Comments by Geo Beach

Comment for "Third Coast Festival Broadcast 2005" (deleted)

User image

Review of Third Coast Festival Broadcast 2005 (deleted)

Could you take the schmooze of E!, trailers teasing as the movie house lights dim, and the Oscar play-by-play, splice them together and come out with something worth watching? Might be hard to see.

But, remarkably, not hard to say -- with radio, anyway. Because that's pretty much the formula for "Third Coast Festival Broadcast 2005" by Ben Shapiro and Chicago Public Radio -- interviews, clips, and competition commentary -- and, somehow, it works.

How do you make an industry conference hip?

Well, like Macintosh freaks, public radio listeners are predisposed to being nerdy-insidery-hip, so the magic has a willing audience.

There are ten terrific pieces featured in two hours here, bookended by complete segments. No lineup is provided for stations, so PDs need to check Winners of the 2005 Third Coast Festival for an overview -- all but "Weighing the Balance" are heard in the Broadcast (though not in the website order).

Lead-off is Salt Institute's Molly Menschel with "Just Another Fish Story", a quilted, woven, darned scrap pile of voices hawking the competing truths of storytelling -- a whale dying at the far end of America -- perfect Marshall Dodge "Bert & I" Downeasterisms.

Wrapping up is Long Haul's Dan Collison and Elizabeth Meister offering "Dear Birth Mother", the open and disarmingly regular story of a single, 40-something white woman adopting a black child and creating a family as tense, joyful, and hilarious as any other on a dizzy planet.

Between, there's snippets and chatter about Mandela, Khoisan clicks, funny farming, Wagner, electricity in music, codfish, fatness, and a brilliant kind of avant garde poetry of radio. Too deep-down, too far-flung, to present straight-out and fit here.

There is of course a disconnect between a conference that's avowedly international, soundcentric, and non-narrative being wordfully narrated by a American weekend hostess.

But the works themselves cry out over any formulaic fences.

Seven of these ten encyclopedic volumes of radio (all but John Wynne, Rocky Tayeh, and Norman Corwin) are available, uncut, on PRX. So PDs can trade on Third Coast for five full-length encores.

And after these squeak-peak primers, listeners will come with open ears.

Comment for "Visions at New Orleans' Historic VooDoo Museum" (deleted)

User image

Review of Visions at New Orleans' Historic VooDoo Museum (deleted)

"Visions...A Series Of Visits To (Almost) Everywhere!" has its roots in closed-circuit radio, the original "plugged-in" sound. After a few years it moved to AM broadcast in a midnight to 1 am timeslot.

But "Visions at New Orleans' Historic Voo Doo Museum" is not ready for prime time, and it may be too late for this late, late, later form from the early cable-access era.

Right off the bat it's Through a mic, distortedly.The intro is a champion of fast talk, bad sound, and general unintelligibility -- the first words come out as "Seven divisions".

"Visions" is essentially "live" radio, and live has its merits. But the "Voo Doo" episode was recorded more than a decade ago, and the "best by" shelf life of immediacy has expired.

The sound package serves airline lunch in a used air sickness bag. The original recording quality was bad, muffled or echo-y, and now that's been wrapped in a slippery glaze of compression algorithms and digital processing, like a frost that kills fresh vegetables.


Our host Herb Malsman is irrepressible, and I came to love something about him. With his Brooklyn accent and Port Authority Bus Terminal bonhomie, Malsman is like an audio Larry Bud Melman. "The heat is really oppressive down here," he bemoans to his New Orleans interlocutor.

And in the first segment, Brandi Kelly, director of the New Orleans Historic Voo Doo museum is a knowledgeable and intriguing person to spend time with, if you could hear her. Segment two is not as strong, especially with the right channel awol much of the time, but Malsman's subject, "The Prince of Love" does deliver a brief synoptic on Hoo Doo, Voo Doo, juju, gris-gris, and the mink penis.

No, I only review them, I don't make those things up.

There might be a brave PD with low digit ante meridian hours and a lo-fi amplitude modulation signal that will do "Voo Doo". I'd like to hear some more Herb Malsman, but next time I want to be able to hear him.

Comment for "The Jewish New Year: Music and Inspirational Teachings from the Kabbalah"

User image

Review of The Jewish New Year: Music and Inspirational Teachings from the Kabbalah

Listen, Richard Kaplan is transcendent. His intellect has expanded into spirit, and his spirit takes wing on voice. In "The Jewish New Year" Kaplan takes very specific traditions from Eastern Europe and North Africa and runs with them like streamers across a broad America.

Make no mistake – this programming is more than "a Jewish thing". People everywhere understand.

Because producer Russ Jennings elegantly arranges Kaplan – songwriter, pianist, ethnomusicologist, and teacher – with Estelle Frankel – author, psychotherapist, teacher of meditation, and student of the Kabbalah – and she is as unique and astonishing with word as he with song.

What you get is chicken soup, stirring, that comes out of the radio soulful and fragrant.

Frankel's storytelling reveals the intricacies of Rosh Hashanah, commencing with the ram's horn, the shofar, whose cry must break hearts open to hear the cry even of our enemy. Only then is there "wholeness that comes after the brokenness life inevitably brings us – and that is the New Year."

Kaplan sings from the Song of Songs, "The voice of my beloved who knocks / Open to me", and Frankel softly offers the "spiritual alchemy" that can make mistakes into gifts – renewing time, beginning again.

At Yom Kippur, aloneness transforms to connectedness, and we remember our original face.

