Sounding off on audio stories, podcasts, and radio journalism from Vermont and New Hampshire.
March 14, 2017
Radio journalist slash stand-up comedian Annie Russell encourages guests to “leave their chill at the door and nerd out about the things they love” on her podcast, No Chill. The show features intimate and wide-ranging conversations with artists, musicians and comedians, as well as highlights from her popular monthly comedy show, Cringe. Recent guests include burlesque performer Alexa Luthor, writer and Gilmore Girls aficionado Roger Cormier, and Vermont Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman. Former VPR reporter Alex Keefe’s live Cringe segment is an absolute must-listen. We checked in with Annie just after her gig opening for Marc Maron at the Flynn Center in early March.
Why did you decide to develop your podcast around the theme of ‘No Chill’?
‘No Chill’ is really just who I am. I think I used to feel pressure to be easy-going, particularly in dating relationships, but it never came naturally. I text back right away. I ask a lot of questions. I’m not a chill person. The difference is that as I get older, I’m leaning into it. It feels really great to be honest about who you are. I may not be ‘chill,’ but I’m at the point now where I think that’s a good thing. I feel passionately about the projects I take on, and I want things done a certain way. The second piece to this is I want to empower others to leave their chill behind and nerd out about the things they love. Some of the conversations have gotten pretty serious in terms of mental health struggles that folks have dealt with. I think that’s great! Let’s get rid of the stigma around that.
How difficult is it to maintain the objectivity and neutrality required in your role as a journalist while you’re doing standup and having conversations on the podcast?
It’s not super difficult for me to remain objective. I primarily work on arts interviews on the podcast, which I’ve also done for VPR. We all understand that art is a very subjective thing. The only difference is on No Chill, we’re allowed to curse. No Chill also allows me to dig into a conversation that gets cut to about 30 minutes, which is much longer than a news interview that would air on the radio. More than anything, I do the podcast for the opportunity to do longer form work and retain creative control. If I do end up talking to a political person, I am sure to remain objective just as I would in a VPR setting.
You always ask guests for their secret Burlington recommendations. Riffing on that theme (and in honor of #trypod month), can you recommend a few off-the-beaten-path podcasts that you’ve been really into lately?
There are so many podcasts I love. Nerdette is a great podcast produced out of WBEZ, with two really engaging hosts. Guys We F****d is a fantastic anti-slut shaming podcast that I highly recommend. I’m a huge fan of comedian Jen Kirkman, and her podcast I Seem Fun is part of my weekly routine. And this is a bonus because it’s not active anymore, but go back and listen to the archives of How Was Your Week from Julie Klausner. She hosted this podcast before she created the Hulu series Difficult People, and it is a true gem. I promise that I do listen to podcasts hosted by men, but I’d prefer to highlight female podcasters here.
Learn more about No Chill with Annie Russell by visiting the website and following the show on Facebook and Twitter. You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud, or via your favorite podcatcher. And don’t forget to sign up for the No Chill Note to find out about the latest podcast episodes, Annie’s stand-up performances, monthly Cringe shows, and more.
November 5, 2016
The No Makeup Podcast, produced in partnership with Vermont Public Radio, features intimate and insightful conversations with trailblazing Vermont women who are invited “to figuratively take off their makeup and tell stories from the heart.” Recent guests have included State Representative Kesha Ram, Vermont Edition host Jane Lindholm, and Sr. Janice Ryan of the Sisters of Mercy. We contacted host Tiffany Bluemle and producer Marissa Parisi to learn more about their show.
Out of the great diversity of your guests’ lives and careers, have you discovered any common themes or notable shared experiences in their stories?
The beauty of No Makeup is the diversity of responses we get from the women interviewed. Many common themes have emerged from our interviews—resilience, courage, the contributions of a mentor, and the ultimate value in being vulnerable—but the ways in which our guests come at the opportunities and challenges they describe are unique.
One thing that many guests have in common is their surprise in being asked. They doubt that their stories are unique enough to be of interest to anyone else. While unusual stories can be compelling, we think that people listen to No Makeup because the stories they hear are familiar.
You end the show by asking guests to reflect on their lives and to share their advice for young women. What advice would each of you share?
Marissa: It is really important to discover who you are as a person and live within those core values. Your life experiences will pretty much never work out the way you want them to if you try to deny or hide who you really are. You’ve got to honor your inner self and always be open to letting everyone else around you do the same. I come at No Makeup with the attitude of “You do You girl!” and Tiff and I are here to share your story and cheer you on.
Tiff: I’m with Marissa. The only thing I’d add is to seek informal mentors whose experience, temperament, and example can inspire and support your growth and understanding and help you keep perspective.
If you could travel back in time to interview one woman from Vermont’s history, who would you pick?
Marissa: Vermont history? Edna Beard. Basically, if you are (or were) a woman doing something interesting, I want (or would have wanted) to listen to you! Sadly, had we not tragically lost Cheryl Hanna, she would have made our list of interviewees. In terms of U.S. history, I am pretty sure I was one of the more radical suffragettes in a past life. I would have really enjoyed having a beer (though they were mostly Quakers so maybe we would have had tea) with Lucy Burns, Alice Paul, and Carrie Chapman Catt.
