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Playlist: Todd Melby's Favorites

Compiled By: Todd Melby

Circus Bar, Aberdeen, South Dakota Credit: Todd Melby
Image by: Todd Melby 
Circus Bar, Aberdeen, South Dakota

I curate and host a radio show called "The Listening Lounge" on KFAI in Minneapolis. Every week, I get to comb through PRX for captivating radio. I like stories that take me somewhere I've never been. These can be intimate portraits of people doing unusual things, elegantly-edited, non-narrated documentaries or pieces that are just plain delightful. Or disturbing. I'm a big fan of the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies (especially those stories sans narration), Jonathan Mitchell, the Working series from Homeland Productions and Outfront.

Just Another Fish Story

From Salt Institute for Documentary Studies | 08:28

How do you get rid of a dead whale? It's not easy.

Default-piece-image-0 Ten years ago, a whale washed ashore on the beach of Lubec in the poorest county in Maine. The people in town had to make a decision quickly—how would they get rid of a 60-ton dead whale?

Shades of Gray

From Jonathan Mitchell | 58:27

Pro-choice? Pro-life? This documentary avoids labels, diving into the complexity of a sensitive, life-altering topic. There's no narration, just artful editing, the voices of participants and a sound I'll never forget.

2_small Pro-choice. Pro-life. Most people have already chosen sides in the ongoing debate, so why revisit the issue? Shades of Gray shares a range of stories told by people young and old who have been directly affected by abortion, instead of the polemics of irreconcilable extremes. It's a carefully crafted audio mosaic and a stark portrayal of the intensely personal nature of our relationship with abortion. Originally distributed nationally by PRI in January, 2003 Winner of the 2004 Golden Reel for National Documentary.

PRX homepage image from Shutterstock

City X

From Jonathan Mitchell | 22:33

A Midwestern city gets a mall, kills its downtown, and intensifies its search for the perfect parking spot. A story of America in the 20th century.

City X
Jonathan Mitchell

Cityximage_small City X is a history of the modern shopping mall through perspectives of people living in a real, yet unnamed, city. Using a sound rich audio mosaic of observations and ruminations, all scored to Muzak, the universal mall experience comes to life, for better or for worse. City X was commissioned by Hearing Voices radio with funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. It was first broadcast (in a shortened form) on NPR's Living on Earth in November, 2004. The version presented here is the full length version of the piece It has been heard on: NPR's Living on Earth WUIS's Living in Illinois WBEZ's re:Sound Third Coast Festival website (www.thirdcoastfestival.org) PRX podcast

RN Documentary: From Brooklyn to Banja Luka

From Radio Netherlands Worldwide | Part of the RN Documentaries series | 29:31

She hates it when he farts. But she loves him anyway. A love story told with only a sliver of narration.

Jonathananddragana_small Jonathan is a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn. He has a typically New York loudness, and he?s flamboyant, musical and pretty good with languages. Dragana is a nice Serbian girl from Bosnia. She is prone to the occasional Slavic melancholy, but is also generally loud, musical, and pretty good with languages. They live in Holland, a small and sober country that, at first glance doesn?t seem suited to either temperament. Their improbable love story in features in From Brooklyn to Banja Luka. The programme won a Prix Europa in 2005 and a Gold Medal at the New York International Radio Festival.


From John Biewen | 03:00

A father's love for his daughter. And his fear of what might happen.

John Biewen

Harper-john-small_small This essay/montage was produced for the Third Coast Audio Festival's 2008 Audio Challenge, Radio Ephemera.  The challenge was to produce a piece of no more than three minutes based on any two of five books selected from the Prelinger Library of San Francisco -- and to include the voice of a stranger.  "Scared" is based on the books, "Control of Mind and Body," and "The Stork Didn't Bring You!: The Facts of Life for Teenagers."  The stranger is the voicemail lady.  


From Homelands Productions | Part of the WORKING series | 07:51

A man's life, in less than eight minutes. Heartbreaking.

Miner_small Your cell phone or your laptop wouldn’t work without a mineral called coltan. The Democratic Republic of Congo has about 80 percent of the world's coltan reserves, and that has spawned a corrupt and violent industry. Military factions vie for control of the mines, earning millions of dollars while the miners themselves barely scrape by. One of those miners is Fidele Musafiri, a small man with a hammer, a spike, and a dream of striking it rich. But the soldiers are never far away. Gregory Warner's profile is part of the WORKING series from Homelands Productions. 

Weenie Royale; The Impact of the Internment on Japanese Cooking in America

From The Kitchen Sisters | Part of the Hidden Kitchens series | 09:18

What food tells us about history.


This historical Hidden Kitchen comes from the memories and kitchens of the Japanese Americans uprooted from the west coat and forcibly relocated inland  after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. In camps like Manzaner, Topaz, Tule Lake some 120,000 internees lived for four years in remote and desolate locations—their traditional food replaced by US government commodities and war surplus—hotdogs, ketchup, spam, potatoes—changing the traditional Japanese diet and family table. 

Will You Go To Prom With Me?

From Curie Youth Radio | 03:14

A first-person narrative about a teen that can't get a prom date and doesn't know how to ask. Should he be formal or casual? Good storytelling and use of music, which adds tension.

16857_small Phil attempts to ask someone -- anyone -- to Prom. At Curie Youth Radio, a workshop at Curie High School on Chicago's Southwest Side, students write, record, and produce their own pieces about everything from snowball fights to gang warfare. We work with ProTools, and we collect our sound from our high school hallways, our families' kitchen tables, and anywhere else the train takes us.

Dyana, Goddess Of The Moose Hunt

From Salt Institute for Documentary Studies | 08:53

It all started out as a simple moose hunt...but a lot can go wrong.

Epoch_moose_small Dyana is going on her first moose hunt ever.  Only, she's never even fired a rifle before.  So, she enlists some help.  But she gets more than she bargained for.  Jamie Yuenger has the story.