inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #51 of 168: John Ross (johnross) Fri 14 Jul 06 10:42
If they have a crew of skilled tape cutters, why not? As long as they can
keep the tape recorders working a find a supply of tape stock, it can sound
just fine. And as a long-time tape cutter myself, there's a kind of tactile
satisfaction to working with tape that I don't get when I do digital
editing. I suppose it's one of those "whatever you grew up with" things.
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #52 of 168: Angie (coiro) Fri 14 Jul 06 11:40
Oh, I'm all for the tactile joys of editing tape. For whatever reason-
 yeah, probably because it's what I grew up with - it's more
satisfying to be able to move a sigh, or an intake of breath, or
squeeze an edit beautifully between two apparently conjoined consonants
on tape than it is in digital.

But most in the industry with any budget at all have joined the
digital movement. Ed, do you know why FA is still cutting tape?
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #53 of 168: Berliner (captward) Fri 14 Jul 06 11:46
No idea. I told my producer I wasn't even aware you could still *get*
tape and she cackled and said "Oh...we have our sources." 

Thinking of Fresh Air brings to mind one of my favorite places in its
offices: the book room. Since there's no English-language bookstore in
Berlin, I love to go pull galleys and finished books from the stacks
there and ship them over if I can get them to agree to let me have
them. Some, clearly, are destined for Terry to read for her interviews.

And she *does* read them. This is something I'm amazed at: the ability
to read a book as quickly as you have to when it's new and then be
able to hold your own in a conversation with the author. Of course, a
lot of publicists no doubt have sheets of suggested questions, but I
have the feeling you wouldn't deign to use them. 

But you must read like crazy. 
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #54 of 168: Angie (coiro) Fri 14 Jul 06 13:59
Not nearly as much as I would like to. I'm getting better about it,
but my deep dark secret is that I am the most disorganized person on
the planet. In the best situations, I've read the book and I'm ready.
In the average situation, I've skimmed the book and I can do a passably
good job. In the worst situations, I haven't even started the book,
can't find it, and can't remember if Katrina gave it to me.

I do read the publicist's information sheet, but more as a defensive
measure. It's a list of what everybody else across the country is
asking that author! Of course some of it is essential. Last week,
interviewing Robert Fuller, it was incumbent on me to bring out a
definition of "rankism". It was the basis of his last book, and his new
one builds on it. It's the first element any interview with him has to
bring out.  But then I try to take off in a different, more probing
direction from the general Q&A sheet. 

My prep also includes checking out other interviews with the same
person. The more prominent the person, the more exposure, the more I
want to acquaint myself with the stories and points that come out again
and again. Understandably, an author on a book tour - or a politician
talking about the same issue, day in and day out - is going to fall
into rote and dependable snippets and soundbites. I don't blame them, I
would too. But I need to know what those are ahead of time, so I can
hear them coming and try to get beyond them. 

My success rate depends upon the guest. Some of them are so reliant on
the same punchlines, the same anecdotes, there's no hope of getting
them away from them. Others are more flexible. The best have come in
for a genuine, spontaneous conversation - or, having come in for the
same old, same old, are willing to quickly adjust to a new experience.
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #55 of 168: Cupido, Ergo Denego (robertflink) Sat 15 Jul 06 04:07
>On a less sinister level, with every show you have to question all
your edits. Yes, I'll rerecord a question to improve the flow. Is it
an honest representation of the original question and answer? Is my
goal just to make me sound better and less scattered? Or genuinely in
service of the show and the audience?<

BTW, many thanks for sharing your craft so openly with us, Angie. 

Any observations about how your representation of various subjects or
issues may have changed over, say, several months?  I imagine that it
would as your knowledge of a given subject develops. In the process, do
you sometimes find you become conscious of new connections and

I realize that such introspection may eventually complicate
presentation and possibly irritate listeners that want to stick to the
established issues on a given matter.  

Perhaps this gets into the idea of a typical listener. 
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #56 of 168: Berliner (captward) Sat 15 Jul 06 06:27
Yeah, that does bring up the question of how you perceive your
listeners have been different on the traffic beat, Forum, and now at
MoJo Radio, and how you may or may not have changed your approach each
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #57 of 168: Angie (coiro) Sat 15 Jul 06 12:39
Robert, thanks for the kind words. Before I tackle your main question,
or Ed's, I'd like to share some thoughts on my goal of openness. It's
a critical element of self-presentation. It's never far from my mind. 