Tiff: Legal pioneer Myra Bradwell, who was the first woman born in Vermont to become a lawyer. She battled for the right to practice all the way to the United States Supreme Court, but the original ruling against her was upheld. Bradwell was finally admitted to the Illinois State Bar in 1890. I learned about her when I was writing my college thesis on Sandra Day O’Connor. For years, I’ve thought that she embodied chutzpah, strength, confidence, and staying power.
Anything else you’d like to share about the show?
Mentors show up throughout your life, and we were very lucky to have Franny Bastian appear in our lives as a mentor for our podcast. She is someone we both admire and are grateful for all the advice and support she and everyone at VPR have given our podcast.
September 17, 2016
Billed as “a show about the natural world and how we use it,” Outside/In offers an entertaining mix of deep reporting and compelling narrative centered around New Hampshire’s great outdoors. Recent episodes have explored biocontrol of invasive species, an Appalachian Mountain Club trail crew, and the subculture of extreme birding. Outside/In also features a most excellent theme song by the mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder. Host Sam Evans-Brown gave us a behind-the-scenes look at his show, which will soon be airing its second season on NHPR.
How did Outside/In come about?
The show was first imagined during a staff retreat, where we asked “what would an NHPR show about the environment be like?” Some of what we talked about in that first day survives, like an attempt to keep the tone upbeat and not preachy or finger-waggy, but in a lot of ways the style of the show has shifted a great deal since then. As it exists we are relying much more on narrative to bring listeners along through the controversies or ideas we’re tackling.
The first few episodes were distributed purely as podcasts before NHPR started broadcasting the show on the air earlier this year. How has the transition from podcast to public radio impacted the way you produce the show?
Well, most obviously we had to make it fit a radio clock. This meant adding some shorter segments to fill in between the longer stories and cutting some longer stories down a bit. But apart from that the strategy thus far has been to bundle the podcast episodes into “seasons” of broadcast episodes. We’ve got a second flight of broadcast shows coming in the fall and then another in the spring. In the future, though, we’ll likely keep the on-air versions out of the podcast feed, so that strict podcast listeners aren’t saddled with repeats.
I think a lot of public radio stations are trying a lot of different things like this with podcasts, just mixing and matching to see what works for the audience and the producers.
The Outside/In team gathers a lot of tape outdoors, far from the tightly-controlled studio environment at NHPR. What have been some of the more challenging situations in which you’ve had to record?
Oh man, rain, snow, mountaintops, fast-moving water, heat…even a “simulated ice storm” (think guys pumping fire hoses onto trees in subzero weather) once.
We use Marantz field recorders, which are fairly bomb-proof, and an external mic. This means I can keep the recorder itself under a jacket if it’s raining or cold (below freezing is hell on batteries) and as long as I stay warm and dry so will it. I often run my mic cable up my jacket sleeve, too. The worst is sometimes needing your fingers to press buttons when it’s cold out, and having to remove a glove. I’m fortunate to have good circulation so I can gut it out without a glove for a little while but eventually you’ve got to just warm up again before you can proceed.
Sometimes you just have to accept that you won’t look like a public radio reporter for a little while.
We Vermonters generally feel superior to our neighbors who live across the Connecticut River, not least because of our state’s natural beauty, biological diversity, and great variety of outdoor activities. Tell us why we’re wrong.
BAHAHAHAHAHA!! Well, you’ve just confirmed the suspicions of many granite staters that some Vermonters can’t help but look down their nose when they look East. Regardless, I’ve seen enough Vermont license plates in the trailhead parking lots in the White Mountains to know that this feeling is not universal. The Presidential Ridge is pretty spectacular, and I’d be hard pressed to name a Vermont alpine experience that can match it. Also, paddling? A Lake Umbagog trip isn’t anything to sniff at either.
Now if we could just get something as good as Kingdom Trails for our mountain bikers…
Anything else you’d like to share about the show?
Tell your friends to subscribe. We’re very proud of it, but in order to show that a little local station can have success making podcasts, we need more listeners!
Learn more about Outside/In by visiting the show’s website. You can subscribe to the show on iTunes or via your favorite podcatcher, or listen to it live on NHPR. Outside/In is also on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr.
September 2, 2016
Far too many podcasts fall into the category of “Two Dudes Talking”: poor audio quality, insufferable voices, inane dialogue, terrible chemistry. 11th Hour Radio is pretty much the polar opposite of that genre. Co-hosts Emily Howe and Kristina Stykos meet in the studios of WFVR-LP 96.5 FM (a.k.a. Royalton Community Radio) every Friday morning at eleven to discuss anything and everything that strikes their fancy. Here’s a small sample of topics from their August 26 episode: fixing things with pie, the ambiguous nature of cheesecake, envisioning an improved (five-year) pregnancy, how Todd Rundgren’s rock & roll camp took over the Trapp Family Lodge, another look at dirndls, a bogus survey about friendship, conjecture as to why Butch studied cats at Vermont Technical College, a stunning, honking purchase of Cabot cheese, a recap of last week’s discussion of bacteria & old sneakers, the sprinkle that ruined yet another Tunbridge haying operation, pondering PETA’s potential response to the bear show at Clark’s Trading Post, an update on Hans’ brain eating maggot infestation, why it’s right to be suspicious of chrysanthemums, and recent genetic mutations in support of the profit motive.
