Before revisiting some of today’s highlight events, I feel compelled to share a wondrous experience from Wednesday night, a recording of a fairly new program, The Moth Radio Hour. Yesterday’s post suggested that a significant new wave in radio is actually very old. Storytelling is one of the earliest “art forms” of our species, flourishing in preliterate times, taking an ancillary role in the modern era, but certainly finding new strength in our time. I believe storytelling is enjoying new popularity is because it is a way we find human commonality and connectivity in an increasingly divided and disconnected society. To wit, The Moth. The concept is simple: find people with interesting stories to tell, let them organize and prepare their stories, then put them in front of an audience and turn them loose. The stories we heard: a professional poker player’s first big lesson in playing the game, a Vietnamese-American medical doctor’s tale of his family’s escape by boat from post-war Vietnam and a New York doctor’s engrossing tale of the odd circumstances that led him to save Mother Teresa’s life. Profound tales all, well told; an evening truly well spent.
On to Thursday! Our “free” breakfast was sponsored by NPR. This is an interesting time in public radio, in the same sense as the Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.” With some of the most cherished programs in the public sphere nearing the end of their runs—“Car Talk,” ending new production in October being the most obvious example—national producers are looking for the Next Big Thing. To this end, NPR (and other producers) are testing what they hope will be replacements for nationally popular radio programs. NPR producers think “Ask Me Another,” basically a popular music trivia quiz show, may be one of the hoped-for shows. (You may have heard “Ask Me Another” at noon Saturdays during the summer on KPBX.) For this conference, NPR staged a sample “Ask Me Another” program that we saw over breakfast this morning. Its format was identical to but shorter than the broadcast show. For me, the in-person experience was more satisfying than the broadcast (although the first pair of contestants, chosen in advance from the audience, so upstaged the hosts at times that the whole thing almost foundered—I felt the hosts’ pain, believe me). Reaction from those I talked with afterwards was quite mixed. But at this point negative reactions are as valuable or more so to the producers than praise. It’s an unsettled time on the radio landscape, and these experiments are vital. Some will succeed, some fail. All, I think, deserve a listen.
Content in today’s sessions was significant and, in one case, statistical. The general session this morning had an imposing title: “The Unique Media Habits of Age 25-54 College Educated Americans.” The quickie takeaway, probably a surprise to no one, is that these folks get most of their information and entertainment online, not on-air, creating a real challenge for broadcasters who try to reach this audience. OK. The real takeaway, for me, at least: these figures reflect a growing chasm in the American populace. We have the college-educated who are increasingly separated, economically and otherwise, from their non-college-educated brethren. I could not help thinking back to the CPB presentation Wednesday with its stress on the vital importance of doing everything possible to keep kids in school until successful completion of high school at the very least.
We’ll finish up Thursday’s sessions in tomorrow’s report, adding a garnish of our visit to the Cirque du Soleil.