"The Jewish New Year" presents a poignant message of hope, ripened in humanity. It's the blessing of a fresh start that there's no need to wait for.

Comment for "Ramadan Silence"

User image

Review of Ramadan Silence

In a month of putting aside the regular, there's a place for "Ramadan Silence". Shaykh Taner Ansari provides a clear, smiling explication of Ramadan, the lunar month which celebrates Mohammed's receiving the Koran. I especially appreciated the education that, beyond stereotyped mortifications – no eating no drinking no sex – the focus on God which is the heart of Ramadan observances means abjuring foul language, back-biting, and gossip.

Instead, as Shaykh Ansari describes, the social aspect of Ramadan is central. "What are you cooking?" becomes a question freighted with intensity, and the invitation to share meals broadens the celebration.

During thirty days of Ramadan the thirty parts of the Koran are recited. Shaykh Ansari offers the insight that the Arabic chants are "more than what you are reading... like kabbalah, all these letters and sounds and vibrations, they attract the angels and the blessings."

Bedded by Suleyman Erguner's ney flute and capped with a wonderfully illuminating poem, "Ramadan Silence", by the 13th Century mystic Rumi, Russ Jennings has produced an antidote to anti-Islamic gossip. Let these vibrations fly – we need both angels and blessings.

Comment for "Such a Donkey"

User image

Review of Such a Donkey

Jason Rayles brings us "I am such a donkey", a tale from the bad joke gone bad tradition, a premise with promise. But humor is a hard master, and demands a writing and rewriting absent here.

The twist in "Donkey" is that Jason delivers a birthday card with a gratuitous line about surviving life without getting shot, only to find the recipient had a dear friend who died after an accidental shotgunning. But this vector is intersected with such dead-end alleys as "Plus, Ben is like the easiest person on the planet to shop for", and "he's got this really styling beard and he's got this skipper-slash-professor-slash-indie rocker thing happening".


Plus, Jason inserts like this really non sequitorious slash out-in-left-field slash "schlemiel with a sexy female" thing that, endeared as I am to languorous associative wanderings, just doesn't wrap back right.

Rayles' production concept is to have his trax read by a voice synthesizer. Problem is, the synthesized voice is remarkable good, or not nearly bad enough. It certainly isn't the astonishingly articulate instrument of homo sapiens' larynx and associated vocal architecture.

Think of the purest form of humor – the stand-up comic. It's writing and voice.

All art is choices, and "Donkey" (an odd choice for "ass" in a piece that features "shit" and "motherfucker" as locutions) chooses to skip the hard work of writing and voicing. So the plastic words play out on the computer speakers, alone.

Comment for "Orson's Shadow" (deleted)

User image

Review of Orson's Shadow (deleted)

LA Theatre Works' Orson's Shadow is a radio broadcast of a play about actors rehearsing a play. You'd be forgiven if you thought that might produce a piece of insiderism. It does not.

As Michael Frayn achieved with physicists Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg in Copenhagen, Austin Pendleton puts breath in the bones of history and lets it walk around. In Orson's Shadow, the critic Kenneth Tynan convinces Orson Welles to direct Laurence Olivier in Rhinoceros, while Olivier juggles the fragile psyche of his estranged wife Vivian Leigh and the powerful presence of his young lover Joan Plowright. That fills a globe with lives of real gravity, real attraction -- two hours of time curved around presences.

There's plenty of fun for fans of the theatre and cinema -- the playfulness of plays about plays (remember Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream) mocks the presumptions of drama. Here, it opens the past and the private and makes Welles and Olivier powerfully human, pieces of ourselves. The agile performances convey a story far bigger than the West End or Hollywood.

Orson's Shadow is thoughtfully introduced and with its intimate casting is well-chosen to work in audio format. Robert Machray brings out an astoundingly complex Welles while Caroline Goodall limns Plowright (with whom she starred in Hotel Sorrento) with precision and nuance. Director Rosalind Ayres delivers atomic compression and power that explodes out of the radio

Comment for "American Soundcheck - Fort Worth, TX" (deleted)

User image

Review of American Soundcheck - Fort Worth, TX (deleted)

With American Soundcheckk, Tripp Clarke has produced a winning new series that straddles genre and hits the high points of public radio's core values – curiosity (mind), public life (heart), and music (craft).

Clarke employs eclectic histories and a deep sense of place to deliver a "music" show that's much more than soundtrack or 8-track. This is music woven in and out of America, organized not by era or artist, but by towns and their states of mind.

In the "Fort Worth" edition, Clarke dusts off "Hell's Half-Acre", whose edgy genesis featuring Butch & Sundance eventually provided a wide open stage for truly original music, beginning with the western swing of Bob Wills and the ingenious sax stylings of Ornette Coleman. Outlaw Willy Nelson played the "firearms-mandatory" Jacksborough Highway on a stage surrounded by chickenwire, a la Blues Brothers.

Throughout, America Soundcheck delivers a bespoke intelligence and sound – a unique mix of trax, samples, interviews, and long-play that rivals PBS's Jazz for putting brains with voice.

Clarke charts Townes Van Zandt, Lightnin' Hopkins, Delbert McClinton, and scores more diverse players, describing crossroads that will surprise the most acute musicologists.

Delivered in three segments for the standard 20/40/60 clock, American Soundcheck has all the smarts of Big Net programming – but it's far more nuanced, "more than one idea". That will make for sticky ears and a loyal audience.

