Open Mic Winners Spotlight: “The King of Alabama” Alabama Public Radio

  The June 24th New York Festivals Radio Awards ceremony honored exceptional radio content in all lengths and formats across all platforms. Award-winning, producers, directors, presenters and content creators from around the globe took to the stage to accept their glittering trophies and celebrate their success while toasting their peers with a glass of champagne. Truly a night to remember!

For the next few weeks NYF’s Open Mic will feature interviews with the brilliant women and men behind some of the world’s most compelling programs and provide insights and observations from these leaders within the industry.

In this edition of Open Mic, the spotlight is on the 2019 NYF Radio Awards Gold winning “King of Alabama” created for NPR by Alabama Public Radio. The three member Alabama Public Radio news team spent five months, with no budget, examining the connection between Alabama and Dr. Martin Luther King, junior’s fight for civil rights.

King’s crusade began in 1955 with the Montgomery bus boycott, and it almost ended in March of 1968 in the rural town of Greensboro two weeks before he was struck down in Memphis. The Ku Klux Klan learned King was speaking in Alabama and sent an armed hit squad to kill him.

Photographer, Jim Peppler had a unique vantage point to King’s work. The civil rights photographer for the Southern Courier newspaper in Montgomery first learned about King’s work in college. King’s impact goes beyond the United States.

In 2016, Alabama Public Radio hosted journalist Ousmane Sagara from the West African nation of Mali. Sagara reports from Mali on how his nation feels about King fifty years after his death.

Open Mic spent a few minutes with Pat Duggins, news director at Alabama Public Radio, to learn more about the inspiration behind this award-winning documentary program. In the interview below Pat discusses his favorite accomplishment in”The King of Alabama” documenary, the biggest influence on him creatively, the top 3 pointers he would give to someone starting out in the audio industry and  much more.

Alabama Public Radio Team “The King of Alabama” Team with Pat Duggins (center) and Journalist Ousmane Sagara ( to Pat’s left)

New York Festivals: What was the inspiration for your award-winning program “The King of Alabama” and what did you ultimately hope to accomplish?

The fiftieth anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination required attention from the Alabama Public Radio newsroom. But, we wanted to do more than just look back at his murder. Alabama was a key battleground in Dr. King’s crusade for civil rights, so we opted to tell stories people don’t hear–above and beyond the “I have a Dream” speech and King’s more popular accomplishments. For example, we focused on the night King hid in an Alabama civil rights safe house to escape a KKK assassination squad, two weeks before he was killed in Memphis.

New York Festivals: Tell us about your creative process and how you overcame any obstacles?

Pat Duggins: My favorite accomplishment in “The King of Alabama” was utilizing the talents of journalist Ousmane Sagara of the West African nation of Mali. He worked with the APR newsroom for a week as part of an international journalist exchange program in 2016. During that time, he told me how Mali had roads and parks named for Dr. King. That inspired me, a year later, to invite Sagara to submit a story for our 50th anniversary coverage of King’s assassination. The challenge, which I relished, was coordinating the collection of “public radio” style interviews and radio background sound for Ousmane’s story from Mali through Facebook Messenger. And then editing the script, and delivering all the parts by DROPBOX. I consider his story a crucial part of APR’s documentary, and I’m delighted he can share in our prestigious New York Festivals “gold radio award.”

New York Festivals: Who has been the biggest influence on you creatively?

Pat Duggins: I mentor students at the University of Alabama, and when they ask me that question, I give them an “out of the box” response–so here goes. I’m more interested about them mastering the power of ambient background sound which makes radio stories memorable and impactful. So, one of my earliest influences on the power of radio was the “CBS Radio Mystery Theater.” As a ten year old, I’d switch on my transistor radio at night, turn out the lights in my room, and listen to these spooky stories hosted by actor E.G. Marshall. It really taught me how effective sound can be in telling stories.

New York Festivals: What are the top 3 pointers you’d give someone just starting out in world of audio?

Pat Duggins: When writing a radio script, do the interviews and transcribe your best cuts, and line them up to form as much of your narrative arc as possible. That makes it easier to “write into” your cuts. Also, radio background sound is as powerful as interviews in telling stories. Like many public radio journalists, I strive for what’s know as a “driveway moment,” where the listener sits in his/her car to hear all of my story. I have a letter from a listener back when I was covering the U.S. Space Program for NPR. It states this person, listening to a documentary of mine on the Space Shuttle program, had a driveway moment lasting twenty minutes. That set the bar for me when doing future stories. twenty

New York Festivals: What project is next on the horizon for you and your team?

Pat Duggins: Alabama Public Radio is part of the University of Alabama’s Digital Media Center, which includes UA’s Center for Public Television. We’re always seeking to collaborate with them, and I’ll soon be in a tuxedo with some of these students at the regional Emmy awards in Atlanta. I worked with some student videographers on an interview with Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior’s barber in Montgomery. Win or lose, it was a privilege to work with these young people as they carve out their own careers.

 

 

 

For a complete list of all the 2019 New York Festivals Radio Award winners, please visit: HERE

 

 

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