Monday, July 30, 2012

Women in Radio

WYSO's Neenah Ellis and NPR's Susan Stamberg

Last November I took a Weekend Intensive on radio production at WYSO in Yellow Springs. It was an introduction to Community Voices, an innovative program with Sarah Buckingham and Neenah Ellis where participants learn to record and edit audio, conduct interviews, write for radio, and ultimately produce a feature story. I so enjoyed the intensive that I applied for the 2012 Community Voices Class. I was fortunate enough to be accepted and found the experience life expanding and enhancing.

Sarah Buckingham and Nina Ellis

On June 29th WYSO sponsored a fundraising event,  a presentation by Susan Stamberg  entitled "How Art Will Save the World" at the Dayton Art Institute. Susan Stamberg is quite something. In 1972 she became the first woman to anchor a national radio nightly news program, All Things Considered on NPR. She's often referred to as a founding mother of NPR and, in her seventies, remains a special correspondent. Her reports, usually in the arts, always touch upon something I always wanted to know more about and always leave me breathing a deep satisfied sigh along with a bit of envy. Who wouldn't love to be able to travel and meet and then report upon some of the most fascinating people in the world? The DAI talk was delightful as was the reception following in the Gothic Cloister.

Susan has close personal connections here. In Neenah Ellis's introduction of Susan she told a charming story about being a new employee at NPR and having Stamberg sail in and ask, "Who are you and can you cut tape?" This was the beginning of a relationship between these two women that continues today. When Stamberg finished her talk her final remark in her thanks was, "She's Neenah Ellis and she can cut tape!" This story was especially meaningful to the Community Voice members as one of the first things Neenah and Sarah taught us was how to "cut tape" as it is still called even though it is done digitally now. Neenah's husband Noah Adams was co-anchor with Susan for many years on All Things Considered.

The Community Voices group was privileged to have Susan share her wit and wisdom with us for several hours on the following Saturday. She brought tape from several of her pieces and then gave us the back story on taping and production.

She described her experience interviewing the legendary photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson at age 94, almost thirty years after he decided to take no more photographs. He was difficult to interview and she had to rely on tape from other people in the room, his wife and his friend John Morris, onetime Life magazine photo editor. She played the tape for us and knowing the context of the interview we were privy to what a masterful production job it was. The story itself is seamless and engaging throughout. You can hear the 2003 story at NPR.

There's a womanly trail here. Susan is at the trail head where she tucked Neenah under her wing and they became colleagues. Neenah continued the path with Sarah Buckingham, encouraging her dream and desire to create Community Voices and lending her experience and wisdom to the task. Now, I am privileged to have Sarah, at the youthful age of twenty six mentoring me. Women in radio, it's a lovely thing.

If you are curious about Neenah's journey from NPR and independent production to station manager, visit  The Transom Review.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Czech Mates

Helena and Matej
A few years ago, when my friend, colleague and author Jed Diamond invited me to a party in Willits, California to celebrate completion of his Ph.D. I met his and Carlin's son Aaron. Aaron composed a song in Jed's honor that was such a generous act of love that I asked to hear it again later. At the time, Aaron was engaged to marry a woman from the Czech Republic. Jed emailed Aaron about my trip and I received a lovely email from Aaron full of suggestions and tips for my stay in Prague. Aaron's now married and living in the CR. His wife, Helena is a school teacher and volunteered to play tour guide and take me outside the city on the day her school was closed for a holiday.

Helena is warm and witty and generous with her time. Seven-year-old Matej practiced his English with me. Czech schools begin English instruction in the second grade. Our first stop was a brewery tour to the Staropramen Brewery. I was so impressed with the interactive videos, as good as any I've seen at Disney World.

Multimedia Presentation

We drove out of the city to the former site of the village Lidice. I say site because it looks like this.

Where Lidice once stood

In 1942 the village was mistakenly identified as having an association with one of the men who committed the assassination of Reich Protector Reinhard Heydrich.  As a collective punishment for the assassination, the village men were lined up and shot. The women were separated from their children and sent to a concentration camp. The children, except for a small number of young children selected to be raised by German families, were kept for several weeks before being transported to a different camp and gassed. The village was set on fire and then destroyed, literally leveled to the ground. The museum on the grounds had photos of everything as it was all documented by the Nazis. Most heart rending were the letters from the children begging relatives to send them food, clothing and essentials. The children were told they were at camp. There was video of a few of the women who survived the camp and children who had been raised in German homes. If their mothers survived the camp, they could not communicate with their children because the children now spoke only German while the mothers spoke Czech. Can you imagine not being able to talk with your own child? The empty fields are haunting. The sculptures of the eighty-two children gassed will tug at my heart for years to come. A new village of Lidice was constructed nearby after the war, but this memorial will forever bear witness to what happened here.

Bronze sculptures of the eighty-two children
To counteract the sadness of Lidice, Helena took me to see two castles. Years earlier, Helena was a tour guide at the first in the village of Nela Hozeves, birthplace of composer Antonin Dvorak. His talent  was first nurtured here.

Nela Hozeves
Antonin Dvorak Statue
The second castle, from the 1800's, was a hunting lodge. The photo of Helena and Matej was taken in the wooded area leading up to the castle.


  On the drive back to the city, Matej began to tell his mother jokes. He would tell one, she would translate, and we would all roar with laughter. It has been a while since I had the pleasure of second grade humor and it was a treat to watch this mother and son interact. I am so grateful to Helena and Matej for their kindness in sharing their beautiful country with me, and to Aaron for sharing his family. The best way to learn to love a country is through its people.