Comments by Jonathan Groubert

Comment for "In the Office of Temporary Assistance"

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Radio Poetry? It Can Be Done

Few things are harder than making the flat text of poetry palatable to a modern radio listener. Unless the poem is unusually straightforward or read by a someone from the Royal Shakespeare Company, it tends to plod along in self-indulgence.
This is an exception. Lu Olkowski has a an artist's ear, but a magazine show's approach to pacing and editing. The result is a mix of poesy and interview that is accessible, sad and ultimately very, very moving. It is greater than the sum of its parts and some very classy stuff. And hey, there's even a web film.

Comment for "Hanukkah vs. Hanukkah" (deleted)

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Entertaining, Informative and Accurate (deleted)

Is this piece good for the Jews? The doctor (a very Jewish profession) is out on this, but it is good for the goyim who may or may not be familiar with this minor holiday. Secular Jews like myself who know about the oil and Maccabees, but nothing about the struggle within Jewish society at the time, also have something to learn. Whatever your opinion of this piece, Jewish history, or what Orthodox Jews may or may not get up to on the sabbath, I think we can all agree that this piece is a solid piece of infotainment and that latkes are little ovals of greasy goodness. Recommended to PDs on the night of the 21st.

Comment for "Coming Home: the Return of the Alutiiq Masks"

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Review of Coming Home: the Return of the Alutiiq Masks

5 years ago, I went to the Polish Synagogue, now a library, where my grandfather had likely worshipped before departing to the US. The connection to the place was circumstantial at best. Yet as i stood there, a hundred years removed from the actual events of family history,I began to cry.

Native Alaskans have had the collective accouterments of their history taken by successive colonizers, so when an Alutiiq man was overwhelmed when he saw the masks in a French museum, I got it.

Master storytellers always bring out the universal humanity of a moment and so, I think you'll get it too. This is an hour well spent.

Comment for "America Abroad After Castro: America and Cuba" (deleted)

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Review of America Abroad After Castro: America and Cuba (deleted)

America Abroad's programs are not experimental, not technically inspiring and have no groundbreaking narrative storytelling. They're just old fashioned, straightforward, solid journalism. "After Castro..." does what excellent informational radio needs to do: teach. There is also novel information on a topic that that has been revisited time and again. I, for example, did not know that Fidel was called "the heart" and his brother Raul "the fist".

There are a few hitches. The title suggests that the program is an in- depth examination of US/Cuban relations after Fidel kicks the bucket. This is there, but only after a good 30 minutes of history first.
Also, it must be said, the theme music is really, really cheesy. This is the 21st century guys. Update your sound a little. Otherwise, well done!

Comment for "Reality Break, Show 404: Music of Monty Python"

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Review of Reality Break, Show 404: Music of Monty Python

Series producer Richard Frolich and I clearly share a taste in comedy and he's self-effacing enough to refer to his series on Python as "inadequate". Sadly, it is.

Once upon a time, syndicated shows like Dr. Demento on commercial radio created a place for tribute programs like this that string together favorite, rare and/or weird tracks.

However, technology has caught up with this kind of show rendering its added value, well, minimal. Now anyone can make their own compilation of anything they want with a minimal investment of time and money.

If the Reality Break had included some kind of discussion or insight or an interview with a Python or a guy a wrote a book about the Pythons or someone who produced the tracks or....anything, maybe it would have merited a place in someone's schedule. Except for Frohlich's enthusiastic musings at the top of the show, there's no difference between this and putting in a Python CD and hitting the shuffle button.

Comment for "Viva La Controversy!"

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Review of Viva La Controversy!

Voices of Our World has taken on the admirable task of giving voice to those figures considered too incendiary by the mainstream media. I first saw the British spitfire George Galloway speak at the European Social Forum a few years ago and he falls deeply into the category of "those who should be avoided". So hats off to those who dare. However...
Any interview is more interesting, any interviewer more credible when they ask challenging questions. And any interviewee is more articulate, if actually challenged. Shouldn't Mr. Galloway have been asked if he was at all concerned about the terrible human rights violations committed by the very Fidel Castro he so admires?
Don't get me wrong, I'm glad someone is interviewing George Galloway. I'm just saddened that there was no actual journalism involved.