Comment for "Teatro Americano"

User image

Review of Teatro Americano

Emily Udell's "Teatro Americano" has lots of good sound but lacks a coherent script. The intro, featuring the electronic jingle from an ice cream truck a propos of nothing, sends the listener's focus in an errant direction. The first 1:00 of ambling interview doesn't contribute to the vector of the story, which is in fact about the Chicano activist play "La Victima". Actualities are disjointed – players comment on their characters before any part of the plot is explicated.

Crisp sound, of which Udell has collected plenty, is crucial to making good radio. But, like cooking without a recipe, just throwing in fresh stuff and stirring does not a story make.

At 3:00 we get a forward promo for performances in April 2005 in Chicago, which dates and places the piece such that it cannot be rebroadcast in the current form.

"La Victima" sounds like a play listeners would like to hear more about. There are compelling elements here that, restructured with focus and with a broad audience in mind, can make a solid radio piece.

Comment for "Pie" (deleted)

User image

Review of Pie (deleted)

Concentrate on the art of... radio.
The very first edge of sound, around the corner from our ear, leaves us out-t-t.
The hollowness of the room undergirds the emptiness between there and hear.
Look, this is a picture of somebody talking to somebody else.
Don't shout at me, in bad reverb, when you have brought me this close.
Don't rush and slam words you ask me to consider.
You would not bake a pie on the back ledge of a Pontiac left out in August sunlight.
You would not put used food, something that had already been chewed up, into a pie and serve it to friends with the expectation they would ask for another slice.
Respect the rules of... radio.

Comment for "Indian Jews try to find an identity in New York City"

User image

Review of Indian Jews try to find an identity in New York City

With "Indian Jews try to find an identity in New York City", new producer Thomas Grove brings out a solid standard feature on an interesting subject. Grove profiles Romeil Daniel, a Jew from India who was chosen to lead a group of conservative European Jews in Queens, New York.

There's lots to catch the imagination here – a tribe that escaped Israel by boat in the Second Century, shipwrecked in India, prospered along the Silk Route, and, isolated for two millennia from mainstream Judaism, now number just 5000 members. Grove punctuates the piece with clean actualities from Daniel, whose Indian lilt singing Jewish prayers is unique and captivating.

Thomas Grove has a good voice, with range and depth, but, too much, the delivery here lands on the ear as paper words which have been read out, not as conversation. The narration often seems out of contact with the text, odd words emphasized or timbre that detracts from meaning. When Grove switches off the television voice and instead tells the story in the den after dinner with friends, "Indian Jews" has a stronger impact.

Comment for "In Place and Out of Character"

User image

Review of In Place and Out of Character

Like the legitimate theatre where an audience commits the willing suspension of disbelief, the invisible theatre of radio demands a commitment from listeners to create something greater in the space between "sent" and "received". But there's an obligation on the creator in the bargain, to set the scene -- physical, intellectual, emotional – into which they invite the audience.

"In Place and Out of Character", despite Will Sorrell's interspersed narration, seems "in character", but "out of place". The three vignettes deliver great personality on the part of the refugees, but the package isn't assembled in a way that ultimately inhabits a place with listeners.

The disconnect is a genetic legacy – these three 9-minute profiles were originally created to be accompanied by photographs and live theatre, in which milieu they would perform much differently.

Fine work by producer Emily Feder & crew, and wonderful audio, but somehow in this raw format it's not radio, it doesn't translate. There's not the storyline and direction we need to turn this from chatter on the subway to conversation from new real people we're meeting.

That said, Abibatu Hadiatu's segment has so much music in her words, it could nearly be played as song. And overall, the elements are professional and compelling enough that we can look forward expectantly to Feder's work produced specifically for broadcast.

Comment for "The Lord God Bird"

User image

Review of The Lord God Bird

"The Lord God Bird" is new innovative radio from Long Haul Productions. It's a story about the putative rediscovery of the ivory-billed woodpecker near Brinkley, Arkansas, told in the voices of Brinkley collected by Dan Collison and Elizabeth Meister. But more, it's scored, lyricized really, with a haunting original song – almost a hymn -- by Sufjan Stevens.

"The Lord God Bird" works at the nexus of news and art, an amalgam which personifies the core values of public radio listeners. The ivory-billed woodpecker affords the peg for this piece about "a place where you can call a wrong number and talk for five minutes", but in truth that's just the excuse for a human look at what "news" means to people, like us, making their way on the planet. Straight journalism has failed so often in this essential storytelling, and Collison, Meister, and Stevens succeed so heartfully, one can hope other producers will be emboldened and other gatekeepers admonished.

The one significant drawback of "The Lord God Bird" is an ill-crafted introduction which steers the listener way off target. The intro implies a profile or feature about the songwriter, that Collison & Meister are "curious about how [Stevens] writes songs". Why not just be straightforward? This is an oral history feature with a specially-commissioned soundtrack. That would make the set-up clear and precise and honor the content, which itself is a new sort of perfection that might begin to refresh public radio.

Comment for "Professor Noah Feldman at the Aspen Ideas Festival"

User image

Review of Professor Noah Feldman at the Aspen Ideas Festival

Just like at school or camp, there was buzz about the hotties and fresh faces. The week?s ?It? boy was Noah Feldman, a good-looking, silver-tongued, terrifyingly self-confident 35-year-old NYU law professor with a recent posting in Baghdad.
-- Studio 360's Kurt Andersen, on the 2005 Aspen Ideas Festival

Noah Feldman has lots of ideas about the middle east. If you have a variable-speed radio, you might even be able to hear them. This recorded speech is so very fast-talking, almost speeded-up sounding, Feldman emerges a hyperanimated character in a deranged South Park episode.

