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Comment on piece: Letter from the Dead

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Review of Letter from the Dead

This not only sounds like an NPR news magazine piece--it literally IS an NPR news magazine piece. It aired on Morning Edition this past August. Given that I don't know if it is really appropriate (and legal) for it to be licensed here. As a showcase piece, it is an interesting and unusual story but there are very few meaty chunks to it.

Comment on piece: Two-Minute Danger Theater 01: The Voice "Death Stalks at Midnight" Ch 1

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Review of Two-Minute Danger Theater 01: The Voice "Death Stalks at Midnight" Ch 1

This is a tough piece to review. I respect the producer's innovative approach to the material, yet I don't think this works well as a contemporary radio piece.

PACING: The frantic pacing of these pieces make them difficult to follow. As an experiment I tried listening to the pieces while working in my office. I found that the pace was so fast that, unless I was doing nothing else, I couldn't pick up anything. For a listener trying to follow along while they are driving, working, doing the dishes, etc..., it just requires too much attention.

HUMOR: If you are going to do comedy, you have to deliver. While there were some clever bits of writing in these modules, there are some thin spots as well.

SOUND EFFECTS: Use of canned sound effects is dangerous, because producers are often tempted to use them as a full character in their piece (like here) rather than as a texture (like Tom Keith on PHC). The mastery of Tom Keith is he knows when to demand attention for the sounds he creates and when to let them fit in with other elements. It's a lesson that could be well-applied to these pieces. Sometimes the canned effects work, other times they are just gratuitous.

This producer is offering his material via a web site, which is a perfect distribution mechanism for this type of work. It allows those interested in this type of piece a place to go and listen, at their convenience, and enjoy them. I just don't think these have a broad enough appeal to work on radio.

Comment on piece: What is Poetry?

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Review of What is Poetry?

Barrett always amazes me with ability to take something that seems like a terrible idea on paper and craft it into something that works well on radio--often for the most undescribable reasons. This is an innovative use of both the music and the spoken word segment. The end effect is almost Zen-like, like chanting a mantra over and over. Yeah, I'd use this on the radio. I couldn't tell you why, but I'd definitely use it.

Comment on piece: People Don't Have Anything to Say

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Review of People Don't Have Anything to Say

I remember hearing this at the 2002 PRPD conference. This is a classic in the making.

Comment on piece: Old Together

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Review of Old Together

This piece would be a lot more useful to stations if it was available without the music bed, which doesn't seem all that essential. Also, even though I'm sure others would disagree--I don't like the mixing of the stories. I'd rather hear them separately rather than pieced together.

Comment on piece: How to Sing the Star-Spangled Banner

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Review of How to Sing the Star-Spangled Banner

This is one of my favorite pieces that I've found on PRX so far. Smart, humorous, interesting. It bodes well with public radio Core Values and has a lot of potential uses.

Comment on piece: My Family, Your Family, Our Family

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Review of My Family, Your Family, Our Family

An interesting piece that could be used just about any time that same-sex issues come up in the headlines. It shares the story of a comic book created to share the story of "non-traditional" and "traditional" family structures with children of all backgrounds.

The piece is quick and efficient. Its easy to wish that more time could be spent with the families and comic authors as a way to "illustrate" the story's characters, but brevity wins out here. Making the piece shorter makes it more useful to more stations. It was the right choice.

The production technique leaves a bit to be desired from time to time (including some over modulated micing on the reporter). Given the interest level of the content, it's easy to overlook these small flaws.

Comment on piece: WNYC's Fishko Files: An Hour With Dave Brubeck

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Review of An Hour With Dave Brubeck

Perhaps this program has already been picked up by all the stations out there across the land and my attempt to add a glowing beacon of hubbub to it is no longer necessary. In the off chance, however, that this is not the case, please allow me to gush about this fine use of air time.

This is an abundantly informative and friendly dip into the body of work of living Jazz legend Dave Brubeck. Sara Fishko (host) does a tremendous and respectful job of guiding listeners through Mr. Brubeck's illustrious past. There are plentiful breaks provided to allow us to soak up the specific recorded works being discussed and the selected passages are just enough of a sample for our ears to linger in without allowing the flow of the conversation to slip away.

