Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Drowning in the Competition

Yes, I admit it, I feel a little threatened by all these new internet-based forms of radio from general podcasting to Powell's Books now offering interviews.

Word by Word is two and a half years old. Which means it says "no" a lot, has a very independent streak and doesn't like to be told what to do, but ultimately it relies heavily on the care of its parents. Who are its parents? Well, I seem to be, if not its parents, it's very highly-needed and often-used nanny. Though ultimatley, in a Terry Gross world of idealism, the host is merely the sonorous, languid-voiced figurehead with a team of producers waltzing about like those women in the Wizard of Oz movie matching Dorothy's eye color to her dress and stripping the Cowardly Lion of his dreds. But that's not how it works in public radio, in which I am still technically a volunteer (i,e. =I do not receive money). But volunteer in this capacity is also a kind of understatement, for I am not one of these breeze in once a week or once a month types who gets to do a little data entry or answer phones...the show is contingent upon me in so many ways.

This is not to discount the incredible help I do recieve, nor the aduitory talents of Miz Katie Stohlmann, my engineer, the unfailing support of my program director, my perspicacious audio columnists and the host of editors, voiceover artists and temporary producers we have had (though none will ever replace our own Jennie Orvino...).

The point is, we are fledgling, despite having received one small NEA grant and being poised to apply for another. If you could spend testimonials, we'd be rich. We've got great support from the authors interviewed and the audience who listens to us either on the actual radio dial, via streaming or through our archives.

But still, when I hear about Powell's staring up this new "bookcast" I feel a sense of despair in my heart. I believe the more literary radio the better on one hand, but on the other, there's the whole idea of diminishing returns. The more of us out there doing it, the more the consumer has to decide amongst us and must reject someone. If both of us, for instance, happen to be airing an Aimee Bender interview, how will you decide who to listen to? People have heard of Powell's. Maybe they've heard of Word by Word...either way, it's hard not to feel a bit like Wal-Mart has just moved in on my dial. Not that I am equating the wondrous bookstore Powell's with a greedy, right-wing freak-mart but rather, if being an American has taught me anything it's that people like brand names and big names, even if they don't get a better product. That's just the way it is.

That said, we ARE airing an interview with Aimee Bender tonight. Her new collection of stories, Willful Creatures is astonishing, and she is paired with debut novelist Marsha Mehran, whose multi-cultural novel, Pomegranate Soup is receiving much acclaim. Listen via streaming at or wait a week or so for the archive (link in my links section to the right).


At 1:18 PM, Blogger katrina said...

I'm looking forward to listening in, Jordan!

And yes, I understand your despair, but also know you'll continue to have and develop loyal listeners.

At 4:02 PM, Blogger Stephanie said...

Your feelings make total sense. :)


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