most disorganized person on the planet. In the best situations, I've read the book and I'm ready. In the average situation, I've skimmed the book and I can do a passably good job. In the worst situations, I haven't even started the book, can't find it, and can't remember if Katrina gave it to me. I do read the publicist's information sheet, but more as a defensive measure. It's a list of what everybody else across the country is asking that author! Of course some of it is essential. Last week, interviewing Robert Fuller, it was incumbent on me to bring out a definition of "rankism". It was the basis of his last book, and his new one builds on it. It's the first element any interview with him has to bring out. But then I try to take off in a different, more probing direction from the general Q&A sheet. My prep also includes checking out other interviews with the same person. The more prominent the person, the more exposure, the more I want to acquaint myself with the stories and points that come out again and again. Understandably, an author on a book tour - or a politician talking about the same issue, day in and day out - is going to fall into rote and dependable snippets and soundbites. I don't blame them, I would too. But I need to know what those are ahead of time, so I can hear them coming and try to get beyond them. My success rate depends upon the guest. Some of them are so reliant on the same punchlines, the same anecdotes, there's no hope of getting them away from them. Others are more flexible. The best have come in for a genuine, spontaneous conversation - or, having come in for the same old, same old, are willing to quickly adjust to a new experience.
Cupido, Ergo Denego (robertflink) Sat 15 Jul 06 04:07
>On a less sinister level, with every show you have to question all your edits. Yes, I'll rerecord a question to improve the flow. Is it an honest representation of the original question and answer? Is my goal just to make me sound better and less scattered? Or genuinely in service of the show and the audience?< BTW, many thanks for sharing your craft so openly with us, Angie. Any observations about how your representation of various subjects or issues may have changed over, say, several months? I imagine that it would as your knowledge of a given subject develops. In the process, do you sometimes find you become conscious of new connections and implications. I realize that such introspection may eventually complicate presentation and possibly irritate listeners that want to stick to the established issues on a given matter. Perhaps this gets into the idea of a typical listener.
Berliner (captward) Sat 15 Jul 06 06:27
Yeah, that does bring up the question of how you perceive your listeners have been different on the traffic beat, Forum, and now at MoJo Radio, and how you may or may not have changed your approach each time.
Angie (coiro) Sat 15 Jul 06 12:39
Robert, thanks for the kind words. Before I tackle your main question, or Ed's, I'd like to share some thoughts on my goal of openness. It's a critical element of self-presentation. It's never far from my mind. Many years ago, my sis Nancy and I were talking about people on the radio would make an incredible boner and try to act like nothing had just gone dreadfully wrong. She didn't mean, and I don't mean, dwelling verbally on a mistake beyond its merit. But reacting on air just as you would if you were in conversation - "I'm sorry, I can't believe I just called you by the wrong name." "I know I said we were about to hear Led Zeppelin, and as you may have noticed, that was the Lawrence Welk orchestra. Oops, sorry." Her comment spoke a critical truth about how I wanted to show myself on the air. All these years I've been examining the layers behind that conversation. It's become more relevant as the know-it-alls, the people who are NEVER WRONG, have taken over political discourse. To admit an error is to expose your throat for the kill. To say, "I didn't know that" to new information is the equivalent of admitting a personal flaw. Showing that you're adding knowledge to your stash, instead of loudly dispensing Truth, is utterly unfashionable, to say the least. As Jon Stewart so poignantly noted - these people are hurting America. The older I get, the longer I do this, the more I've discarded that. I don't know everything. Neither does my audience, and I'm sitting in for them, to an extent. I have no degrees in history or political science. I do need a map of the Middle East in front of me, as it's not perfectly committed to memory. I can't list all the Senators from every state. Because of constant show prep and a heightened interest in political news, I'm a bit more savvy on some topics than my listeners. But that's as far as it goes. I offer curiousity, compassion, a dab of healthy cynicism, a consistent desire to bring home to people the importance of the topics that get lost in our pop-culture priorities. If you throw back the curtain on Bill O'Reilly - even just going so far as to fact-check his monologues - you see how wildly out of skew his facade is with reality. Should anyone care to throw back the curtain on our show, or me, how boring it will be for them. We're just the same behind it as in front of it. Or that's the goal, anyway.
uber-muso hipster hyperbole (pjm) Sat 15 Jul 06 12:55
WYSIWYG is highly underrated. Great conversation here.
