Public radio producers often seem to have offbeat alternative careers. You were a chocolatier?
It was more play therapy than career, but yes, back in the late ‘80‘s I moonlighted – literally – as a chocolatier. I used to work all day producing talk shows and editing news copy and then a girl friend and I would hand dip Belgian chocolate truffles until after midnight. It was strictly a labor of love – we sold our chocolates at Madison’s farmer’s market and at a couple of fine restaurants – and I don’t think we ever made a profit. But I have very fond memories of standing in a restaurant kitchen late at night, elbow-deep in warm melted chocolate, Callebaut Bittersweet perfuming the air and the Go-Go’s playing in the background.
How did you get into public radio?
In college I was a classic nerdy, be-spectacled English major who loved 19th century novels and didn’t own a radio. Then I got a part-time job as a reference librarian at NPR. It was about as entry-level as a job can get, clipping and filing newspapers – this was before the internet! -- and running errands for the reporters. I fell in love with the place and the people, the intelligence and mission of public broadcasting, radio's capacity to convey emotion and to create intimacy.
Would you rather interview a guest who’s in the studio with you, or on the phone?
I think I do a better job when the guest is on an ISDN line piped into my headphones, instead of sitting two feet away. I know I enjoy it more. That voice in the headphones is just so intimate! For half an hour, we exist together, just the two of us, in a space so interior, it feels like a different dimension. Freed from the distraction of physical messages -- facial expressions, body language -- I listen better. Ironic, isn’t it, that I feel more present with a guest when I’m physically absent? But that’s just me. Steve feels the exact reverse and Jim could go either way.
In addition to your work on TTBOOK, you also produce a radio essay series, Wisconsin Life. What’s that about and how can I hear it?
Wisconsin Life is about honoring and preserving something that’s endangered in America today -- a sense of place. The challenge of living in a world of global connections with a 24/7 news cycle and instant wireless access to virtual space is that we risk forgetting some of the poetry of daily life in a particular place. The slow seasonal cycles, the layers of natural and human history that make the places we live unique and distinct. Wisconsin Life is a very simple radio project:
3-minute long audio essays, commentaries and sound portraits about daily life here where I live, in Wisconsin. Our contributors are writers, poets, dairy farmers, school teachers, geologists, etc. If you want to know more, you can visit the blog: www.wisconsinlife.org
Last question. Do your kids listen to your radio programs?
Not if they can help it – though one of their friends told me he keeps an episode of TTBOOK on his iPod because it helps him fall asleep. What I love about our home life is spending time in the kids’ world, not introducing them to ours. We watch The Voice and weird British comedies and every spy show ever made and we play games and argue about the value of studying for algebra tests and then they ditch us to hang out with their friends.