His central thesis, thinly pinned on recent events in Lebanon and, debatably, on infinitesimal electoral moves in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, is that the articulated foreign policy of Bush's neocons is the actual desire to achieve instability in Arab countries. Occam's Razor more reasonably explains the instability as the result of screw-ups.

Feldman does offer some clear realpolitik insights, such as the Perpetual Motion Machine of the Oil Economy ? instability in oil monarchies increases oil prices, so monarchs can buy off foreign governments and purchase increased security, thus becoming more stable.

But the balance of Feldman's content is routine ? we won't know if W. is a foreign policy genius or idiot for 15 years; we're in too deep in Iraq to cut and run now ? albeit delivered with so many self-forward-promos it seems there's more coming than is eventually delivered. This is wonk-speak on caffeinated mints ? faddish, fast, sweet, nothing to ruminate.

Feldman's "Senior Constitutional Advisor" tag seems a doubled-edged "Best and Brightest" blurb. In Squandered Victory, Larry Diamond describes the "isolated and very young Americans who dominate the C.P.A.... reluctant to travel outside the American compound." Remember 40 years ago ? Texas hubris + East Coast smarty-pants = Quagmire.

Andersen wrote that the Ideas Festival is about self-flattery, filled with middle-aged people in chinos and shirtsleeves who ? appearances to the contrary ? believe they ought to be masters of the universe. PDs might question whether they should rule the ether as well.

Comment for "Catfish Noodling in Oklahoma"

User image

Review of Catfish Noodling in Oklahoma

"If you know what yer doin you kin git by pretty well okay. But you kin git drownded -- git on up in a hole, git hit by a fish, knocked out, and drown. There's several different ways."
-- Thomas Riggs, 38-year Noodling veteran.

It's hard to have this much fun in six minutes, but that's the trick of Scott Gurian's fish tale, "Catfish Noodling in Oklahoma". If Saveur magazine delivers "authentic" cuisine, Gurian serves up "authentic audio" here – plenty of splashing, panting, and shooting the breeze. Really, this story makes you proud to be American – you can add Thomas and his fish to your list with Mom and apple pie.

Okay, I'll admit it. Like Thomas Riggs, I "learnt myself" catfish noodling when I was a boy. (In the Yankee version you lay on your belly on the bank of a brook with hands numbingly submerged until the catfish swims into the slow eddy where you're camouflaged. Then, straight-armed and two-handed, you catapult him onto the grass, a flying, swimming, arching cat headed for dinner.) I was not, like Riggs, "hungry... and left standing by a set of railroad tracks in Jerome, Idaho, when I was 7". Rather, it was summertime, I didn't have a fishing pole, and, well, it just seemed like the right thing to do.

Which should be said about airing Scott Gurian's "Catfish Noodling in Oklahoma". It puts the "nation" back in NPR.

Comment for "First Trumpet Memories"

User image

Review of First Trumpet Memories

Irving Sarin's voice is cobblestone over which his trumpet solos pour smooth as water in Adam Allington's mix of "First Trumpet Memories", an interview detailing conductor Fritz Reiner and the Pittsburg Symphony Orchestra in the mid- 20th Century.

MDs with a classical music format will find plenty of opportunities for this erudite insider's look at the personalities of the symphony, but the specificity removes it from general-interest programming.

There's some hollow mic-ing at the intro, and when Sarin complains that under Reiner, "Life became torturous," Allington follows, cartoonishly, with the opening of Beethoven's Fifth – not exactly a showcase for trumpet – but, overall, the piece is produced and edited smoothly. A classic classical interview.

Comment for "Lessons from Hiroshima, 60 Years Later" (deleted)

User image

Review of Lessons from Hiroshima, 60 Years Later (deleted)

Reese Erlich unveils an exhaustively researched and movingly first-person-documented nuclear retrospective, "Lessons from Hiroshima, 60 Years Later". With fallout from the case for war in Iraq still aglow, it seems the anniversary of atomic warfare couldn't have come soon enough.

A man felt the heat of the bomb flash and the flesh of his face fell away into his hand. Eight months later bodies glowed with radiation -- "corpse candles" that some believed were spirits of the dead. Radiation sickness was a lingering multi-generational plague, girls from Hiroshima shunned, US military personnel bequeathing health problems to children and grandchildren.

That happened because US censors kept the news hidden, sometimes with media complicity -- the New York Times correspondent both "reported" on the bomb and wrote puffy press releases for the government. Importantly, Erlich points out that, "A few courageous journalists defied the censorship in 1945" -- including George Weller, whose original reportage has just been rediscovered this summer.

"Lessons" point outs the legacy of press manipulation, including the ruse of Russian nuclear superiority and dodgy Israeli brinkmanship that citizens never knew about.

There's good material from defense secretaries McNamara (Fog of War) and Perry, and counterintuitive views from American and Japanese servicemen. Less effective is host Walter Cronkite's interview with IAEA's Mohamed El Baradei; it sounds staged and formulaic. In fact, Cronkite is not best deployed as host or commentator; his finest work here is recounting a personal instance of censorship.

The revelations -- North Korea more of a threat than Iran -- aren't news, though. And the conclusion, that the US is remiss in dismantling bombs, isn't borne out by theBulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which documents dramatic reductions by the US and Russia in the past 15 years.

Still, the vivid history and the indictment of censorship remain riveting chapters of "Lessons", crucial to teach today.