Comment for "Freeing the Press, Episode 1: Lucie Morillon, Reporters Without Borders"

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Review of Freeing the Press, Episode 1: Lucie Morillon, Reporters Without Borders

The Common Language Project does the articulate Lucie Morillon a disservice by distributing what is essentially a very long, raw, telephone quality interview on the very important topic of the protection of reporters around the world.
Despite that Morillon knows her stuff, it's great length makes it a hard listen.
On the upside, a gander at the license shows that excerpting can be done without permission. As this is press freedom week around the world, this may be an option for you.

Comment for "Being Number One: Costs and Alternatives to Empire" (deleted)

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Review of Being Number One: Costs and Alternatives to Empire (deleted)

An intelligent program with many interesting speakers taking on one of the great questions of our day in an erudite and articulate manner. A shame no one will actually listen to it. This is because the top is marred by a self indulgent essay so long the first interview doesn't start until well after the five minute mark. Patient listeners will be rewarded with 50 minutes of intellectuals with insights and, really, that's the problem.

Overall, I can't help but feel that his program, while self consciously well-researched, well-written and presented, somehow misses a down to earth touch that would grant relevancy to the listener. It's hard to find any real fault with this show, but there's nothing to really recommend it either.

This program has no dynamism, no darkness, no light, no real drama, no real emotion and, after all, creating emotion and narrative is what radio is all about.

Comment for "CL 2006 Paul Solman "1900-2000 America's century,2000 Chinese Millennium.""

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Review of CL 2006 Paul Solman "1900-2000 America's century,2000 Chinese Millennium."

Broadcast what is essentially nothing more than a lecture on the public airwaves and expect listeners not to rush immediately to change the dial? It can happen if the content and, more importantly, the speaker is commanding enough. Paul Solman builds his case with a compelling combination of humor and facts so convincing I've half decided to build a summer house on the Yangtze, for that is where my and everyone's job will be in 20 years. Marring this program is an introduction as dull as the lecture is interesting. If all audiences need to be wooed in the first 30 seconds, this will have to change.

Comment for "Return to Sarajevo, Part One"

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Review of Return to Sarajevo, Part One

Return to Sarajevo bears all of the best characteristics of BBC documentaries, excellent writing, solid journalism and gravitas. It also avoids some of the BBC's pitfalls. Instead of quick and sloppy cuts with bizarrely short clips, this has good production values and with clips long enough to allow the interviewees to emerge in three dimensions. This a short and solid piece perfect for any weekend magazine. Bravo. Can't wait for part 2.

Comment for "Burj el-Shemali Refugee Camp"

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Review of Burj el-Shemali Refugee Camp

Stefan Christoff's half hour report on the plight of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon does little to create sympathy for the denizens of Burj el-Shemali.

No listener is interested in a poorly read, rather dry four minute intro. When we finally hear a Palestinian voice, his overmodulated Arabic is faded down, but not enough to hear the voice over.

The pace is slow, the interviews long and no attempt is made to create real context for the listener.

It must also be noted that this program is also coproduced by a group called "The Electronic Intifada". Considering the sensitivity of the issue amongst the American public, I would recommend stations find a more professionally produced, more balanced program for broadcast. However, precisely because the subject is so charged, good programs on Palestinian refugees are few and far between.

Three stars for the attempt to present little heard Palestinian voices on American radio. One star for the actual execution, leaving an average of two stars.

Comment for "Andy Statman's Journey"

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Review of Andy Statman's Journey

5 Stars if you're a fan of Klezmer clarinet or bluegrass mandolin. Jon Kalish has produced an expertly knitted, rich, tersely woven and well presented journey into the heart of the virtuoso musician and Jewish mystic Andy Statman.

This is excellent radio that hits all the right beats in terms of pacing and uses the form to create a three dimensional person from his early success to his inexplicable contemporary obscurity.

Highly recommended to anyone. Excellent programming for the weekends or Jewish holidays or pairing with programs on Klezmer.

Comment for "Hush"

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Review of Hush

What is the place of experimental soundscapes on public radio? Is there an audience for it on the open ether? Ideally, there should be, but frankly, I doubt we'll be hearing it on drivetime anytime soon. This is a shame as pieces like "Hush" and some of the more evocative Jonathan Mitchell stuff have an equally powerful narrative to traditional radio storytelling. We are, after all, in the business of sound. Hey PD! How about some late Saturday night slot or early Sunday morning with few distractions beyond coffee and the Times. This is evocative listening for the concentrated ear.