Angie (coiro) Sat 15 Jul 06 13:06
Your question on changing perspectives, Robert, immediately brought to mind the religious right, and all its pet topics like abortion and gay marriage. Mother Jones 2005 has some very good coverage on the RR and its agenda. Some of it is terrifying. Check out A Nation Under God, Rendering Unto God, and Expanding Universe: <http://www.motherjones.com/toc/2005/12/index.html> Shortly afterward, I interviewed Christina Page, author of How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America. Rolling all this together, I understand on a deeper level that the individual ideological arguments are less important than the unifying whole: the fanatical Christian Right wants to eliminate - or at least codify punishment for - all sex except that which takes place between a male and a female in a traditional Christain marriage. That may sound obvious, but it's key to not treat these subjects individually without at least referring to its larger context. In this light, when the soul enters the body, or whether Christ ever mentioned gay sex (he didn't), is no more important than the driving goal of the right. A listener who may wobble on one issue needs to understand its place as a brick in the wall of religious and personal freedoms. And yes, the trick is to incorporate that every time a subtopic is on the show, without sounding like I'm riding a hobby horse, without detracting from the legitimate intricacies of the topic at hand. All this in less than fifteen minutes per topic. Ah, but that's the fun, isn't it. Before I leave this - I've got to point on JoAnn Wypijewski's article in the current issue, on Christian sex websites. Another bizarre twist to the picture: <http://www.motherjones.com/commentary/columns/2006/07/the_way_of_all_flesh.htm l> <pjm> slipped. Thanks, guy!
Angie (coiro) Sat 15 Jul 06 13:18
This parenthetical thought, before I get to Ed's question - I was at a community meeting a few weeks back. Some of the people there know what I do for a living. One woman took me aside and said she'd been in upstate New York the week before. She heard the show on her car's satellite radio. She said in this dark night, when she'd been driving along plagued by thoughts of what's been happening to American freedoms, she recognized my voice and turned up the radio. The show gave her hope. She held me by the shoulders and said, "I just want to thank you, and tell you you're doing something really important." I mention this out of concern that my constant references to the magazine and its work may ring false to readers who are used to seeing people pimp for whoever's writing their paycheck. I'm worse than that! - I'm a true believer. Having spent so many years as a carefully neutral prober/reporter on what's been going on around us, I'm blissful to be doing what I'm doing. I'm some tiny part of a possible solution. I'm so proud to be working where I am. Mother Jones - the radio, the mag, the website - is not perfect. No media outlet is. But it's doing critical work at a dangerous time. Sometimes I can't contain my joy at having some part of that.
Angie (coiro) Sat 15 Jul 06 13:37
Finally, on to Ed's question about changing audiences! As a traffic reporter, moving up and down the dial to report on one kind of station after another, it's all a matter of tone. In my time I'd go from the authoritative, contained tone of KQED in one minute to the relaxed, hip sound of KFOG, to the high-energy retro-radio delivery of the oldies station. The different intonations and energy quickly become second nature. The unifying thing, of course, is that all the listeners, regardless of format, potentially have use for the information you're sharing. So you make sure to get that out as clearly and thoroughly as possible. The irony is, many a station manager sees the traffic only as an element to be sold to a sponsor, content be damned. One of them famously (well, famously around our office) railed, "I don't care if the Bay Bridge just fell in, you've got 20 seconds for the traffic, ten for the spot, then get out!". My years at Forum were formative for me, developing the attitude and style I have today. I first thought the audience was only going to be satisfied with the traditional dry academic tones that used to be the standard for these things - very hard for me, and right up there with selling airtime as a natural fit. But my appearance there coincided with a national change in public radio sound. With This American Life, then Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, then On The Media, hosts as real people started to come into their own. I discovered that, while the Forum listeners were extremely attentive to nuance and factual detail, they also wanted a warm human being behind the mic. When I received compliments on my giggle, I was humiliated and floored. Dear god, Journalist Hailed for Giggle. I finally understood that my interviewing skills were not in question, were not being dismissed. It was that my humor and humanity were welcome. One of the biggest differences between a music audience taking in a traffic report, and a news/talk audience tuning in for an interview, is that the latter audience is hearing you by choice. They CAME there to listen. Maybe the music listener doesn't even own a car, and is listening at home. You're part of an irritating break that will go away, and the music will come back. The attentiveness quotient is vastly different. My approach to the MoJo/Air America audience is still evolving. It's easy and comfortable to preach to the choir, to bring on sympathetic voices from the left and toss them softballs. And I plead guilty to having fallen into that trap, at times. But it's a disservice to our listeners, who I like to think are attracted to our specific show because we DO actually probe topics. So I make the effort to look for shades of gray, and not pretend there are Absolute Truths.