Besides providing an intimate glimpse into the lives of two very talented—and very funny—creative Vermonters, 11th Hour Radio also features tunes from local musicians, including Bow Thayer, Doug Perkins, Turnip Truck, Julie James, and many more. We reached out to Kristina to find out more about the show:
How long have you and Emily known each other?
More than three years, but not by much. Maybe we knew “of” each other before that. Emily’s photography caught my eye on Facebook and I knew I wanted to do some kind of creative project with her.
You’ve been doing the show together every Friday morning for several years now—how do you keep coming up with fresh and interesting things to talk about?
Gosh, I think it’s not so much about which topic as it is about how we interact when we talk about anything. Emily’s brain has a magical door in it and these things come out…I just never know what to expect! Sometimes I laugh so hard I have to turn away from the microphone.
I spend some time in the morning before the show thinking hard about my week. If I sit there long enough I start to remember all the weird things that happened. Life is stranger than anything we could come up with. That becomes doubly apparent as soon as we get together.
Do you decide on discussion topics ahead of time or do the conversations evolve organically in the studio?
We try not to communicate before the show. If Emily starts to tell me something interesting before we go on the air I signal her in sign language to stop. That way we’re getting a totally spontaneous take on what the other persons says. It’s really fun, like rafting down rapids.
Can you talk a bit about your creative pursuits outside of 11th Hour Radio?
My life is a beehive of creative projects at all times, like Emily’s. Some of it is for pay, some not. I have four album projects going on right now in my recording studio, a set of poetry books half done, a novel in my head, gardens I’m designing, music videos in the pipeline, a digital camera that goes with me everywhere…the list goes on and on, I’m afraid.
Is there anything else that you want to share about the show?
We had no idea when we started the show what the heck we were doing. I think we still have no idea what we are doing, but we show up enthusiastically every single Friday. There is something affirming about it. It’s an improvisation of sorts that never fails to surprise & lift our spirits. I have to figure that our regular listeners feel the same way.
Learn more about 11th Hour Radio by visiting the show’s website and Facebook page. You can subscribe to the show using your favorite podcatcher, or stream it live via the excellent Royalton Community Radio website. And don’t forget to support your local all-volunteer radio station!
August 21, 2016
Vermont Public Radio’s Alex Keefe and Angela Evancie flip audio journalism on its head with their new podcast, Brave Little State.
What’s your 30-second elevator pitch for Brave Little State?
Angela: We call this show a “people-powered journalism podcast.” What does that mean? Basically, that we take our cues from our audience. We want to know what you want to know! Specifically: “What question do you have about Vermont, our region or its people that you want VPR to investigate?” But we do more than just collect your questions. We put the best questions up for a public vote—and then, once again, you pick the one you want us to tackle next. If you asked the winning question, we invite you to be a part of the voting process. (See a pattern?) There’s no question too serious and no question too silly. Together, we’ll cover history, politics, art, the environment—and hopefully, along the way, we can get at something deeper about what it means to live in this brave little state of Vermont.
How did you develop the idea for the show?
Alex: This model is now all over the world, but it all started at WBEZ Chicago, where I was a reporter before I came to Vermont. It’s the brainchild of a woman named Jennifer Brandel, who came up with this stellar idea to make the journalism process more transparent by letting people ask questions, letting them vote on the ones they wanted stories on, then inviting them to get involved in the process of answering them. At WBEZ, the project is called Curious City. I did the first-ever story for the project, where the question was about whether Al Capone had booze-running tunnels beneath a suburban river (Chicago, much?). The Curious City model prompted one of my former colleagues to coin the phrase “joy-nalism,” because it’s so much fun working on stories with the question-askers. Jenn went on to found a company called Hearken, which runs a web-based platform that manages the question-gathering and voting rounds.
Is there anything else that you want to share about the show?
Angela: Some people may know the provenance of our show name, Brave Little State. But if you’re not totally up on Vermont history, the phrase comes from a speech that Calvin Coolidge gave in Vermont in 1928 after a devastating flood: “If the spirit of liberty should vanish in other parts of the Union, and support of our institutions should languish, it could all be replenished from the generous store held by the people of this brave little state of Vermont.” (Also, our logo is a nod to the Vermont state flag.) And again: Brave Little State is all about the audience! We want as many people as possible to share their curiosity, vote on their favorite questions and just be generally inquisitive and adventurous. Our tagline: Be brave. Ask questions.
Keep an ear out for the second episode in early September, when Alex and Angela will explore “What’s with the high occurrence of embezzlement in Vermont?” and “Did old Irish stonemasons really put holes in the bottom of their stone walls to let fairies pass through?”
Fun Fact: Brave Little State’s theme music was composed by none other than Tyler Gibbons of Red Heart the Ticker.