Comment for "World Tour Radio presents Mining, Miners, and Music"

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Review of World Tour Radio presents Mining, Miners, and Music

Haunting nostalgic miner music, good production and (overly) earnest intentions cannot save this program from massive run on essays and deeply stilited presentation. There are no spontaneous moments and an assuption upon the producers that listeners should care about the subject because it's "important" and does little to draw one into an engaging narrative. A missed opportunity.

Comment for "Maui Water Struggles"

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Review of Maui Water Struggles

Just prior to editing and scripting a new piece, all journalists, PDs and reporters should ask themselves "Why should the listener care about this?".

With this in mind, almost any subject can be made to be interesting, no matter how esoteric or distant. And it is here that this piece fails.

All the elements of something good are here. However, the piece opens with some wooden narration, mountains of facts and figures and an interview witha laywer from a PIRG, rather than, say, the local man whose home island is slowly being sucked dry by poor water mangement.

I suspect this item was made by a well-informed, well-intentioned cub reporter who cares about the subject and tried to cover all the bases. However, the typical neophyte mistakes are made: overwriting, jamming so much information in that the narrative does not flow and becomes impossible to follow.

Reediting and some serious paring down in terms of the scripting would make this story useful to environmental programs and Marketplace's Sustainability Desk.

Comment for "CL 2006 Clifford Gaddy "Russia's economy: prospects and constraints"."

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Review of CL 2006 Clifford Gaddy "Russia's economy: prospects and constraints".

I like a good lecture given by a strong and authoritative speaker. I even like to listen to lectures on the radio, on my ipod and in the car. I also know that I am weird. The overwhelming majority of lectures, even very good ones like this, make bad radio.
Clifford Gaddy is an economist who knows Russia and is an excellent speaker and he deserves a hearing.

If I were reviewing a lecture series for sale or for mp3 download, I would give this 5 stars. For direct broadcast, I recommend this only to University based stations for whom this might have a built in academic audience of future economists and/or Slavisticians.

Comment for "War, Earth and the Soul: The Warrior's Path of Redemption" (deleted)

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Review of War, Earth and the Soul: The Warrior's Path of Redemption (deleted)

Atmospheric, highly produced, thoughtful program that, considering its topic of post traumatic stress disorder in Vietnam vets, is timely too. It's not easy listening by any means. The tone, music and presentation are dark. The vet's journey from pathology to healing is harrowing and personal. There is pain in every passage, every word and you, the listener, are not spared this. It's effective radio that PD's should be aware is not for everyone, but clearly it deserves a place somewhere in your lineup.

Comment for "Blues & Beyond #013: John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme"" (deleted)

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Review of Blues & Beyond #013: John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" (deleted)

If you're a jazz lover and a Coltrane fan in particular, you will groove as two jazz initiates rif verbal-like to the genius that is "A Love Supreme" note by note. And this, unfortunately, is also this program's weakness. No concessions whatsoever have been made to the non jazz/ non Coltrane audience. There are also a few genuine technical issues, such as the innumerable moments when orgasmic blasts of sax threaten to drown out large tracts of spoken word. I know you don't want the listeners to miss a beat, but it's just too loud guys!
If you have a music format with dyed in the wool jazz listeners who turn up the radio loud as cigarette clouds break on your beret, this is the program for you. Everybody else can better steer clear. Four stars to Coltrane fans, two for everyone else, so I've settled on a three.

Comment for "Stories from the NYPD"

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Review of Stories from the NYPD

This solid documentary tells the story of the NYPD via pithy narration, quality production and a rich romp through archive recordings. There's even some surprising audio of Fiorello La Guardia urging new recruits to deal with "tinhorns" by giving them a "sock in the jaw". And yes, even Serpico makes an appearance.
This program is, however, marred by the consistent use of very brief clips, masses of information and breakneck storytelling in which the listener, this listener at least, just gets bogged down in the narrative. There is so much jam packed in here that I just don't know who to care about. At a certain point, I just didn't know where I was being led, got lost and, consequently, my mind started drifting. WNYC has produced a sonic soup that is a little too well seasoned.

