What is the future of audio?

JAWS CAMP 2011, JAWS CAMP blog l

When you think about NPR’s ‘All Things Considered’, I bet the first thoughts that come to mind are probably not about experimental soundscapes, protesters talking about acid, and keyboard-sampled synthesizer music.  But that is what ‘All Things Considered’ sounded like at its inception in 1971.  Panelist Susan Schardt played a few minutes of the early days of ‘All Things Considered’ because, as she said, “To know where we are and where we’re headed, we have to have a little bit of understanding of where we’re coming from.”

The ‘Audio in the 21st Century’ session was held Saturday afternoon in a cozy room at the end of the zipline, high up in the Blue Ridge mountains in North Carolina — around fifty women journalists from the worlds of print, online and yes, radio, packed in to hear about and discuss what the future may hold for the world of audio.

The panelists were:
Jocelyn Frank – radio producer for NPR, BBC, audio artist
Kathleen Galligan – photo and multimedia journalist
Susan Schardt – head of Association of Independents in Radio
moderated by Jessica Alpert, radio producer at WBUR in Boston

Jocelyn talked about the importance of flexibility as an audio producer, saying, “You need to be able to adapt, react, and change.”  She described herself as an audio artist, not just a producer, and discussed her involvement in the ‘DC Listening Lounge’ – audiophiles who get together to listen, produce audio, once a year produce an audio installation.  She played an audio piece she produced called “Hunger“, a vox pop which included a music bed and ambient sounds of playgrounds and streets, with the voices of people of all different ages around DC answering the question “What are you hungry for” – and taking their own meaning out of that question

On her work producing the BBC special ‘Americana‘, Jocelyn noted, “Talking about America for a non-American audience was an adventure.”  She played a piece about morning talk radio produced as part of this special, in which the BBC host made a hilarious riff on the ‘art’ of talk radio, where American talk radio hosts follow the golden rule: “Never be afraid to go well below the belt”, and follow a basic forumla: play a clip of a politician, then rip into it with no one in the studio to contradict you or offer another perspective.

Kathleen Galligan spoke about her transition from photo journalist to multimedia, including video and audio, producer.  She presented an investigative video documentary that she worked on for three years, about the children of Christ Child House, a center housing foster children who were severely neglected and abused.
Part one
Part two
As Kathleen noted, it’s worth taking the time to learn to capture these moments on video – heart-wrenching poignant stories that make the ‘issues’ come alive in the voices and faces of real children.

Susan Schardt from AIR excited the audience with her announcement that AIR has a million dollars to give away to innovative audio projects this coming year!  But before that, she reminded us all to look backward in order to move forward.  One thing I got out of this session is the sense of how much NPR has changed since its inception!  She brought up Bill Siemering, who was hired after Congress created public radio, and wrote the mission statement that included this line, “…The editorial attitude would be that of inquiry, curiosity, concern for quality of life, critical, problem-solving, and life-loving.”  As Susan said, NPR has grown and changed in 40 years from a tiny niche of twenty-something audio experimenters in the early 70s to the standard-bearer of radio news and public affairs.

As for the future of audio, it’s ….video?  Well, definitely multimedia and innovation, as traditional radio stations learn to navigate the digital realm.  AIR’s project pairing multimedia and radio producers who have innovative ideas with public radio stations, who actually have to produce pitches promoting their station as a good site for a producer to come, could be a great launchpad for some of the wild ideas about the future of radio to actually come to fruition.

blog post by 2011 Joan Cook Fellow Jenka Soderberg

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