â€œThis town of less than 60,000 people supports eight independent booksellers, two national book stores, and several â€˜big boxâ€™ stores with book departments.â€
-Montana Public Radioâ€™s Michael Marsolek & Cherie Newman, on their book-friendly town of Missoula
Welcome to the NPR Station Showcase with PRX. Iâ€™m your host and curator, Aaron Henkin, and this week we head west to Big Sky Country â€“ Missoula, Montana, to be precise. Thatâ€™s the headquarters of Montana Public Radio, a network of transmitters that sends out a broadcast signal covering more than half of the sizeable state. Montana Public Radio is rich in locally-produced content, and one of its more recent offerings is a program called The Write Question. This weekly series presents writers from all over the Western states talking about their work, and this week on the podcast weâ€™re going to be hearing a recent episode that featured Ayrn Kyle, author of â€œThe God of Animals.â€ Hereâ€™s a brief Q & A with The Write Question executive producer Michael Marsolek and producer Cherie Newman about the history of the seriesâ€¦
How did the inspiration for “The Write Question” radio series come about?
Writing and literature permeate the community of Missoula. The Montana landscape and lifestyle attracts successful writers, and the nationally-recognized creative writing program at the University of Montana spits out a new batch of authors and poets every year. This town of less than 60,000 people supports eight independent booksellers, two national book stores, and several â€œbig boxâ€ stores with book departments. We had talked about producing a writerâ€™s radio program for years. Eventually, a segment spot opened up in our Sunday morning schedule that propelled us into action.
You describe the show as a ‘non-hosted’ program… what made you guys want to go in this editorial direction, and what are some of the challenges that you run into with this ‘authors-in-their-own-words’ format?
We chose the â€œnon-hostedâ€ format for three reasons. First, it gives the guest maximum exposure during a short (twelve-minute) program, second, we wanted to create something unique. And third, the format allows for unique use of musical elements.
Tell us a bit about how the show is crafted – who does the interviewing? How long do you usually tape for? And what goes into the editing process?
The producer, ChÃ©rie Newman, does the interviews. She talks with the guest for twenty or twenty-five minutes, digging for nine minutes of captivating content. The question posed at the beginning of the program is created from the content. The program is then edited to answer the question and to generate listener interest in the writerâ€™s work. The music and sound effects come from Montana and regional musicians.
I wonder, have you ever discovered (without naming names, of course) that an author might be brilliant on the written page, but maybe not so great in conversation? What do you do in a situation like that?
Absolutely! In that case, getting coherent content for the program is a bit of a challenge, requiring more careful listening and editing. During the actual interview, it works to gently nudge the conversation back in the desired direction a few times and to take a few notes. The first time a guest wandered in verbal circles, it was disconcerting. It took her nearly twenty minutes to answer the initial question. The interview took forty-five minutes. Editing was a nightmare. But, lessons learned, and all thatâ€¦
How long has “The Write Question” been on the air? Who are some of your favorite local writers who’ve appeared on the show?
â€œThe Write Questionâ€ has been on the air since mid-June 2007. The writers are all such interesting people itâ€™s hard to choose. A few that stand out include Joanna Klink, John Clayton, Deirdre McNamer, Debra Magpie Earling, Ron Carlson, Christy Leskovar, and Ted Kerasote.
Could you tell us a bit about Montana Public Radio, and some of the other local programming that comes out of there?
Montana Public Radio is a unique network of 6 transmitters and 6 translators covering over half of the state of Montana. The service originates at the studios in Missoula. MTPR has been on the air for 42 years and serves up a mix of the best of the network news and shows as well as 50% locally produced programming. A couple of highlights include the longest running childrenâ€™s radio program in America â€“ â€œthe Pea Green Boatâ€ songs, stories and fun for children of all ages. Childrenâ€™s programming is on the air 7 hours a week in prime time. MTPR boasts freeform music shows daily and specialty music shows in many genres throughout the schedule. MTPR news is consistently among the leaders in the region. The MTPR news department recently swept first place awards in 6 of 8 categories in the AP state-wide awards. We won every category we entered. A number of short-form shows are created here and â€œThe Plant Detectiveâ€ is a 90-second module on medicinal plants that is on stations across the country. MTPR has a legendary fundraiser once a year â€“ listenership goes up â€“ and it is an annual rite of spring celebration of public broadcasting. Some of the most fun, entertaining and creative ways of raising money are part of Public Radio Week each April.
You can hear more episodes of The Write Question from Montana Public Radio online at The Public Radio Exchange. Thatâ€™s where producers from around the world share their work. Log on, write your own reviews, and have a say in what ends up on the radio at www.prx.org.