I recently wrote an article for RadioDoc Review about Masako Fukui’s documentary Will Kate Survive Kate. This piece broadcast on ABC Radio National’s 360 Documentaries program and won a gold medal at the New York Radio Festival Awards.
The documentary tells the story of a young woman Kate and her struggle with an eating disorder. It’s a deeply personal piece that has intimate audio recordings with Kate and her family. I was particularly struck by the generosity of the storytellers in this work and was curious about what motivated them to share such a difficult story. We don’t often hear from the storytellers after they have shared their story on the radio, so I decided to interview Kate and her mother for the article. It was really interesting to hear their perspective and to think more about how radio and sound were important for this particular storytelling experience. You can read my article here.
On the back of Third Coast I’ve spent a week in New York doing some more reserach interviews with radio producers and radio storytellers. I hung out with The Heart’s Kaitlin Prest and interviewed her in her bedroom closet- possibly the coolest sound-recording studio I’ve ever been in. With lace fabric hanging around us, we chatted about getting personal with interviewees, finding boundaries in an interview, and how at times- she nudges up against them. Kaitlin’s an incredible producer who deals with personal stories and matters of the heart. She’s also doing really pioneering creative audio work which you can listen to here. This is another interview I can’t wait to to transcribe and dig through more.
In keeping with my reserach on the experience of people who’ve shared their story on the radio, I’ve also chatted with some of the audio diarists from the Teen Diaries and Teen Diaries Revisited series. These started back in 1996 when Joe Richman gave a group of teenagers from around the US tape recorders and asked them to record their own lives. Then 16 years later, Joe followed up with 5 of the original diarists and produced the Teen Diary Revisited series.
I spoke with Melissa who was a teen mum back in 1996, and Josh who was struggling with his Tourettes. Talking about their original diaries there were some similarities to LeAlan Jones - they felt their audio documents captured a youthful innocence and important moment in their lives. It was also interesting to hear how keeping diaries as adults was perhaps harder because they were more self concious after the success of the earlier series and had a greater appreciation of the broadcast outcomes. I highly recommend listening to both pieces. They’re great examples of how hours of audio can be expertly crafted into short audio documentaries. Joe Richman is a master and the the whole series is fantastic. My interview with him also gleaned some insights from a man seriously dedicated to his art.
I also went to a Teen Diary Revisited event hosted by Joe Richman and the legendary Robert Krulwich from Radiolab. It was a great night and so interesting to hear Josh, Melissa and Amanda (another diarist from the Revisited series) chat about their audio diary experiences. A video recording of the night is available here.
I’ve been dreaming about this one for a while and I finally made it to the Third Coast Conference in Chicago- an incredible 3 day festival for radio producers and people passionate about great audio storytelling. Heaven.
The weekend was packed with talks and workshops led by US public radio rock stars and international guests, culminating in some mind exploding audio inspiration. One of the stand outs for me was listening to Joe Richman (Radio Diaries), Brooke Gladstone (On the Media), Roman Mars (99% Invisible) and Andrea Selenzi (Why oh Why) talk ethics and audio storytelling in the session ‘Journalism and Storytelling: Frenemies’. It was super interesting to hear how different producers balance creating sound rich and entertaining narratives, with keeping true to personal stories and their context. This session is now up at the Third Coast website.
I also loved ‘Leave No Trace’ with David Isay and Mark Garofalo from StoryCorps. They had some great insights about how to capture the essentials of someone’s personal story, craft sound in artful ways, AND make the producers hand in the work as unobtrusive as possible. I was also totally blown away by Mark Garofalo’s forensic approach to the edit with his impeccable audio cataloguing, session lay out, and attention to vocal nuance.
I also did some interviews with radio producers for my PhD research. Talking to the likes of Davia Nelson (The Kitchen Sisters), Lea Thau (Strangers), Phoebe Judge (Criminal) and Laura Starecheski (State of the Re-Union) was fantastic. I can’t wait to start transcribing some of this material and hope to write about some of the things we discussed in future posts.
Overall the whole experience was a great opportunity to mix with some awesome people and completely nerd out about audio! It was also exciting to hear about independent producers thriving in a market where new possibilities and new demands for audio content are on the rise. I know for a fact that the Australians at the conference now have a fire in their bellies and dreams of a gathering for audio enthusiasts in Australia.
Below are some photos. One is of me and the All the Best ladies front row and centre for Nancy Updike’s (This American Life) closing speech. The other is me after my interview with radio hero and “sound shaman” Davia Nelson - you can see my face exploding with excitement.
I’m in Chicago at the moment doing some research interviews and gearing up for the Third Coast Conference this weekend.
On my first day in the city I met up with LeAlan Jones who shared his personal story in the seminal radio documentary Ghetto Life 101. In 1993, LeAlan (thirteen at the time) and his friend Lloyd Newman (fourteen) collaborated with public radio producer David Isay and produced audio diaries of their life in Chicago’s notorious South Side public housing projects. The boys’ candor, humor and honesty provided the listener with a direct perspective of the harsh realities of poverty and violence in their neighbourhood. Ghetto Life 101 won numerous awards and to this day is considered a significant work in the history of radio documentaries. Along with LeAlan and Lloyd’s follow up piece Remorse: the 14 Stories of Eric Morse (1996), these works championed a new style of self-authored storytelling on the radio.
My conversation with LeAlan is a part of a series of interviews I’m doing for my PhD research into the experience of people who share their story as part of a radio documentary. LeAlan and I chatted about how he feels listening to Ghetto Life and Remorse today. I was curious about how documenting his story all those years ago may have affected his life. One thing that came up was how LeAlan negotiates his youthful perspective and insights recorded in the documentaries, with his 35-year-old self today.
” the most difficult thing for anybody to be, is to be honest with them self. And for me, my life is disciplined by the voice of that 13 year old, and the honesty of the 13 year old”
I got the feeling that LeAlan’s story, eternalised on the public record, has been a check point for him throughout his life, and one that he is immensely grateful for. LeAlan also talked about how sharing his story gave him a stronger sense of his own “voice” and the importance of his own narrative:
“The voice is consistent [and] documentation is what allows humanity to evolve….. growing up I was very fascinated by ancient Egypt, [and] more importantly, I was always fascinated by the writing they had on those tombs …. So for me, the microphone is my ability to document my tomb. I mean I’m going to die one day, but I’m going to live forever through my voice”