Comment for "Worlds of Difference: Finding a Niche"

User image

Review of Worlds of Difference: Finding a Niche

Homelands Productions' Worlds of Difference series has been delivering some of the very finest material to air on public radio over the past two years. WOD has subtly infiltrated the magazines and other high-profile shows with full-segment and segment-breaking pieces that, subversively, achieve a real connection with listeners.

Here, for example, Chris Brookes's segment on Newfoundland sings, literally. "For five centuries, we sang, we danced, we spoke the language of fish. Our culture was their voice." It's not just the English language and absence of voiceover – the fishermen here deliver a nuanced and compelling story – becoming fishers of people instead of fishers of cod -- and Brooks' participatory narrator is perfect pitch.

But as an hour-long package, "Finding a Niche" seems like more is less. The overall presentation feels padded and plastic. Maria Hinojosa's narration and the snippets of gratuitous listen-to-my-title-and-accent commentary feel like shrinkwrap over handwoven material, a slick, shiny covering that renders some of the contents airless.

The challenge of compelling coverage of globalism is to get past earnest eat-your-peas journalism. The pieces from Peru and Mexico are stuck firmly in the vegetable niche, though. We don't use chemicals in our potatoes. We don't use chemicals in our mescal. It's still pretty much the didactic stick without too many sweet carrots.

Vera Frankl's examination of the Outer Hebrides, though, is a deeper story of physical detachment and digital connectedness – and that's the larger motif any reporting on globalization must reach for -- connecting with listeners who are detached from the wider world.

"Niche" finds virtuoso voice twice in four swings (and they're homers) – a pretty good batting average for delivering a series on the world, differently.

["Tones" refer to Segment II by Chris Brookes.]

Comment for "Wim Wenders; Land of Plenty"

User image

Review of Wim Wenders; Land of Plenty

Claes Andreasson of Swedish National Public Radio delivers a subtle knockout with this regulation-segment snapshot of Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire; Far Away, So Close). Wenders is struggling to find a US distributor for his new film, Land of Plenty, but before you know that, Andreasson has deftly unspooled some of the movie's audio, and you're already wondering when you can see it.

The plot of a paranoid, hermetic America twines with the saga of Wenders' struggle to open our eyes to something beyond the Hollywood formula. Land of Plenty mixes themes of liberalism and Christianity, and that doesn't fit preconceived notions. Neither does this piece ? German-born Wenders is critical of Europeans and expresses his love, and concern, for America. All delivered in an expertly mixed five minutes of full sound with lovely attention to musical detail.

All the elements are here ? public radio listeners love Indie cinema, Wenders, Ry Cooder, and international story lines. Andreasson places them perfectly into an aural bonsai garden to ponder.

[Note: PDs should explore Claes Andreasson's additional two segments on Wenders as well.]

Comment for "Fired!" (deleted)

User image

Review of Fired! (deleted)

LA Theatre Works' "Fired!" arranges a dozen monologues on the subject of job cessation -? originally delivered to a live theatre audience -- into a two-hour radio presentation. In the theme and variations, it's the variations that have most impact.

There's some good humor in the straight drama camp as well, but the voyeurism of hearing snipes at Woody Allen and the insiders' dope of tv series etiquette don't compete with the broad humanity of the bigger stories. It's hard to imagine that, outside LA and NY, listeners will want the whole hundred and a score minutes.

There are some technical issues which detract: audience effects that are too hot, like a sitcom laughtrack, and muffled pop musical segues that neither sound good nor inform us. There's a fine line between the backstage peek radio can provide and work that doesn't translate ? here we're left out of numerous sight gags.

There are some terrific performances, though -- the piece about "firing" customers from Cappi's Pizzeria in the Bronx, a story about mowing graveyards with "Sarge", the hilarious folk song about terminating, with extreme prejudice, God (God, we're gonna half to let you go / You're Fired, we hired another guy to rule the universe / You're fired, we're tired of all the pestilence and plagues and worse), the rant detailing dodging jury duty (Spots 2, 5, 6, and 11) -- and I wish I could credit the actors, but they're neither introduced on air nor identified in support materials.

One over-the-top, hyperventilated, lock-jawed voice public radio listeners will readily identify (if they don't, they will -- she shouts her name half a dozen times) is Sandra Tsing Loh, who closes the show in justifiable praise of firing as a career move. There's terrific insider humor here -- "It's like I'm not even part of the NPR cosmos anymore!" -- but after 10 minutes where Tsing Loh presents plenty of bleeped expletives but can't pronounce the word, listeners will gladly downsize the volume on 90s valleygirl irony.

Comment for "Jim Moore Fishing Tales"

User image

Review of Jim Moore Fishing Tales

Fisherman Jim Moore delivers some good true lines here, like "Some people, they all look alike. But each fish is different."

But "Jim Moore Fishing Tales" is audio research notes really, a first draft. There might be two or three minutes of worthwhile feature material, but like gold in the ground, it needs to be mined to have value.

Edward May's read of the intro sounds surprised, as if the text came from an alien source, and it's largely off the topics Moore speaks to. And Jim Moore's monolog itself originates almost underwater with the fish, muddy and echo-y like an ill-tuned sonar.

Too bad. Moore has a terrific smile in his voice and a contagious love of Alaska commercial fishing – it seems he's speaking in a lecture hall with an audience responding to him, but it doesn't translate to radio. Moore gives a good gloss of some unusual deep-sea creatures and a great explication of trolling. But technical references like "since the IFQ program" – a sea-change in Alaska fisheries in the mid-90s – are left undefined, though they have dramatically transformed coastal communities in the last decade.