Many years ago, my sis Nancy and I were talking about people on the
radio would make an incredible boner and try to act like nothing had
just gone dreadfully wrong. She didn't mean, and I don't mean, dwelling
verbally on a mistake beyond its merit. But reacting on air just as
you would if you were in conversation - "I'm sorry, I can't believe I
just called you by the wrong name." "I know I said we were about to
hear Led Zeppelin, and as you may have noticed, that was the Lawrence
Welk orchestra. Oops, sorry."

Her comment spoke a critical truth about how I wanted to show myself
on the air. All these years I've been examining the layers behind that
conversation. It's become more relevant as the know-it-alls, the people
who are NEVER WRONG, have taken over political discourse. To admit an
error is to expose your throat for the kill. To say, "I didn't know
that" to new information is the equivalent of admitting a personal
flaw. Showing that you're adding knowledge to your stash, instead of
loudly dispensing Truth, is utterly unfashionable, to say the least.

As Jon Stewart so poignantly noted - these people are hurting America.

The older I get, the longer I do this, the more I've discarded that. I
don't know everything. Neither does my audience, and I'm sitting in
for them, to an extent. I have no degrees in history or political
science. I do need a map of the Middle East in front of me, as it's not
perfectly committed to memory. I can't list all the Senators from
every state. Because of constant show prep and a heightened interest in
political news, I'm a bit more savvy on some topics than my listeners.
But that's as far as it goes.

I offer curiousity, compassion, a dab of healthy cynicism, a
consistent desire to bring home to people the importance of the topics
that get lost in our pop-culture priorities. 

If you throw back the curtain on Bill O'Reilly - even just going so
far as to fact-check his monologues - you see how wildly out of skew
his facade is with reality. Should anyone care to throw back the
curtain on our show, or me, how boring it will be for them. We're just
the same behind it as in front of it. Or that's the goal, anyway.
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #58 of 168: uber-muso hipster hyperbole (pjm) Sat 15 Jul 06 12:55
WYSIWYG is highly underrated.  Great conversation here.
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #59 of 168: Angie (coiro) Sat 15 Jul 06 13:06
Your question on changing perspectives, Robert, immediately brought to
mind the religious right, and all its pet topics like abortion and gay
marriage. Mother Jones 2005 has some very good coverage on the RR and
its agenda. Some of it is terrifying. Check out A Nation Under God,
Rendering Unto God, and Expanding Universe:


Shortly afterward, I interviewed Christina Page, author of How the
Pro-Choice Movement Saved America. Rolling all this together, I
understand on a deeper level that the individual ideological arguments
are less important than the unifying whole: the fanatical Christian
Right wants to eliminate - or at least codify punishment for - all sex
except that which takes place between a male and a female in a
traditional Christain marriage. 

That may sound obvious, but it's key to not treat these subjects
individually without at least referring to its larger context. In this
light, when the soul enters the body, or whether Christ ever mentioned
gay sex (he didn't), is no more important than the driving goal of the
right. A listener who may wobble on one issue needs to understand its
place as a brick in the wall of religious and personal freedoms.

And yes, the trick is to incorporate that every time a subtopic is on
the show, without sounding like I'm riding a hobby horse, without
detracting from the legitimate intricacies of the topic at hand. All
this in less than fifteen minutes per topic. Ah, but that's the fun,
isn't it. 

Before I leave this - I've got to point on JoAnn Wypijewski's article
in the current issue, on Christian sex websites. Another bizarre twist
to the picture:


<pjm> slipped. Thanks, guy!
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #60 of 168: Angie (coiro) Sat 15 Jul 06 13:18
This parenthetical thought, before I get to Ed's question - 

I was at a community meeting a few weeks back. Some of the people
there know what I do for a living.  One woman took me aside and said
she'd been in upstate New York the week before. She heard the show on
her car's satellite radio. She said in this dark night, when she'd been
driving along plagued by thoughts of what's been happening to American
freedoms, she recognized my voice and turned up the radio. The show
gave her hope. She held me by the shoulders and said, "I just want to
thank you, and tell you you're doing something really important."