There are some fascinating and enlightening moments in here which I am reluctant to spoil in this review for those who have yet to listen. I will share with you, however, what I feel is the underlying reason explaining how Fishko allows for these insightful thoughts to surface for Mr. Brubeck. I believe it comes from her completely honest and respectful approach with her guest. Brubeck seems so comfortable with the atmosphere she has created that I believe he feels he could share just about anything with her. Granted, the interview is conducted in his own home, where one would expect an obvious level of comfort, but even still, Fishko's warmth and well informed questioning sets the stage for Brubeck to unfold.

This is a delightful 59 minutes and I applaud the producers of the work for their efforts in sharing it. I only wish they could have come up with a more descriptive title for the piece... just kidding.

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Review of Pop Vultures #12: The 80's Deja Vu (deleted)

I enjoyed this program immensely. It's producers appear erudite, oppinionated, fun and funny. The language employed is very casual and appropriately so in terms of the subject matter discussed. I find Katie Sullivan's radio voice very pleasant and nicely paced. Her guests and cohorts are not hard on the ears either. A fun Listen!

Comment on piece: Summer School

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Review of Summer School

This piece could work as a commentary during summer. An earnest young woman teaches summer school for the extra money and faced with a classroom of sweaty, sullen teenagers, somehow manages some long division breakthroughs. This isn't a piece that packs a big suprise or delivers a message; it's just real life for a whole lot of kids in school and thankfully for a some teachers too.

Comment on piece: Frank Sabatino, Fisherman

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small head, big ocean....

This is a satisfying slice of life piece, that would be a welcome addition to any show with a maritime theme, and a surefire crowd pleaser if aired on coastal public radio stations. It is replete with salty language, interesting facts, and a taste of the sad realities of the declining fishing industry. My only criticism, and it is small (and really a compliment as it reflects some masterful mixing!) is that it just doesn't seem noisy enough, windy enough, engine-rumbly enough! I know engine noise is the bane of a radio producer's existence but, I have been on a few boats, and this was a quiet one. That being said, I am left pondering this incredible image, and what an image; "when it's just your head sticking up out of the ocean, it's a big ocean" Clearly the sinking of his boat had a lasting impact on Frank, not big enough to turn him away from his life's passion though.

Comment on piece: The Story of the Peat Bog Soldiers

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Review of The Story of the Peat Bog Soldiers

A controversial discussion of this haunting song has been on webpages and newsgroups for many years.

For example http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=14088

This authoritative report should satisfy all future discussions.

Fascinating piece; well done

Comment on piece: Montpelier Renovations

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Review of Montpelier Renovations

This is an informative piece that refreshes your US history and gives you an understanding of all the complications that home restoration entails. The piece embodies all the a classic news feature touches: rich ambient sound, narration and interviews. The hook for boradcasting this is that Madision's home is once again open to the public after a two -month hiatus. This would also be an iteresting choice for 4th of July .

Comment on piece: Harlem's Perma-Card Poet

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Portrait of an Artist as a Street Vendor

How can you not love someone who describes himself as being "39plus?"
Well this is just a taste of Abdul Hakein's poetic talents. The entrepreneurial wordsmith sells his work on the streets four days a week. Averaging only $20.00 dollars a day Hakein certainly meets the starving- artist criterion. He also gets you thinking about the hardships these street vendors face. This is an excellent portrait. Hakein not only shares his artistic process and inspiration but also reads his work, which offers a compelling worldview.

Meyer's voicing and writing are just right. He offers wonderful insights and details that enhance your understanding of Hakein but do not make you too aware of Meyer 's role as the producer. ( e.g. Meyer tells us that Hakein prefers that his grandchildren call him "GP" instead of Grandpa. )

This piece is timeless--as long as poetry and street vendors are still around. This is the kind of piece you’d expect to hear on Market Place or Scott Simon's Weekend Edition. This would be a great choice for the 4:00 minute break that the ATC clock now offers (the piece is 4:29 but 30 seconds could be cut off). It would also be perfect for Labor Day.

