Open Mic Spotlight: Philip Coulter

New York Festivals International Radio Awards jury of award-winning directors, producers, journalists, writers, actors, creative directors, composers, on-air talent, and programming executives are actively involved in creating the innovative content on radio today. Each week Open Mic Spotlight taps into the minds of content creators from the wonderful world of radio. Who better to share their insiders view of radio then the Radio Awards Grand Jury?

Philip Coulter

2018 Grand Jury member, Philip Coulter’s company Tandem Projects produces radio documentaries for the CBC Radio programme “Ideas”. He is particularly interested in social issues, human rights and culture, and over the past twenty years some typical projects have been programmes about: the refugee crisis in Calais, the rise of the Far Right in Europe, the Guantanamo detainees, the rebuilding of South Africa, the collapse of Yugoslavia, James Joyce in Trieste, the politics of Allen Ginsberg, Frank Zappa’s musical innovation, anarchism, sailing alone around the world and the medieval knightly orders. Since the mid-90’s Philip also produced the annual five-hour Massey Lectures radio series.

Philip started his career at the CBC producing radio drama in Montreal and then worked as a features and music producer.

New York Festivals:How did you get your start in the radio industry?

Philip Coulter: I was a theatre director and producer, earning even less big-bucks than radio offered when I went to work as a drama and features producer at CBC. I knew nothing, so on day one I watched carefully to see which button the technician in the control room pushed to talk through the glass. On day two I had to ask a production assistant to show me how to edit tape. After that I was fine 🙂

New York Festivals:What was the turning point in your career?

Philip Coulter: After I lost my job and was forced to think about what I really wanted- I figured, I had to commit everything or I wasn’t going to be any good.

Did you have a mentor, if so how did they help you achieve your career goals?

Philip Coulter: Yes, I had a mentor, who saved my life when no one else would look at me, and who taught me everything about documentaries, particularly patience- that the solution for that problem is always waiting for you.

New York Festivals:What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Philip Coulter: Here are five, but it could be fifty. 1. Have a working hypothesis, but assume it’s probably wrong. 2. In interviews, no written questions, do your homework but keep it all in your head, that way you’re forced to listen. 3. No warm ups: lead with your best question. 4. Listen hard to what you’re being told: the next question is always there. 5. Ask yourself: so what? Figure out why anyone should care about your precious programme.

New York Festivals:What is the responsibility of journalists in today’s world?

Philip Coulter: To hold up a candle in a dark place; the same as anyone else.

New York Festivals:What is your favorite program that you created and why?

Philip Coulter: “Rules of the Game”, a 2006 series about Guantanamo. I was amazed the US military let me go there and talk to so many people. I was able to tell first-person stories about the prisoners, their guards, and some heroic military defence lawyers who sacrificed their careers for the truth and the law. It was a deep dive into a moral and legal mess that the US may never extricate itself from. But the individual people were almost all honorable.

New York Festivals: Whose work do you admire the most?

Philip Coulter: Steve Wadhams, Chris Brookes, Nahlah Ayed, Margaret Evans. In film, Michael Winterbottom (Welcome to Sarajevo) does what I would like to do in radio.

New York Festivals:What creative projects are next for you?

Philip Coulter: A documentary about “Paris 1968” and the student revolution,  also “Walls”, a journey along the Northern Ireland border.

New York Festivals:What do you think are the hallmarks of award-winning work?

Philip Coulter: Telling a story that no one else is telling, and that radio can tell best. The radio documentary maker is like the cockroach in the basement: you’ll still be there when the nuclear cloud has passed, microphone at the ready.

New York Festivals:What would be your dream job?

Philip Coulter: Not applicable. I already have it…

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