Open Mic: Radio Roundtable

New York Festivals International Radio Awards celebrates the World’s Best Radio Programs℠ and this year radio royalty from around the world gathered this past June to honor those innovative entries that earned trophies. The 2017 Radio Awards Grand Jury honored entries submitted from 32 countries.

This week, Open Mic shares the inside story on some of 2017’s award-winning work. In this roundtable interview you’ll learn more about the creators of these projects via their thoughts on what sparked the idea for their award-winning programs and how they came to be produced.

Diego Cannizzaro, Owner and Director of DMC STUDIO Argentina – 2017 Grand Trophy for Blackout and 3 Gold Trophies and a Silver Trophy.

Diego Cannizzaro of DMC Studio Argentina

“Blackout” DMC Studio Argentina earned the Grand Award (Heroes) for the compelling story of a blind person who describes a day of his life through sounds in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The award-winning entry was recorded with binaural microphones, live and in the epicenter of the city. “Blackout” received top honors earning an additional 3 Gold Trophies and a Silver Trophy.

NYF Radio: Why did DMC STUDIO create the program “Blackout” and how did you come up with this creative program idea?

Diego Cannizzaro: BLACKOUT was created for several reasons. One of them was to create a space in which we can describe what sounds can transmit on their own, in a simple and natural way…a complete description of the parallel world surrounding us built of sounds. At DMC STUDIO we wanted to have a unique space, where sensitivity, perception and intuition have a leading role. It was vital then, to find an abstract escape line and at the same time real so that the sound story is also protagonist in the same space absolutely. That is why it was necessary that the sounds build the stage and be the architecture from where the character would narrate the story. As the script was written literally and sonorously the idea was enhanced that the character has an extra sensitivity that is superior and different. Buenos Aires is not a city prepared 100% for someone blind, that’s why for us, this character is a HERO of everyday life. For his ability to move around the city and his way of telling and enjoying life through sound. Buenos Aires, has a sonorous beauty that not everyone can perceive and except our HERO, of course … yes.

NYF Radio: What creative challenges did you encounter when producing “Blackout” and how did you solve those challenges?

Diego Cannizzaro: There were several challenges. But undoubtedly the most important was the task of adapting literature to the angle of a blind person, although the narrative was more poetic and could be interpreted by a person not necessarily blind. The other challenge was more technical and meant something very important for us: to be able to reflect in audio, different scenarios of Buenos Aires, and record and play them on a radio piece. While the recording of sounds can be something simple, the real challenge was to include in our sound work, binaural or 360-degree recordings to implore the documentary more realistic moments in the plans and sound scenarios.

Michael Green, Journalist for Behind the Wire and Jon Tjhia, Senior Digital Editor for The Wheeler Centre Australia – 2017 Grand Trophy for The Messenger and 2 Gold Trophies.

Sophie Black, The Wheeler Centre with Michael Green, Behind the Wire and Jon Tjhia of the Wheeler Centre

“The Messenger” (Behind the Wire and The Wheeler Centre Australia) was honored with the 2017 Grand Award (National or International Affairs) for their ten-part podcast series. The program is based on thousands of voice messages sent via burner phone by Abdul Aziz Muhamat, a refugee detained on the Australian-run detention center on the Manus Island, Paua New Guinea, to journalist, Michael Green.

NYF Radio: What sparked your idea for this podcast series?

Michael Green: The first night I exchanged voice messages with Aziz, I was overwhelmed by how warm and open he was, and by the sound and character of his voice. And that voice was coming from a hidden place. I just wanted to know everything I could about him, and what he was going through. I knew right then that radio would be the perfect way to share his story.

NYF Radio: How did the two of you come together to produce this program?

Jon Tjhia: In mid-2016, the Wheeler Centre ran a competition called So You Think You Can Pod – in which we invited aspiring producers to pitch a podcast series, judged by a panel including producers of Reply All, Soundproof and Ingredipedia. To cut a long story short – Behind the Wire’s pitch was the winning one. Michael was overseas at the time, and had woken up at some heinous hour of his morning to Skype in for the event – but ended up unable to establish a clear voice line during the event itself. Ironic, really; the process was a little reminiscent of Michael’s challenges in connecting with Aziz. After the competition, we worked with Michael and his team [André Dao, Bec Fary, Hannah Reich] to support the development of their show, think about a structure and sonic identity, and so on. We thought the emerging story was unusual, surprising, nuanced and important, and we agreed on many aspects of the framing and the telling. We wanted to support and expand Behind the Wire’s very direct work in bringing (literally) unheard voices to the fore, and eventually, we all chose to produce the series together.

Mark Travis, Associate Director of Media, Production for New York Philharmonic – Gold for Celebrating the 175th Anniversary Season and a Gold and a Bronze Trophy for Zubin Mehta at 80.

Mark Travis with Alec Baldwin, Host of New York Philharmonic

Mark Travis, Director of Media, Production for New York Philharmonic

NYF Radio: How did your Gold Trophy winning program “Celebrating the 175th Anniversary Season” come to be produced? What was the inspiration for the creation of this celebratory program?

Mark Travis: The New York Philharmonic is the longest-running orchestra in the United States and one of the oldest in the world. I wanted to find a way to acknowledge the Philharmonic’s milestone 175th anniversary season and draw attention to the organization’s activities surrounding it, notably the New World Initiative (http://www.newworldinitiative.com).

NYF Radio: The New York Philharmonic earned a Gold (Music) and a Bronze Trophy (Best Director) for “Zubin Mehta at 80” and a Silver Trophy for “The New York Philharmonic This Week” for Best Regularly Scheduled Music Program, what are the common elements that make up these trophy-winning programs?