Then a propos of nothing, Moore recites the old story of a trawler sunk by a cow dropped out of an airplane. That tale might have provided a good example of Haines bar room b.s., but it's an avi-maritime legend that's long since been debunked and which lends nothing to Moore's first-hand experiences.

Jim Moore can move from specific to universal: "What's so wonderful about [fishing] is that your success depends on how well you can intuitively connect with what's really going on under the surface." But the segment itself fails to achieve that.

The Fishing Tales series is rich with a love of Alaska. But it takes more than lines to catch a listener – you've got to intuitively connect. It takes more than just throwing it out there, fishing or producing, to hook 'em.

Comment for "London: One Day On"

User image

Review of London: One Day On

Americans are still learning the superb work being produced by Radio Netherlands, and Jonathan Groubert's "London: One Day On" is a perfect lesson in sound-rich, conversational reportage. NDs can surely find five minutes in their news package to wiggle free for this one – just do it, today.

Groubert's first name interaction with Londoners puts the listener right on the street with real people. That's reassuring in a Disneyfied media environment. It's the opposite of what David Zurawik reported in the Baltimore Sun, reviewing television coverage of the bombings:

Over a red logo emblazoned with the words LONDON TERROR, CNN anchorwoman Soledad O'Brien reported: "An eyewitness described utter pandemonium -- bodies strewn around. ... People were screaming. ... They felt they were trapped like sardines essentially waiting to die."

At the same time, viewers of the BBC watched business editor Jeff Randall sitting behind his desk as he reported that the market had dropped in the immediate wake of the blasts, but was recovering. "They're a pretty stoic lot over here in the City, and the market has recovered... There is no sense of panic," he said.

Though I don't agree with Groubert's direct comparison of these London bombings with the WTC attacks in New York, the broad historical context he presents of Britons' laconic resolve is not only insightful, it's instructive.

Here's a piece where the package compliments the contents; Groubert's reportage is a good match for that character of Londoners we all strive to uphold.


User image

Review of Moments of America (Series) (deleted)

While other media dish up empty sound bites and too many people wolf down words without digesting them, public broadcasting has been shepherding language – and the thought that underpins it.

WGBH's "Moments of America" inserts provide vocal-rich opportunities for "interstitials, station IDs, date-pegged drop-ins, fundraising modules" – that show off this strength, and PDs should seize them and shuffle them into the mix.

The provenance, speakers, content, and music bedding of the first 26 Moments are most appropriate for classical, jazz, and/or news formats. Their strength, though – the weight of history – is also a shackle: even those recordings from ten years ago speak mostly of events half a century old. We can hope that WGBH will continue digging through the basement tapes for the voices of America in succeeding decades.

But don't pass up these goldies. I was struck by the sheer beauty of the envelope of a now-bygone American spoken English -- beyond region, vocation, or class. People just don't talk like that anymore.

What they said, though, bears repeating, as with Howard Zinn's words on civil disobedience and jury sentences. "Civil disobedience, which starts out being troubling to people, makes them think". That works just fine tagging a news item on Judith Miller and the New York Times.

With "Moments of America", WGBH has added a new dimension to the Sonic ID movement innovated by Jay Allison at WCAI/WNAN and improvised by Bruce Schimmel's Life on Delmarva at WSCL and John Kessler's SoundScapes at KPLU, among others.

So, while you're sowing these souvenirs of the nation's public broadcasting, start listening for those sounds that serve as a badge of your station's place in the community. And wear that on the air too.

[NOTE: This review refers to the full 26-segment series.]

Comment for "Stone Fox"

User image

Review of Stone Fox

Bill Harley seems a perfect voice and personality to introduce the stories of Camel's Hump Radio. He has a respect for childhood and brings a sense of wonder into adulthood, just right for these stories for 9-13 year olds (whose parents will want to listen in).

Here with "Stone Fox" we hear what one young reviewer tells Bill is, "the best book I ever read." Hartley ticks off the ingredients -- "suspense, great characters, and a dog." That's a time-tested recipe.

Little Willie has to earn $500 dollars to pay off the back taxes on his grandfather's farm. But how? Serendipitously, there's a race with a $500 prize – the National Dogsled Race in Jackson, Wyoming. And Little Willie has just the friend to help save the day – his dog Searchlight. But first, they'll have to face off against the wordless and seemingly invincible giant Shoshone named Stone Fox and his team of five gleaming white Samoyeds.

Want to find out how the story ends as Little Willie and Stone Fox race down Main Street to the finish line? Sorry, after half an hour, you're sent off to the library to look for the conclusion. That's a dessert no ten year old could swallow on a Sunday afternoon.

Camel's Hump's intention is to "air an excerpt that hooks the listener into the story and ends with a finish that leaves them wanting to read the rest of the book", and certainly reading the written word is an admirable undertaking. Perhaps if one knew the title in advance and had the book itself right there to dive in to, the conceit would work. But here is seems something of a cruel trick.

Actor David Townsend presents an enthused reading, though for my style perhaps a bit too theatrical – there's a difference between theater, which employs props, and reading aloud, which asks for some costumes and set design from the listener's mind.

The production and web build-out are first class. But without the last act, we can never really get over the hump.

[Note to the author: As we say in Alaska, "Sleds don't race." It's the dogs that do, as in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.]

Comment for "The Legend of Annie Oakley (2005) (Audio Drama)"

User image

Review of The Legend of Annie Oakley

"The Legend of Annie Oakley" is new, crisp radio from Shabbir Hassan's Hassberry Theatre Company, and it fits fine on a summer day.

