Tuesday, December 05, 2006

watch then listen

we've been talking a lot around TCF HQ about the lamentable lack of media coverage of radio as an artistic medium. in the US radio's not regularly reviewed or critiqued as films and books are, and it's seldom covered, say...on the radio. [when was the last time you heard terry gross interview a radio producer about a radio story? when was the last time you heard her talk to a HBO tv series producer, or film producer? or author? or comedian?]

so we've basically been contemplating how to bring more attention to radio culture. in the meantime, dutch producer wim vandenbussche's hit upon a timely way to do just this, and has undoubtedly drawn thousands of extra ears to a recent production of his that aired on a sunday night on
radio 1.

check out this
youtube video he posted recently, which features a particularly charismatic belgian toilet attendant. be sure to watch until the end, and in case you don't speak dutch here's a tip from Wim: "What you read at the end of the clip is: YOU DON'T WANT TO SEE MORE OF THIS? WELL, THEN LISTEN! and then we lead the viewer to our programme and website. "

not only is the video somewhat disturbing, unforgettable AND brilliant, IT'S AN AD FOR A RADIO DOCUMENTARY!! and while the video's a far cry from a radio review section in the back of
harpers magazine, it makes me realize there there are some new ways to think about how to turn more people on to the great wide world of radio storytelling.

we'll get right on that.
(suggestions welcome)


Jonathan Menjivar said...

I'd like to see a media landscape that includes a critical discussion of radio too, but it seems to me like there's a couple very basic roadblocks that'll keep it from happening.

The main problem being that there's no regular release schedule for radio like there is for books or movies. Sure people are listening to radio online and via podcasts, but rarely (at least from what I've experienced here in the states) is there a time when there's a big media push behind a radio doc that let's people know something like, "This big special, amazing radio story you need to hear is going to be on this date at this time." Sadly for most people, radio is on the air and then it's gone. Generally, the media is going to be less interested in covering work that's already had its day.

And I don't know that radio is the place for the coverage you're talking about to happen. You guys do a good job of it on the TCF broadcasts and re:sound, but outside of the showcase style shows, hearing about radio on the radio is a little odd. Here at Fresh Air we've done shows with Jay Allison and Ira Glass and Sandy Tolan and while I like the shows, it always feels a tad incestuous to me.

But I do really like the idea of magazines reviewing our work. Harper's, The Wire, or hell even The New Yorker. What about a music web site like Pitchfork including a radio column or doc reviews? However you do it, I think you have to figure out a way for the general public to see radio as something more than news and the occasional “driveway moment.”

shapiro said...

hi jm,

i hear you, about the hurdles in the way of radio becoming a viable topic for the radio...but in terms of audience access, now more than ever it would seem an easier feat - to produce reviews of radio stories and then offer links to the pieces via the web, so listeners could then hear the pieces. in some ways this could actually be _easier_ than hearing a film or book reviewed and then tracking it down.

WHERE these would air is another question, as i can't imagine NPR critiquing an NPR piece, for example. but wouldn't it be great if independent work was insightfully considered and featured nationally? i imagine this would sound strange to listeners at first, but would soon be understood and appreciated. since there's no real culture of analysis or review in radio at this point, we would ALL have to learn how to participate as contributors, reviewers and/or consumers. we'd have to get one going. i'm not sure we even know HOW to critique radio yet, beyond 'great song at the end' or 'don't care for that guy's voice much.' we need a vocabulary!!

but what's most obviously (in my opinion) missing is a sense of value for this deeper thought/dialogue about radio. the lack of public desire for it, i guess is what frustrates me as much as the professional disinterest i've observed in the public radio landscape and literary world.

it's of course an exaggeration to claim that radio's not getting reported on anywhere. as you pointed out, FA _has_ aired a few(great)interviews with producers over the years. (maybe the creepy feeling you get about those is partly related to the fact that you're not used to hearing radio about radio in the first place?!) and there's a new york times reporter, sam freedman, who has written some about many of the larger scale projects that have come out of public radio in the past years - from lost and found sound to storycorps. so maybe what's missing is an inbetween, more regular and ongoing look at how radio sounds, how stories are told, and how they impact our lives.

your pitchfork for radio idea, combined with the admirable work PRX.org's been doing to inspire public listening and reviewing of radio stories of ALL stripes, has inspired me (on a much smaller scale) to think about opening up lissenup for radio reviews. though that would hardly reach the ears and eyes of the general public.

maybe we really SHOULD open youtube accounts, and get busy...

in the meantime - stay tuned. and if anybody out there is interested in writing radio reviews, please step forward...

Andrew said...

Hey Jonathan and Julie-
I just thought I'd add that Pitchfork has, on occassion, covered radio. I'm thinking in particular of their features on the making of The Current as well as Theory of Everything. Of course, the bulk of their coverage is simply announcing times that NPR interviews a musician they cover anyways. I think there is a lot of room for them to expand and improve their coverage, though.

shapiro said...

you're right, and it was so damn exciting when both of those reviews went up. i'd love to see more regular coverage...if pitchfork was open to the idea i'm CERTAIN there are writers/producers/enthusiasts who could be marshalled for the reviews.

something to pursue, for sure.