I mention this out of concern that my constant references to the
magazine and its work may ring false to readers who are used to seeing
people pimp for whoever's writing their paycheck. I'm worse than that!
- I'm a true believer. Having spent so many years as a carefully
neutral prober/reporter on what's been going on around us, I'm blissful
to be doing what I'm doing. I'm some tiny part of a possible solution.
I'm so proud to be working where I am. Mother Jones - the radio, the
mag, the website - is not perfect. No media outlet is. But it's doing
critical work at a dangerous time. Sometimes I can't contain my joy at
having some part of that. 
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #61 of 168: Angie (coiro) Sat 15 Jul 06 13:37
Finally, on to Ed's question about changing audiences!

As a traffic reporter, moving up and down the dial to report on one
kind of station after another, it's all a matter of tone.  In my time
I'd go from the authoritative, contained tone of KQED in one minute to
the relaxed, hip sound of KFOG, to the high-energy retro-radio delivery
of the oldies station. The different intonations and energy quickly
become second nature. The unifying thing, of course, is that all the
listeners, regardless of format, potentially have use for the
information you're sharing. So you make sure to get that out as clearly
and thoroughly as possible. 

The irony is, many a station manager sees the traffic only as an
element to be sold to a sponsor, content be damned. One of them
famously (well, famously around our office) railed, "I don't care if
the Bay Bridge just fell in, you've got 20 seconds for the traffic, ten
for the spot, then get out!".

My years at Forum were formative for me, developing the attitude and
style I have today. I first thought the audience was only going to be
satisfied with the traditional dry academic tones that used to be the
standard for these things - very hard for me, and right up there with
selling airtime as a natural fit. 

But my appearance there coincided with a national change in public
radio sound. With This American Life, then Wait Wait Don't Tell Me,
then On The Media, hosts as real people started to come into their own.
I discovered that, while the Forum listeners were extremely attentive
to nuance and factual detail, they also wanted a warm human being
behind the mic. When I received compliments on my giggle, I was
humiliated and floored. Dear god, Journalist Hailed for Giggle. I
finally understood that my interviewing skills were not in question,
were not being dismissed. It was that my humor and humanity were

One of the biggest differences between a music audience taking in a
traffic report, and a news/talk audience tuning in for an interview, is
that the latter audience is hearing you by choice. They CAME there to
listen. Maybe the music listener doesn't even own a car, and is
listening at home. You're part of an irritating break that will go
away, and the music will come back. The attentiveness quotient is
vastly different.

My approach to the MoJo/Air America audience is still evolving. It's
easy and comfortable to preach to the choir, to bring on sympathetic
voices from the left and toss them softballs. And I plead guilty to
having fallen into that trap, at times. But it's a disservice to our
listeners, who I like to think are attracted to our specific show
because we DO actually probe topics. So I make the effort to look for
shades of gray, and not pretend there are Absolute Truths.
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #62 of 168: Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Sat 15 Jul 06 13:47
Angie, is there a type of guest that's a tough interview for you, or
that produces interviews you're not satisfied with? 

A bit of context: In general I greatly admire Terry Gross's
professionalism and style, but when she's interviewing an old R&B
legend she loses the veneer and becomes a groupie, sometimes
embarrassingly so. It's understandable -- if I got to interview someone
I've admired and loved since I was a kid, someone who created
something that I took into my life as a soundtrack or talisman or what
have you, I'd probably fawn and drool too -- but it doesn't make for
very good radio. 

So: Artists? Musicians? Detectives? Mystery writers? Movie stars?  
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #63 of 168: Jacques Leslie (jacques) Sat 15 Jul 06 13:51
Angie, I'm curious about how much spontaneity you allow for when you are
asking questions (and this may apply more to the Forum period when the
interviews were longer). Do you start with a long list of questions and
assume you won't ask most of them unless the interviewee answers
monosyllabically? Do you organize the questions in a particular order, such
as by starting with easy questions to set your subject at ease, then go to
harder ones? How much do you stray from the list? Do you even have a list?
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #64 of 168: Angie (coiro) Sat 15 Jul 06 14:08
I am so very capable of fawning and drooling. I honestly don't know if
I could hold it together to interview Jeremy Irons, who to my mind is
the greatest voiceover talent in our language. You know, I'll actually
re-listen to his reading of Lolita on the way to industrial jobs?
(Those are the inside-the-industry voiceover gigs, rife with jargon and
impenetrable sales specifics.) He's reading a classic, I'm on the way
to talk about software Return-on-Investment, and I still get an
invaluable refresher course on phrasing and focus. 

