Wednesday

Benjamen Walker: TMI is dead, Long Live TOE!

Monday night Benjamen Walker signed off from his radio show on WFMU. Too Much Information started in late 2009 and it was always a great strange show. There were a few bars of music, but no other sign that the show had begun, it would merely fade in on the sound of Walker's voice or someone else's. There were conspiracy theories, these odd stories where one was never quite sure where the line between fiction and nonfiction was–assuming there was a line. It was a strange sometimes dream-like hour of radio. It covered Walker's obsessions which ranged from photography to comics, there were great monologues and stories.

I'm sad to see the show end, but I know there's a reason for it. Walker said in the show that he plans to move to the web and focus more on his podcast The Theory of Everything, which PRX is distributing. It's a lot easier to come up with something as strange and often complicated as this at a much slower rate and Walker said he's shooting for two episodes of TOE each month, each episode around half an hour.

I do wonder if this is a sign of where audio is going. Right now some of the most inventive and dynamic work happening is happening in podcasting. The people making it are often trained in radio at places like Transom or Salt or Duke or elsewhere, a lot of them may get their start in radio, but they're thinking about audio differently.

For example Planet Money, which is a podcast and website which contributes to This American Life and NPR, but they're not bound by the constraints of TAL or any particular NPR program. The story can dictate the length and design and shape of the story.

Tiny Spark, which is a great podcast by Amy Costello that's some great investigative work has set up a relationship with PRI's The World. Lea Thau's great podcast The Strangers is a project that came out of KCRW's Independent Producers Project but lives online and not in a time slot on the station.

There are also a lot of great podcasts like 99% Invisible from Roman Mars, The Conversation by Aengus Anderson, The Truth by Jonathan Mitchell, The Longest Shortest Time by Hillary Frank, The Memory Palace by Nate DiMeo, Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, and so many others (and it should go without saying that I am not mentioning the many credits of all the other people involved out of callousness, but out of space and time concerns) and they are originating from radio equipment but they're taking shape online.

I think there's a very serious question for public radio going forward. Public radio has managed to maintain a key role in journalism and in the public conversation, and not simply by having a loyal older audience, but by having a lot of young people (like myself). But what people like are programs like Radiolab or This American Life. We're not really listening to Morning Edition or All Things Considered or Here and Now.

How does NPR find a way to stay relevant and find a way to harness this energy and great work that independent producers are making? What does NPR have that they can offer such producers? It would have been interesting if after NPR ended Talk of the Nation, they had replaced it with a magazine style show with a host who could have responded to breaking news, but to actively seek out and play the work of producers from all over the country and all over the world

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