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Sat 15 Jul 06 13:47
Angie, is there a type of guest that's a tough interview for you, or that produces interviews you're not satisfied with? A bit of context: In general I greatly admire Terry Gross's professionalism and style, but when she's interviewing an old R&B legend she loses the veneer and becomes a groupie, sometimes embarrassingly so. It's understandable -- if I got to interview someone I've admired and loved since I was a kid, someone who created something that I took into my life as a soundtrack or talisman or what have you, I'd probably fawn and drool too -- but it doesn't make for very good radio. So: Artists? Musicians? Detectives? Mystery writers? Movie stars?
Jacques Leslie (jacques) Sat 15 Jul 06 13:51
Angie, I'm curious about how much spontaneity you allow for when you are asking questions (and this may apply more to the Forum period when the interviews were longer). Do you start with a long list of questions and assume you won't ask most of them unless the interviewee answers monosyllabically? Do you organize the questions in a particular order, such as by starting with easy questions to set your subject at ease, then go to harder ones? How much do you stray from the list? Do you even have a list?
Angie (coiro) Sat 15 Jul 06 14:08
I am so very capable of fawning and drooling. I honestly don't know if I could hold it together to interview Jeremy Irons, who to my mind is the greatest voiceover talent in our language. You know, I'll actually re-listen to his reading of Lolita on the way to industrial jobs? (Those are the inside-the-industry voiceover gigs, rife with jargon and impenetrable sales specifics.) He's reading a classic, I'm on the way to talk about software Return-on-Investment, and I still get an invaluable refresher course on phrasing and focus. Okay, I'm no purist. My husband has endlessly pointed out that my interview with Irons would be conducted ... oops, this is public. I'll stop there. But yes, Irons is terribly sexy, too. My most difficult interviews are with those guests who just. don't. want. to be there. I had a live interview in San Francisco once with a very prominent actor/writer. I don't know if he got up on the wrong side of the bed, or just had a fight with his wife, or was naturally defensive without a character to play. I'm usually good at setting guests at their ease, but this case was near-hopeless. Normally, even if a guest and host come together with different perspectives, they at least share the goal of forming a good product for the listener/viewer. But someone who isn't there to give the audience something can make for a deadly conversation. Once in a great while, I'll interview an older gentleman of politics who minimizes the importance of an interview with a much younger person who's also female. We've got to get past that as a team if we're to click for the audience, and my achievements there have varied. And I can't help but note again my inadequacy as an interviewer of fiction writers. Maybe I'm not as bad as I think I am, but that's something of a mental roadblock itself, isn't it? On the flip side, my huge admiration for Lolita as the best thing I have ever read makes me wish Nabokov were still alive, so I could sit and talk with him at least once.
Angie (coiro) Sat 15 Jul 06 14:17
Jacques, you've brought up another element of the vast difference between a one-hour, one-break interview, and a spanking-fast, between-commercials Q&A. I'm better at the latter than I was a year ago, and I like to think I'll be twice as good next year at this time, but damn, it's a tough, tough lesson to learn. For the one-hour interview, I'd have fewer specific questions. I'd graph out a general idea of the conversation's form, and jot some notes on points I wanted to be sure to cover. That left the freedom of a meandering, surprising, unformatted chat that could go absolutely anywhere. I just had to make sure to bring the audience with me! ("Okay, let's follow that side street for a few seconds, but I want to get back to how your first publication finally got on the shelves." Meanwhile, I jot down "pub date/reception" to remind me to get back there.) A short interview is SO much more structured. The opening question has got to get to the point, none of this "so where were you born" business. If the topic or guest is controversial, I need to be ready to analyze contrary positions, tie it to the latest news development. I need to help develop beginning, middle, and end, all the while avoiding the impression that I'm repeatedly jabbing the guest in the butt to move it all along. Like I said .. I'm still learning.
Angie (coiro) Sat 15 Jul 06 14:23
You know who's very, very good at the short-form interview is Michelle Norris on All Things Considered. She's so very skilled at getting to the relevant questions without sounding like she's not listening to the guest. That's the danger. You have a must-do list; the guest is under no such constraint and may go in an entirely different direction; and as host, you need to move to the next point without sounding abrupt or indifferent to what was just said. She's a real pleasure to listen to and learn from.
Hoping to be a goddess, but settling for guru (paris) Sat 15 Jul 06 14:23
Angie, you know I'm one of your biggest fans -- just wanted to say I'm loving this interview!
Angie (coiro) Sat 15 Jul 06 15:59
John Ross (johnross) Sat 15 Jul 06 16:56
Angie, do you have concerns about the MoJo gig putting you into a career pigeonhole? When this gig ends (as all gigs do, except, apparently on NPR, where people like Gross and Stamberg go on forever), will you be able to move to something without a political agenda?