Okay, I'm no purist. My husband has endlessly pointed out that my
interview with Irons would be conducted ... oops, this is public. I'll
stop there. But yes, Irons is terribly sexy, too.

My most difficult interviews are with those guests who just. don't.
want. to be there. I had a live interview in San Francisco once with a
very prominent actor/writer. I don't know if he got up on the wrong
side of the bed, or just had a fight with his wife, or was naturally
defensive without a character to play. I'm usually good at setting
guests at their ease, but this case was near-hopeless. Normally, even
if a guest and host come together with different perspectives, they at
least share the goal of forming a good product for the listener/viewer.
But someone who isn't there to give the audience something can make
for a deadly conversation.

Once in a great while, I'll interview an older gentleman of politics
who minimizes the importance of an interview with a much younger person
who's also female. We've got to get past that as a team if we're to
click for the audience, and my achievements there have varied.

And I can't help but note again my inadequacy as an interviewer of
fiction writers. Maybe I'm not as bad as I think I am, but that's
something of a mental roadblock itself, isn't it?

On the flip side, my huge admiration for Lolita as the best thing I
have ever read makes me wish Nabokov were still alive, so I could sit
and talk with him at least once.
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #65 of 168: Angie (coiro) Sat 15 Jul 06 14:17
Jacques, you've brought up another element of the vast difference
between a one-hour, one-break interview, and a spanking-fast,
between-commercials Q&A. I'm better at the latter than I was a year
ago, and I like to think I'll be twice as good next year at this time,
but damn, it's a tough, tough lesson to learn.

For the one-hour interview, I'd have fewer specific questions. I'd
graph out a general idea of the conversation's form, and jot some notes
on points I wanted to be sure to cover. That left the freedom of a
meandering, surprising, unformatted chat that could go absolutely
anywhere. I just had to make sure to bring the audience with me!
("Okay, let's follow that side street for a few seconds, but I want to
get back to how your first publication finally got on the shelves."
Meanwhile, I jot down "pub date/reception" to remind me to get back

A short interview is SO much more structured. The opening question has
got to get to the point, none of this "so where were you born"
business. If the topic or guest is controversial, I need to be ready to
analyze contrary positions, tie it to the latest news development. I
need to help develop beginning, middle, and end, all the while avoiding
the impression that I'm repeatedly jabbing the guest in the butt to
move it all along.

Like I said .. I'm still learning. 
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #66 of 168: Angie (coiro) Sat 15 Jul 06 14:23
You know who's very, very good at the short-form interview is Michelle
Norris on All Things Considered.  She's so very skilled at getting to
the relevant questions without sounding like she's not listening to the
guest. That's the danger. You have a must-do list; the guest is under
no such constraint and may go in an entirely different direction; and
as host, you need to move to the next point without sounding abrupt or
indifferent to what was just said. She's a real pleasure to listen to
and learn from.
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #67 of 168: Hoping to be a goddess, but settling for guru (paris) Sat 15 Jul 06 14:23

Angie, you know I'm one of your biggest fans -- just wanted to say I'm 
loving this interview!
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #68 of 168: Angie (coiro) Sat 15 Jul 06 15:59
Thankee, ma'am!
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #69 of 168: John Ross (johnross) Sat 15 Jul 06 16:56
Angie, do you have concerns about the MoJo gig putting you into a career
pigeonhole? When this gig ends (as all gigs do, except, apparently on NPR,
where people like Gross and Stamberg go on forever), will you be able to
move to something without a political agenda?
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #70 of 168: Angie (coiro) Sat 15 Jul 06 17:14
Yes, absolutely. Nothing in Western culture is so firmly ingrained as
the desire to keep people in boxes. Why are we so shocked to discover
our favorite wacky morning DJ has a deep knowledge of Renaissance
paintings? Laugh if you will, but I sympathized with Katie Couric
transitioning to hard news. So she was good at, and known for, a
lighter, fluffier take on the world. That doesn't negate the
possibility she'd be damn good at something different. Nothing in her
morning job showcased those chops. Doesn't mean she doesn't have them.
Doesn't mean she does. Let's see what she can do.