Comment for "The Itinerant Rabbi"

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Review of The Itinerant Rabbi

This piece is lovely and delicate. The title is misleading. This is less a story of a wandering Jew than an intimate portrait of a community ending, with all the tragedy and pathos that brings with it. For such a short piece, Philip Graitcer manages to take his time. Although, for such a short piece, it strangely takes 2 minutes before we actually hear the rabbi herself interviewed. Nevertheless this is nicely done and an excellent addition to any weekend magazine program.

Comment for "A light in the shadows: An interview with Suheir Hammad"

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Review of A light in the shadows: An interview with Suheir Hammad

This is a worthy subject with a worthy interviewee done by an openly partisan interviewer. This is not a problem as the listener fairly quickly knows what time it is. What is a problem is the unforgivably poor technical quality of the piece. The interviewer is in the proverbial echoey room while Suheir Hammad sounds like a phoner being recorded from an open mic picking up audio in the same echoey room. It literally hurts to listen. My advice to the producer is to see if he can rerecord the audio through a board and lose the reverb. I promise to rereview.

A missed opportunity.....

Comment for "How Did You Know When You Knew?"

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Review of How Did You Know When You Knew?

What is good radio? I think good radio is when you take a story from an individual who, ostensibly, has nothing in common with most listeners and you dissect the details down to the human level, the place to which we can all relate. Outright Radio, and subsequently this program, does just that. These stories are compelling not because of, or despite of the subject matter, but simply because these are in depth, adult stories well told and well produced. Listen to Outright Radio not because it's about gay subjects, but because these are simply interesting stories compellingly told.
The fact that most of the speakers are bourgeois, dead average Joes and Janes makes the program accessible to even the most land's most conservative regions. As the first interviewee says "I'm normal and this happened to me!"

Comment for "THE COMEDY-O-RAMA "SUMMER ROAD TRIP" SPECIAL with Lewis Black" (deleted)

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Warning! You are now entering a corny zone! Joe Bevilacqua has returned with his masterfully produced, extraordinarily hackneyed Comedy O Rama specials. Daws Butler's disciple has one again managed to craft an hour that will have you singing "Hello Mudduh, Hello Fadduh" in a wistful moment of Hannah Barbara nostalgia as the denizens of Camp Waterlogg return. Only this time the show features an interview with and standup from professional angry man Lewis Black. It's an incongruous combination at best. Try to picture Black turning up in an episode of the Flintstones and doing a few sardonic minutes on how badly the government is handling things over in "The Nam". Somehow I don't see Fred and Barney laughing that off. Having said that, there is a loyal audience longing for these shows and the production values are absolutely incredible. An amazing hour of radio that is not for everyone.

Comment for "Jonathans" (deleted)

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Review of Jonathans (deleted)

The guests, Jonathan Goldstein and Jonathan Katz are typically public radio. But stylistically our host is all slick baritone Clear Channel morning zoo. Without being intentionally offensive, how old is the program host? He sounds like someone older trying to be young. He looks young in the picture.

To give this program as fair a review as possible, I closed my eyes and filtered the contents from the wrapper and chewed on a fairly light hearted interview program that wouldn't be out of place on, say, Air America.

The "America's Radio Sweetheart" is as cheeky a conceit as the program title, but as there is a real lack of any of the groundbreaking chaos the name suggests, I'm not sure if our Jessie Thorn pulls it off. I found myself wanting to like this program and simultaneously put off by the kind of forced spontaneity one hears on AM talk radio towards the end of a four hour shift.

All in all, TSOYA is a promising format that would benefit greatly from a little self restraint. Among the highlights is a Jonathan Katz anecdote about his band on a good night and Jonathan Goldstein's spontaneous Internet word search. And yes, the fact that I'm a Jonathan is not coincidental.

Comment for "Everything Was Right: The Beatles' Revolver"

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Review of Everything Was Right: The Beatles' "Revolver"

Doing anything on the Beatles these days is a daunting task. What should the subject be? Who among the legion of writers, commentators and musicians around the world to interview? And how in god's name does one find a new angle? As expected Everything Was Right does not go over any new ground or find that novel approach, but it does do a solid job of dissecting the psychology, backstory and musicianship of each song note for delicious note. This is the kind of program that makes musical pedants like myself pant with delight. Taking itself (perhaps a little too) seriously and lacking the clever, iconoclasm of the late, great Pop Vultures, this documentary does offer solid journalism, excellent production values and a style that leaves most of the talking to the interviewees. Look out for the story where George gets his introduction to the sitar. Highly recommended.

