Open Mic: Spotlight on ESPN’s 30 for 30 Podcasts

The 2018 New York Festivals Radio Awards celebrated the World’s Best Radio Programs on June 19th in New York City. Prominent award-winning, producers, directors, presenters and content creators from around the globe took to the stage to accept their trophies and celebrate their success. NYF’s Radio Awards shines the spotlight on exceptional radio content in all lengths and formats and across all platforms from radio stations, networks and independent producers.

Jody Avirgan, producer/host of ESPN’s 30 For 30 podcasts: The Fighter Inside, Queen of Sorts, and Lights of Wrigleyville was honored with 2 Silver trophies for  News & Documentary and for Sports & Recreation. In the interview below Jody shares his insights on this innovative award-winning program and advice for those just starting out in radio.

NYF: What sparked the idea for “30 for 30 podcasts”?

Jody Avirgan: 30 for 30, as a documentary film series, is about to enter its 10th year. Over the years, the series has housed shorts, animations, multi-part opuses… So, it was only natural that it start to look for ways to tell stories in audio. The production team came to me in mid-2016 and we started discussing what that might look like.

NYF: What creative challenges did you encounter when producing and how did you solve those challenges?

Jody Avirgan: Originally, there was the notion that we might be able to re-purpose some of the existing films into audio versions. We tried cutting them and it just didn’t work. So, we decided to do what I’d kinda been secretly hoping we’d decide all along – that we needed to build a team and produce original audio docs, reported from start to finish. Creatively, we’ve encountered the same challenges that all documentarians encounter, which is that we need to find stories where there are rich characters, amazing plot, and rich archival sound. We spend a lot of time doing interviews to get our characters to “go there,” and finding great archival is a huge part of the process. That can often take a lot of work, but it’s worth it.

NYF: To what do you attribute the success of this program?

Jody Avirgan: Well, for one, we were handed the keys to one of the most beloved documentary franchises around. So, we started in a great place. Ultimately, the success has been a product of what’s probably the most important element in any creative endeavor: editing. We edit the crap out of our stories and have a great team of producers (on both the film and podcast side) who are willing to push each other to edit and edit again until (hopefully) we have the best story possible.

 NYF:  Who or what would you consider to be your primary influence as a content creator for radio? 

Jody Avirgan: It’s hard to work in ambitious radio journalism and not cite This American Life as the primary influence. I will say, though: a number of people have described our show as “like This American Life but for sports,” and I’ve always preferred that we try to be “30 for 30 but for podcasts.” I can’t quite put my finger on it, but somewhere in there lies a really important distinction. We look as much to the existing film series for influence as anything.

NYF: Do you have any advice for people just starting out in radio? What’s the best advice some shared with you? 

Jody Avirgan: Just make stuff. The barrier for entry to this medium, in terms of equipment or technical expertise, is relatively low. And no matter what your “main” gig is, think about all the other things you want to do and find ways to take on side projects that scratch that itch. One other thing, that I learned from one of my radio heroes Robert Krulwich, is to find people you like to work with and attach yourself to them in perpetuity (if they’ll let you.) We spend a lot of time looking for role models or mentors above us, older people to look up to or get advice from; but don’t forget to make strong horizontal connections with your talented peers. And then, pitch us! (If anyone wants to get in touch, drop me a line: jody.avirgan@espn.com)

Check out ESPN’s 30 for 30 Podcasts at: https://30for30podcasts.com/

For more information on New York Festivals International Radio Program Awards, please visit: http://www.newyorkfestivals.com/radio/ and to view the 2018 winners visit: HERE.

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