Comment on piece: Charley the Spelling Whiz

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Review of Charley the Spelling Whiz

Nice feature. Sound rich, smooth and focused. I don't think the producer was trying tto probe into the behind the scenes working of the National Spelling Bee--just one kid's story. Still, I wanted to hear more about actually being in a spellng bee--the pressure, the thrill, the fun?

This would make an interesting color sketch for any station or show to air on or during the national spelling bee.

Comment on piece: Charley the Spelling Whiz

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Review of Charley the Spelling Whiz

This piece lacks the spell of the feature length documentary film but it's trying to achieve the same thing. At less than three and a half minutes there's not a full enough portrait of Charlie and cutting between spelling words and some quick biographical details doesn't seem to work so well either. This story doesn't seem to have an ending. How did Charlie do in the competition? Were we listening to the official Bee or a warm-up? Who won?

Comment on piece: The Children of Logan

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Review of The Children of Logan

In this installment of Borten’s series, A Sense of Place, the producer offers a-study-in-contrast style portrait of her childhood neighborhood from the forties through the end of the century. Both the neighborhood and Borten’s perceptions evolve –– her first effort took place in 1989, and she returned eleven years later. Borten’s kaleidoscopic approach makes for a rich half-hour.

Tape of Jewish immigrants, who, escaping from Hitler’s version of homeland security, eventually found sanctuary in the Logan neighborhood echo off later African American residents, who sought sanctuary in the stability of home ownership, and Hispanics who followed. But the literally unstable Logan area ground led to houses sinking, even abandoned, and the accompanying societal woes of troubled inner city neighborhoods. Then there were the hazards behind closed doors, which one family poignantly shares.

There are great details of life during the war period, woven with music of the time, and compelling tape of residents throughout the years. At moments, not thinking about the title, I wasn’t sure where the piece was heading –– was it about environment? Memory? But a sense of this place, this neighborhood, seen over time, demands a certain amount of non-linear, spider-webbiness. In the end, the piece is about survival, and the survival of children is of paramount importance, then, now, always.
Program any time.

Comment on piece: The High Stakes of Today's Testing

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Review of The High Stakes of Today's Testing

This is a Soundprint documentary that puts human voices behind the never-ending testing debates.

This is a well-worn subject, which poses an interesting set of problems for producers. With a story that is well covered in other media, public radio has an opportunity to expand the story in unique directions. That doesn't necessarily mean covering stories or elements of stories simply because others are or aren't covering it (that kind of lifeless decision-making puts other media in control of your story selection). Instead, public radio can utilize out Core Values to add essence, color, and depth to stories. This point is where this documentary excels.

Debates about testing usually focus on politics and numbers, but this documentary goes inside a school for an extended view on how testing affects educators and students. It is incredibly poignant (and chilling) to hear students recite, "burn the test" (as in "burn-up," as in "do well") at a school spirit-laden pep rally focused on test scores. The children even have songs about scoring well on tests that are down right disturbing. This is bothersome because, as is subtly pointed out in the doc, the children are totally focused on doing well to show they are as smart as the suburban schools and their school deserves recognition. Never once does a student or educator mention that "educating children" is a concern or priority. Instead of students, these children are test-taking warriors, drilling to succeed in battle. For them, the effort feels weak and purposeless. This doc gives you an intimate front row seat.

It is inevitable that school testing debates will come up, as will the privatization of public schools (also a factor in this story). Bookmark or license this piece now—you’ll be glad its there for you when the story surfaces.

Again, if stations do not normally carry Soundprint, the presence of the brand may be unnecessary. It would be nice to have an edited version for stations that don't carry the series.

Comment on piece: God is Talking to Me

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Review of God is Talking to Me

A funny story with a good ending. I like the overdrive pace, but you have to listen close to pick up everything.

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Review of Pridefest Audio Postcard (deleted)

A quick visit to the Gay Pridefest parade - and easily places the listener. When I heard a vivid description of what one person was wearing, the piece went technicolor and I wished for more - ! Even though, the content of what others had to say about living as a gay was equally important - it made me feel good in a strange sort of traditional 4th of July kind of way. The evidence of a change in attitude is hopeful.