I'm working on several new projects that may or may not bear fruit.
One potential show is much less political. It incorporates more whimsy,
a much lighter touch. That was much more in evidence to my audience
when I was freely bantering with the DJs before my traffic reports. But
my profile is much higher now, my serious interrogations on heavy
topics much better known. Predictably, during a marketing review, at
least one of the "test listeners" bridled at my trying to be different
than my on-air political persona. Anyone who's been to dinner at my
house knows one is as much me as the other.

I'm always testing the limits of being myself as much as possible
within the limits of my format - and likewise, consciously resisting
being pigeonholed. In an early MoJo show, I had a guest who, against
all odds, was standing up against the corrupt Texas building review
process. He said very optimistically that his group was seeking
balanced negotiations with its foe. I was very much in the mode of,
"wheeeeeee, I'm in this new format, I don't have to hold back!", so I
said on the mic what I would have said listening in the car: "But c'mon
now, isn't that just peeing into the wind? These guys aren't going to
work with you."

"Peeing into the wind" ate up some discussion time at the post-mortem
the following week! - and was eventually deemed out of bounds, as an
unexpected phrasing that drew attention away from the topic at hand, to
the shock value of the phrase itself. And yeah, I have to agree. But
it was one of many efforts to honestly inject what I believe to be the
sentiments of many a listener, who doesn't keep it all squeaky clean
when frustrated.

I've wandered afield of the question, but the answer's in there
somewhere. Those of you fond of emoticons, insert smiley here.
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #71 of 168: Angie (coiro) Sat 15 Jul 06 17:27
Clarification: my "yes, absolutely" is "yes, I'm concerned". 

Another relevant point: my concern has spanned my entire career.
Traffic reporters get pegged as "just" traffic reporters. (Forum got an
amazingly petulant and dismissive letter about letting a traffic
reporter host a show, let alone do newscasts.) Commercial hosts can be
judged as lighter-weight than public radio hosts. People who hire for
voiceover, which is largely an acting art, often have to be persuaded
to give a listen to radio people; the bias is that a "radio read" on
commercials is hopelessly unlearnable, and the last thing the client
wants is someone "announcing" their commercial. 

It's probably true in all kinds of professions: the payoff for doing
something well can be that it's all you should be allowed to do.
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #72 of 168: Angie (coiro) Sat 15 Jul 06 17:34
As to the other dimension - whether one can move back from progressive
media to carefully neutral outlets like NPR - that's an open question.
I knew when I made the leap that I was risking the door closing behind
me. And as you say, John, all gigs come to an end. I may well have
compromised my future options, and I weighed that carefully. But the
drive to make a difference won out.

And timing is everything. We're into a swifty-morphing media reality
this days. Whoda thunk of iPods and downloads just a few short years
ago? What communication avenues are opening, which are doomed to be
short-lived? I'm lucky to be active in a time when more and more format
possibilities are forming. One of the aforementioned projects I'm
putting together incorporates no broadcast radio at all. If no one else
feels they can hire me, I'll hire myself!
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #73 of 168: Cogito, Ergo Dubito (robertflink) Sun 16 Jul 06 04:45
>Nothing in Western culture is so firmly ingrained as the desire to
keep people in boxes.<

(She typed, giving an explanation and example at the same time.)

I have noticed no less of this tendency in people in other parts of
the world. Non-Westerners may appear more open-minded when we meet them
in the west because they have different boxes and, being travelers,
perhaps they are not a representative sample of their culture of

Isn't playing to or against stereotypes one common way to increase
interest in media productions everywhere?  Aren't people everywhere
disposed to turning public figures, even local public figures, into

inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #74 of 168: Angie (coiro) Sun 16 Jul 06 11:42
Heh! You're right, Robert, guilty as charged. As to the rest, though,
I plead ignorance. I restricted my comment to Western culture because
it's what I'm steeped in. I don't know enough about other cultures to
address your questions adequately.
inkwell.vue.277 : Angie Coiro, On The Air
permalink #75 of 168: Berliner (captward) Sun 16 Jul 06 12:53
Y'know, one thing occurred to me, besides the amount of reading you
have to do just to keep afloat, you also have to have a damn good
filter. Just because someone's of a given political persuasion which
may agree with you or the show you're doing doesn't mean they've done
their research or analyzed what research they've done well. Have you
ever been caught by this, or, if not, how did you develop your filter
and how do you know when to engage it?


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