Comment for "24/7: The Rise and Influence of Arab Media - A Documentary Special"

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Review of 24/7: The Rise and Influence of Arab Media - A Documentary Special

More a polished magazine on a single theme than an actual documentary, "Rise and Influence of Arab Media" deftly and comprehensively looks at how competing interests are vying for the Arab eye with varying degrees of success. This program's strength is its balance, timeliness, excellent technical quality and (almost too slick) professionalism.

However despite a careful journalistic approach, this program's only real flaw is its total reliance on production by Western journalists. While great care was taken to include every conceivable Middle Eastern interviewee, it seems remiss to not have a report from an Arab journalist. As this program shows, there are many capable journalists frrom and working in the Middle East. A potential Arab audience would surely miss this.

Nevertheless, PDs pay attention. This is a solid piece of quality journalism on a hot button issue that is recommended listening and licensing.

Comment for "EXPERIENCING WAR "FAMILIES OF WAR"" (deleted)

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Real people with stories of real tragedy that resonate deeply in this time of war. This is the side of the story the Pentagon tries to wish away with agenda setting euphemisms. But when soldiers go to war and sometimes die in war, the undeniable and terrible absence is felt by those left behind.

This program takes its time to get to tell it's story. It first acquaints us with the interviewees, let's us know them, care about them. Climaxes hit with gut wrenching pathos.

But this program isn't only about the death of loved ones, but also the experiences of soldiers in combat and how they turn to thoughts of family.

The only down side is the questionable audio quality of some of the interviews and the maudlin interstitial music that says nothing and goes down with all the spice of wonder bread with mayo. There is also a certain amount of Disney level sentiment inevitable to this subject matter.

Nevertheless this is a solid hour perfect for Veterans/Memorial or any day.

Comment for "Central America After the Wars Part One - Downsizing Armies & A Tale of One Village"

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Review of Central America After the Wars Part One - Downsizing Armies & A Tale of One Village

Is this one documentary? There is no doubt that this program is an exercise in integrity and engaged radio making. However, it has a somewhat confusing format. The first part recounts a Guatemalan village's bloody history of war and fear, ostensibly to set up the larger report about its present in part two. Pero no...

Part two, after the 20-minute mark, is produced by another journalist who has a totally different philosphy of reportage. The stylistic differences are somewhat jarring. Part 1 comes off as slow and overly earnest when juxtaposed with part 2's quicker edits, more energetic story telling and richer sound use.

In part three we finally return to our Guatemalan village for another stylistic shift and the most successful segment. Here the program focuses on one young girl's personal story as she takes on life after a devastating war. And it is here the program is most effective at giving Guatemala's plight a human face.

Despite the high-quality writing, presentation and content, I'm left with a nagging feeling that these are actually two programs, segments 1 and 3 together, that would have been stronger if separated from segment 2.

Highly recommended for any discussion on the history of American foreign policy, Hispanic months and/or celebrations. Also part two is totally self contained and could be potentially used as a stand-alone piece as a segment in a magazine program.


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Review of Report to Consumers (deleted)

A really good idea! I listened to 3 of these short vignettes and found them well-written, clear and authoritative. However, canned 80s theme music and commercial sounding presentation might make many, including me, balk at adding them to my public radio news broadcast or magazine program. Perhaps the producer might consult potential clients as to what "sound" works best.

Comment for "Three women who visited North Korea"

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Review of Three women who visited North Korea

Interesting personal insights by Koreans from Koreans and not only for Koreans, into a place so unknown to, well, all the world really. Former Northerners transplanted to America return to their homeland and are reunited with family members for the first time in decades. In this program they describe these experiences.

One assumes North Korean restrictions prevented the recording of the actual meeting, which is a shame. The program is a well-edited blend of interview and music that, after the first 10 minutes, becomes rather monotonal. The interviewees seem to have been recorded quickly or even over rehearsed because, while their words suggest an emotional reunion, their tones are measured and somewhat flat.

However, this program has the benefit of being novel during a dearth of information about North Korea. It humanizes a people often painted as slavish pions of the axis of evil and attempts to show the tragedy and triumph of their lives. This alone merits a listen, if not an actual broadcast.