A girl at the ballpark with her father asks why their tickets have holes in them. They're free passes – "Annie Oaklies". But the daughter doesn't know who Annie Oakley is. Ah, a chance for story.

"Close your eyes. Think back to a long time ago, when your grandfather lived."

Tall Tales differ from parables and fables and morality plays – the fun is in the telling, and the outsized aspect is an archetypal American tease.

The fun is in the telling – that's radio. Sure, radio theatre is sometimes overlong, and often stuffed into weekend afternoons or late, late overnights. But Hassan works in a strict setting, and there's no reason this piece shouldn't find a spot in a Friday afternoon news package, right next to sports.

Really, any summer day will do. Radio has space for more than mudslides and tidal waves -- don't forget the refreshing breeze. It's made of nearly nothing, but when it's there it makes everything else shimmer.


Comment for "The Courtyard: Flu"

User image

Review of The Courtyard: Flu

Wow. This is radio soup, and there's something in here that's good for your soul. Actually, it's more like a goulash, a gumbo, a masala. And it's good for your chakras and chi too.

In association with USC's Masters of Professional Writing Program and aired by KPFK, Labalaba* Media produces a weekly radio theater series, "The Courtyard", where "the tenants, having just emigrated from various countries of the world, bring their cultural and religious beliefs/biases into the mix, which often times turn hilarious and other times dramatic."

In this episode, "Flu", the emergent illness of a young child provokes an unpredictable encounter between mother and mother-in-law, with an arc and authenticity so noticeably absent from that other LA broadcast medium, television. This is radio theatre of the mind, updated ? world words for an audience whose ears have broadened through world music. The role of the pediatrician, played by the real-life Los Angeles doctor Ola Olambiwonnu lends an enchanting verisimilitude

Think of Labalaba as a hitchhiker's guide to your very own orb. EP Debo Kotun is some kind of magician, letting you get to know some of your neighbors "in local universe" (as Bucky Fuller would say) with a unique, back-porch ease.

PDs, if Labalaba is too trippingly for your tongue, you might want to think of this series as A Planet Home Companion. Remember when the suits at NPR said nobody would want to listen to Minnesota? But given a little nurture...

Catch "Flu". Remember the old borsht belt shtick about chicken soup:

Will it help?

It couldn't hurt!

* The word means butterfly in Yoruba, spider in Indonesian, and chatterer in Jamaican.

Comment for "Yo-Yo Ma And The Silk Road Ensemble: Global Horizons"

User image

Review of Yo-Yo Ma And The Silk Road Ensemble: Global Horizons

Silk Road Ensemble's "When Strangers Meet" frequently commutes from my CD stack to the Bose, and then here at the Top O'th Planet I feel the harmonics of a vast net of longitudes converge and find a path ready inside me.

With the release of their new album, "Beyond the Horizon", it's a perfect time for a broad reintroduction of the worldly confab Yo-Yo Ma conceived in 1998. Not so many years ago World Music was a trinket smuggled home by college students, splashed in primary colors and floating on a round Robbie Shakespearean bassline. The genesis of this segment, like the music, is more nuanced ? Echoes' John Diliberto ran into Silk Road's Yang Wei at the Philadelphia airport and proposed doing a radio piece.

And it's all mapped out here, the Asian bazaar of sound from China, Japan, India, and the Middle East, smooth and strong, "a global collective [where] unlike the United Nations they all actually like each other."

Listeners will too. There are those psychological leaps, though ? the, um, classical music. And those foreign sounds. Which is precisely where "Global Horizons" succeeds, gently unfolding some history of humanity's ancient interstate, scoring the story perfectly with the Ensemble's blossoming cloverleafs of sound.

This full-magazine-segment feature (7:57) is entirely accessible to the general public radio audience, with the polish and precision you expect from Diliberto (though I found Kimberly Haas's narration a bit arch). Frankly, it's so good, NDs and PDs will want to flag music directors so that classical and/or world music programming slots can quickly feature the full CD and it's predecessor.

If MDs are so inclined, they'd do well to also investigate Silk Road Music, a Chinese/Canadian collaboration founded in 1992 by Qui Xia He after "a fan compared her style of [pipa] playing with that of the late Jimi Hendrix", according to Billboard magazine. Silk Road Music has since steered down the Pan-American Highway, adding Quebecois folk, New Orleans jazz, and Brazilian mix. Plus some Celtic and flamenco vibes.

Together, these Silk Roads traffic in a tectonic shift in world music beyond Afro-Caribbean basin pop. The on-ramp is right here, with "Global Horizons".

Comment for "Norman Mailer: a novelist in a time of war"

User image

Review of Norman Mailer: a novelist in a time of war

The job of journalism is to tell the story -- factually AND truthfully --and a mere recitation of governmental data does not inevitably render a faithful picture of reality.

As partial antidote, the thought-provoking Nieman Narrative director Mark Kramer convinced Norman Mailer to present to a thousand journalists at the 2004 Narrative Conference. And public radio listeners are the lucky beneficiaries of this further Nieman outreach through PRX, "A novelist in a time of war".

"[Mailer] ambled into view, supported by two canes. Always short, now wizened, wearing his ears like sideview mirrors, he looked Yoda-like in every sense... the generosity and zest and heat of an old writer still fighting his fight, still practicing his spooky art." wrote Poynter Institute's Roy Peter Clark.