Mark Travis: Central to the success of the programs you mentioned (and really every episode of the series to date) is the orchestra. There would be no show without the engaging and imaginative performances the orchestra gives us week in and week out. They are the foundation for everything we do, and their excellence inspires everyone on the staff to also be excellent. As mentioned earlier, though, I think we present the story of this orchestra and this music in a very complete and unique way and I’m so very pleased that this has seemed to resonate with both critics and audiences.

Sarah Kate Kramer, Producer for Radio Diaries – Gold Trophy for Majd’s Diary: Two Years in the Life of a Saudi Girl.

Nellie Giles, Sarah Krammer and Joe Richman of Radio Diaries

NYF Radio: Radio Diaries earned the Gold Trophy for their outstanding programs Majd’s Diary: Two Years in the Life of a Saudi Girl, to what do you attribute the success of this program?

Sarah Kate Kramer: I think that one reason listeners responded so much to Majd’s Diary is because it’s rare for outsiders to hear a personal story from a woman in Saudi Arabia. Much of the international news coverage of women there focuses on a limited number of issues: the veil, and the ban on women driving. Because women’s voices are not often heard in the public sphere, there are a lot of misperceptions about what life for young women in Saudi Arabia is really like. Majd brought listeners inside her world, and even though the details of her life were foreign, Majd was able to create an intimacy that made it easy for people to relate to her. Listeners could understand her life and choices in a genuine way.

NYF Radio: What creative and logistical challenges were involved and how did you utilize technology to solve those challenges?

Sarah Kate Kramer: We are based in New York City, so working with a diarist in Saudi Arabia was definitely a challenge. We didn’t actually meet Majd in person until a year and a half into the project! Majd would record “diaries” and upload them to us using dropbox. We would communicate on skype and through WhatsApp. Luckily, she is a very tech-savvy individual. The other challenge comes with the territory of producing an audio diary. We invariably end up with tons of raw tape that we need to sift through in order to construct a radio story. Majd recorded almost 100 hours over two years. Her story ended up being 25 minutes long, so editing everything down was tough. But that’s our specialty here at Radio Diaries.

Anna Foster, Presenter and Journalist for BBC Radio Live – 2017 Gold UNDPI Award and Gold Award for 15 Minutes from Mosul.

Anna Foster interviewing refugees in the camp outside of Mosul

NYF Radio: What sparked your idea for this program on the refugee’s in the camps outside the Iraqi city of Mosul?

Anna Foster: I’d been following the awful impact that the Islamic State group was having not just in Iraq and Syria, but closer to home too. I’d travelled to Paris and Brussels to cover the terror attacks there, and was desperate to tell the stories of people who were living under the control of this awful organisation. They were largely voiceless at that stage – the difficulty of getting in to IS areas and the danger that people faced speaking out there had led to a wall of silence. But as people finally managed to leave Mosul I saw a chance. I really wanted to make a radio programme about people – parents and children, teenagers, men and women – ordinary individuals with extraordinary stories to tell.

NYF Radio: How did you first come to connect with Manal and the other Iraqis in the refugee camp?

Anna Foster: We were in the camp, talking to the refugees, hearing horrifying stories of the lives they’d fled from. They were so warm and eager to speak, inviting us into the tents that were their new homes. I wanted to get a real sense of how they were living, so we were with a UNICEF medical team moving from family to family, giving vaccines to children who’d had no medical care under IS. Our fixer Mahmoud felt a tug on his sleeve – it was Manal’s relatives desperate to tell us her story. I still remember ducking through the canvas to see her two boys lying on a dirty mattress, with the thinnest arms and legs I’d ever seen. Their weak, pained cries took my breath away. It was such a tough moment, but I know I had to take pictures, talk to Manal, and find out what had happened to them.

Dick Golden, Host and Producer of “American Jazz: Tribute to Genius” (University of Maryland University College (UMUC) & George Washington University) – 2017 Gold Trophy.

Dick Golden accepting at the 2017 NYF Radio Awards Gala

NYF Radio: How did your Gold Trophy winning program “American Jazz: Tribute to Genius” come to be produced? What was the inspiration for the creation of this celebratory program?

Dick Golden: The American Jazz “Tribute to Genius” program’s production was inspired by the celebration of Tony Bennett’s birthday on August 3rd and Louis Armstrong’s birthday on August 4th. Tony Bennett’s artistry, 17 years into the 21st century, has helped bring the songs contained in the American Songbook, the standards written by Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Harold Arlen, Duke Ellington, the Gershwin’s, etc. written in the 20th century to new generations of Americans. Bing Crosby once observed that, “Louis Armstrong is the beginning and end of American music.” Both artists, and their music, represent some of the highest achievements in American popular culture.

NYF Radio: What was the process in curating the music and stories to be featured in this celebration of the music lives and legacies of the jazz greats, Louis Armstrong and Tony Bennett?

Dick Golden: For the past 40 years I’ve produced and hosted radio programs that feature American standards and jazz. So much of the traditional jazz repertoire is made up of American standards and this is the intersection I’ve focused on my programs. I’ve never tired of studying the lives of the composers and artists. Tony Bennett, an NEA Jazz Master and this year’s recipient of the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize, has been an essential part of our programs and I’ve had the pleasure of many interviews with him and some of that material became a part of the first hour of “Tribute to Genius”. Louis Armstrong has been another essential artist in my radio career. In 2001, I was Senior Producer for a 13-hour NPR tribute to Louis and the research and interviews with eminent jazz musicologist Gary Giddins and others inspired my deep appreciation for the impact Armstrong continues to have on musicians.

For more information on the New York Festivals International Radio Awards, please visit: http://www.newyorkfestivals.com/radio/

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