Radio Camp

Hi North Country,

The past six weeks have been an utter whirlwind. In mid September I moved from Canton to Woods Hole, Massachusetts, to work as a teaching assistant at the Transom Story Workshop—or, as we’re calling it, radio camp. It’s the first year that is hosting the workshop, where they’re teaching adult students how to become radio producers. Students range from ages 24 to 60. They come from Tennessee, Oregon, California, Toronto, Australia, Chicago, Ithaca, Connecticut, and Woods Hole. And they all want to make radio.

The 2011 Transom Story Workshop crew

It’s been amazing to watch their learning curve. The first week, we handed out recorders and microphones, taught everybody how to use the editing software, Hindenburg Journalist, and sent them out in pursuit of stories. That week, they produced a promo and a vox pop—a huge accomplishment for people who’d never picked up microphones or used editing programs before.

The second week, they began working on their “Creative Life” stories, profiling all kinds of artists. One student profiled a local juggling troupe. Another interviewed a 91-year-old tap dance teacher. They learned how to write narration, pick out good clips, and really think about structure and the different ways to tell a story. Making a radio story, they realized, is a lot harder than it seems. Sometimes the recording wasn’t as good as they thought. Sometimes stories didn’t pan out. But ultimately they pulled it together, producing broadcast-quality pieces that I was really proud of.

The workshop has been good for me too. I’m learning a lot from  master radio teacher Rob Rosenthal who besides being pretty genius at what he does, also produces the podcast HowSound. Teaching has really helped me hone my storytelling skills as I explain to students how to write up to tape, what the function of a host intro is, how to write for radio—all skills I learned at NCPR.  There’s nothing like teaching to help you really master something. Not that I’m a master, by any stretch. But I feel like my storytelling skills have gotten a major boost.

We’ve also had an amazing bunch of dinner guests—Kelly McEvers, an NPR foreign correspondent based in Baghdad, John Barth of Public Radio Exchange, Sue Schardt, executive director of the Association of Independents in Radio, Jeff Towne, tech guru, independent producer Ari Daniel Shapiro, to name a few. Ira Glass was supposed to speak in Woods Hole yesterday, but got caught in a snow storm in Wyoming. Luckily his talk has been rescheduled for next week—and he skyped into our class this morning!

For Halloween, Will dresses as an ear

With just another week left, the students are hard at work finishing up their second stories. The topics range widely—there’s a story about a couple who lobsters, profiles of an ant scientist (I guess the technical term for this is myrmecologist), a graffiti artist, a swap shap decorator, an animal enthusiast, and stories about a geodesic dome, a police department’s efforts to learn Spanish, and a personal essay.We’ll have a public listening event this coming Friday at the Woods Hole Community Hall at 7 (if you’re in the neighborhood, readers, c’mon down!), Ira Glass will visit Sunday, and then everyone will scatter back to their corners of the globe to keep telling stories.

Dinner all together

I’ve been so impressed with the whole workshop–I’ve loved teaching and editing, and the students’ enthusiasm has made me remember just why I started doing radio in the first place! It’s such a compelling medium. Another plug: if you’re reading this, and you want to make radio but don’t quite know how, consider applying to next spring’s workshop. We’ll have worked out the kinks–and it’ll be like the tropics compared to April in the North Country! That said, I find myself ready to head back north. Just in time for winter….

2 Comments on “Radio Camp”

  1. Kathleen Fitzgerald says:

    Hi Sarah,
    Just happened to catch your post. Sounds like you’re doing great and interesting work. Hope you’re having all kinds of fun. Look forward to seeing you back in the North Country one of these days.
    Be well,
    Kathleen (DeKalb/Potsdam)

  2. Ellen Rocco says:

    Sarah is returning to our neck of the woods in early December, when she’ll take up residence somewhere in northwestern Vermont and become a news and features stringer for NCPR. Sarah is a great example of the next generation of public media professionals–people we are actively encouraging to become part of the NCPR shop and storytelling cadre. Looking forward to having you back within earshot, Sarah!

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