Mailer offers equal opportunity censure of parties in and out of power, and the media that purports to cover them. But the thesis for his presentation is a commonality -- the novelist and journalist each trying to find a better approach to "the established truth", which is skewed by the powerful. Perhaps some repeaters were fashioned into reporters as a result.

Mailer deploys the novelist's metaphoric insight on George W Bush, "neither an athlete nor a fighter pilot, but a cheerleader" -- but also recognizes W is not stupid. A secular Jew (his theological digression on the nature of small-g god the creator, and reincarnation as celestial editing, is but one glorious chapter here), Mailer challenges Democrats and journalists alike to consider how recognizing Jesus might be beneficial.

And, with a thud, Mailer poses our largest question as a divided country, "Why are we in Iraq?

"Like most large topics, [that] present[s] no quick answers."

Which for today's fast-media nation means the question isn't genuinely pursued.

But Mailer's approach to "brood along as a novelist" is close kin to public radio's ways of apprehending the world. Radio is suffused in narrative storytelling.

Mailer's closing benediction is, "Long may good questions prevail. They are imperiled."

However listeners answer Norman Mailer's good questions brooding through this hour, they will inform themselves far more than would a rollover of soundbites from those purveyors and repeaters of government data. "A novelist in a time of war" offers public radio the opportunity to commit leadership in journalism again. Crack the spine.

Comment for "When All Else Fails"

User image

Review of When All Else Fails

It's hard to imagine where else but public radio you might learn this story with the open mind required to change your mind.

Rob MacGruder has a clear, honest voice that immediately takes "When All Else Fails" out of the "health issues" category and right into your kitchen. MacGruder is forthcoming and descriptive of his depression. Then he takes us on an audio tour of his previous year battling the disease.

Even in those historic recordings when he rises under a dark fog of depression, MacGruder is as gentle and open as he is as narrator-after-the-fact, which is disarming and captivating. He explains that his best medicine is 0.8 amps delivered temporally for 1-2 seconds – ECT. He says it almost like "Easy Tea"

By now you've nicely stepped around the Mary Shelley. MacGruder, all 6'3" 305 pounds of him, is as light as a promise on your ear. Dan Collison's superb production and Gary Covino's friction-fit edits bring the human story and the medical scenery into perfect focus. It's certainly a new vantage on electroshock.

MacGruder continues to battle. He's fired from his job as a licensed clinical counselor for falling behind on paperwork. His children are seized because his apartment is messy. His doctor ups the dose to 3x/wk for 2 weeks. MacGruder is losing his keys but finding himself.

No one knows how ECT works – on brain chemicals, by hormone production, like a computer reset button. But as MacGruder's doctor explains, "The response rate is really the highest out of any treatment we have in psychiatry... Fifty percent of patients who fail multiple medication trials will still have a substantial response from the ECT "

After 30 ECTs, Rob MacGruder is telling us his story. Like many of our stories – of a father, worker, friend – he's trying for a happy ending. Rob's best medicine just happens to be electricity.

Turn on to "When All Else Fails", one small success.

Comment for "He's My Brother"

User image

Review of He's My Brother

Outfront is CBC's first person documentary series. In "He's My Brother", Marcus Parmegiani tells the story of his brother, Nick, who three years prior, at the age of 33, became a cocaine addict.

Nick is heavy. You've heard his story before – after $50K of residential rehab, he's scheming and scoring again, willing to defraud his family, in this case his younger brother, and whatever friends he might have left, for drugs. If there were another ending, we likely would have heard it by now.

Producer Steve Wadhams collects great sound -- from the street, from the phone, from parties -- and mixes it over music bedding that helps empty the sonic void without coming to foreground. But Marcus's wooden delivery of staid script undermines the verisimilitude that's created – the contrast with his voice as participant is stark.

The 12:00 Outfront length affords real immersion into character and story. Eventually, Marcus admits what you've known from the beginning, "After three years of trying, I now know I cannot be my brother's keeper."

Nor his brother's storyteller. Unlike half a dozen other Outfront docs I auditioned, "He's My Brother" lacks the requisite first-person axis. It's not really Marcus's story, and he's not the best one to tell it.

That said, this is still well-made radio, worth a turn. And the Outfront series represents welcome cool air from Canada this summer, so switch it on.

Comment for "Landscape Architecture and Health" (deleted)

User image

Review of Landscape Architecture and Health (deleted)

PrimeTime Radio continues to push the envelope and reveal compelling juxtapositions in its programming. In the "Landscape Architecture and Health" segment of this edition, Dr Joanne Westphal explicates on the interior and exterior of our lives – how designing pieces of the planet can change our personal universe of health.

At host Mike Cuthbert's intrigued questioning, Westphal surveys how landscape architecture is created during health care facility design in order to support healing. From utilizing traditional Asian concepts of a meditation garden, where the mind's focus is brought out of the self to surmount pain, to sidewalk specifications in senior living installations (eight feet wide – enough for three abreast, friends and family, even with wheelchairs and walkers) informed by children's playground design, Westphal's expertise provokes musing on a broad array of environments. Her thoughts on the Vietnam Memorial – the servicemen's names written across the mirror of our faces – compose a marvelous treatise on the breadth of therapeutic landscape design.

The second segment in this edition, “America at Twelve Miles an Hour”, goes more lateral than deep. Cross continent from Astoria to Hilton Head must surely be a challenge and rewarding in the doing. The telling, though, of Phil and Merj Shrout's bathroom breaks and bruised buttocks didn't transport me nearly so far as Dr Westphal's wheelchair through a garden of the mind.