Creating Technology for Social Change

Making radio more spreadable

At last year’s Civic Media Conference, I pitched and won a small media innovation grant to make a video based on a public radio piece. The idea was to explore a way to raise radio’s profile in an online environment that tends to favor video. Below is cross-posted from the Knight Foundation blog.

The Emperor’s New Onesie from Hillary Frank on Vimeo.

The mission: Make a short video based on a public radio piece and launch it into the webosphere.

The update: Mission accomplished.

Well, almost. Today is the launch. So watch, enjoy, share, and read on.

This video, “The Emperor’s New Onesie,” is based on an excerpt of an episode from The Longest Shortest Time podcast by Hillary Frank. Hillary teamed up with illustrator Jen Corace and animator Joe Posner for the kind of collaboration from which great work emerges.

Why this project? Why this piece and this producer?

I am a big fan of audio in many forms. I’ve spent years making it and getting it out into the world. But sometimes I envy the phenomenon of viral video in the digital age. Videos go viral constantly. Audio? Not so much, with rare exceptions.

I’ve wanted to hitch audio to video’s star for quite some time. I’m grateful to Knight — and the folks who voted up my proposal – for the chance.

I tend to define “public radio” as anything that aligns with the mission and ethos of public media, even if it hasn’t been recognized or carried by any station or network. PRX – where I work – shares this inclusive approach, which is why the website has more than 40,000 audio pieces. I spent hours searching, asking producers for suggestions, and listening. The process affirmed my love of radio and respect for the talents of the indie community, at whom I aimed this project.

Among a number of subjective, inarticulable criteria, I wanted something short, with a crisp, clear narrative, since that’s what best holds my attention in any medium. I also wanted something that resonated with me personally. The Longest Shortest Time was started by Hillary Frank to explore “the TRUTH about new motherhood.” Hillary is a seasoned public radio producer, but this podcast is a personal project.

By the time I found The Longest Shortest Time, I was expecting my first child. I had been dodging most of the annoying mommy media out there, full of whitewashed, rigid, and oversimplified characterizations of what’s an incredibly complex experience. LST felt like an antidote.

The stories are personal and honest. They made me laugh, they made me cry (admittedly not hard to do when I was pregnant), and they helped me reflect on my own transformation.

LST pays close attention to an experience that so many share, one that remains largely absent from traditional public radio. It has attracted a substantial listenership in less than two years with virtually no promotion. It was easy to imagine a visual component. Best of all was Hillary’s own vision and eagerness to take on the project. She found Jen and Joe and worked closely with them. She writes about the experience on her blog. By then, I was home with a newborn so my involvement was limited to occasional reviews. It would have been, anyway, since this collaboration’s perfect size was three talented artists.

If you haven’t watched the video yet, go back up there and watch. And tell everyone you know — parents, non-parents, artists, media-makers, and collaborators — to watch it… and to listen, too.