Angie (coiro) Sat 15 Jul 06 17:14
Yes, absolutely. Nothing in Western culture is so firmly ingrained as the desire to keep people in boxes. Why are we so shocked to discover our favorite wacky morning DJ has a deep knowledge of Renaissance paintings? Laugh if you will, but I sympathized with Katie Couric transitioning to hard news. So she was good at, and known for, a lighter, fluffier take on the world. That doesn't negate the possibility she'd be damn good at something different. Nothing in her morning job showcased those chops. Doesn't mean she doesn't have them. Doesn't mean she does. Let's see what she can do. I'm working on several new projects that may or may not bear fruit. One potential show is much less political. It incorporates more whimsy, a much lighter touch. That was much more in evidence to my audience when I was freely bantering with the DJs before my traffic reports. But my profile is much higher now, my serious interrogations on heavy topics much better known. Predictably, during a marketing review, at least one of the "test listeners" bridled at my trying to be different than my on-air political persona. Anyone who's been to dinner at my house knows one is as much me as the other. I'm always testing the limits of being myself as much as possible within the limits of my format - and likewise, consciously resisting being pigeonholed. In an early MoJo show, I had a guest who, against all odds, was standing up against the corrupt Texas building review process. He said very optimistically that his group was seeking balanced negotiations with its foe. I was very much in the mode of, "wheeeeeee, I'm in this new format, I don't have to hold back!", so I said on the mic what I would have said listening in the car: "But c'mon now, isn't that just peeing into the wind? These guys aren't going to work with you." "Peeing into the wind" ate up some discussion time at the post-mortem the following week! - and was eventually deemed out of bounds, as an unexpected phrasing that drew attention away from the topic at hand, to the shock value of the phrase itself. And yeah, I have to agree. But it was one of many efforts to honestly inject what I believe to be the sentiments of many a listener, who doesn't keep it all squeaky clean when frustrated. I've wandered afield of the question, but the answer's in there somewhere. Those of you fond of emoticons, insert smiley here.
Angie (coiro) Sat 15 Jul 06 17:27
Clarification: my "yes, absolutely" is "yes, I'm concerned". Another relevant point: my concern has spanned my entire career. Traffic reporters get pegged as "just" traffic reporters. (Forum got an amazingly petulant and dismissive letter about letting a traffic reporter host a show, let alone do newscasts.) Commercial hosts can be judged as lighter-weight than public radio hosts. People who hire for voiceover, which is largely an acting art, often have to be persuaded to give a listen to radio people; the bias is that a "radio read" on commercials is hopelessly unlearnable, and the last thing the client wants is someone "announcing" their commercial. It's probably true in all kinds of professions: the payoff for doing something well can be that it's all you should be allowed to do.
Angie (coiro) Sat 15 Jul 06 17:34
As to the other dimension - whether one can move back from progressive media to carefully neutral outlets like NPR - that's an open question. I knew when I made the leap that I was risking the door closing behind me. And as you say, John, all gigs come to an end. I may well have compromised my future options, and I weighed that carefully. But the drive to make a difference won out. And timing is everything. We're into a swifty-morphing media reality this days. Whoda thunk of iPods and downloads just a few short years ago? What communication avenues are opening, which are doomed to be short-lived? I'm lucky to be active in a time when more and more format possibilities are forming. One of the aforementioned projects I'm putting together incorporates no broadcast radio at all. If no one else feels they can hire me, I'll hire myself!
Cogito, Ergo Dubito (robertflink) Sun 16 Jul 06 04:45
>Nothing in Western culture is so firmly ingrained as the desire to keep people in boxes.< (She typed, giving an explanation and example at the same time.) I have noticed no less of this tendency in people in other parts of the world. Non-Westerners may appear more open-minded when we meet them in the west because they have different boxes and, being travelers, perhaps they are not a representative sample of their culture of origin. Isn't playing to or against stereotypes one common way to increase interest in media productions everywhere? Aren't people everywhere disposed to turning public figures, even local public figures, into icons?
Angie (coiro) Sun 16 Jul 06 11:42
Heh! You're right, Robert, guilty as charged. As to the rest, though, I plead ignorance. I restricted my comment to Western culture because it's what I'm steeped in. I don't know enough about other cultures to address your questions adequately.
Berliner (captward) Sun 16 Jul 06 12:53
Y'know, one thing occurred to me, besides the amount of reading you have to do just to keep afloat, you also have to have a damn good filter. Just because someone's of a given political persuasion which may agree with you or the show you're doing doesn't mean they've done their research or analyzed what research they've done well. Have you ever been caught by this, or, if not, how did you develop your filter and how do you know when to engage it?
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