Wednesday, June 6, 2007
Is this the future of public radio?
The Public Radio Talent Quest has announced the winners of round one. 1,442 entered, 10 move on to the next round. This is actually more brutal than American Idol.
And of those 10, does any really have what it takes to host a public radio show? Eh, odds are they could all do it. Would anyone listen? That remains to be seen.
As I listen to these ten entries, a few thoughts occur to me. Actions speak louder than words, even when those actions involve words. I could probably have phrased that better. What I meant to say is that most of these ten entries consist of people talking themselves up or explaining the radio show they would like to do.
It's all well and good to say you'll interview voices that aren't often heard in mainstream media from undocumented immigrants in America to citizens in Iraq. But you get no sense of how you'll book these interviews, or in fact what kind of interviewing skills you've got. These folks are all fine storytellers with pleasant voices. But a good host has to listen as well as he or she talks.
I still think the goal of the Talent Quest is worthwhile. Nobody's really shaken up the public radio scene very much since This American Life went on the air over a decade ago.
There are some original voices in there. I love Carrie Kaufman's energy. I'm also partial to people who speak really quickly about technology (although transcribing their tape can be a real chore). I find Chuck Mertz's sarcasm appealing as well. And Glynn Washington can certainly build suspense, but I'm a bit dubious that the topic of his proposed show is sustainable.
But looking at all the semi-finalists, I'm a bit skeptical that we're about to find the next Ira Glass.
That's certainly what round two of the contest is for. Details of round two haven't been announced yet, but this contest ain't over yet. However, it seems to me that if you've got 10 good talkers, the odds of one of them having all the skills you're looking for in a great radio host are... well, I'm not a statistician, but I'll say so, so.
I'll bet you could find the next Bob Edwards or Steve Inskeep in this crowd. But can you find the next Ira Glass ready to shake up the landscape? I think I'd have cast a slightly wider net and moved a few dozen entrants on to the next round. But I think the organizers might be getting ready to throw some money at the remaining contestants to help fund their round two projects, so as is always the case in public radio, there may have been some financial constraints involved in the selection process.