Thursday, November 12, 2009

Field Notes with Laurie Sanders

I had the pleasure of attending a seminar on Friday, October 23, featuring Laurie Sanders, host of Field Notes on WFCR, a public radio station here in Amherst, Massachusetts. Laurie offered some great insight into what it takes to produce a weekly radio show, and I have a much better appreciation now for how hard these journalists and producers work.

Radio and television are media outlets that I wish to branch out into, so I was excited to hear how Laurie has managed to succeed there.

I was intrigued to learn that like me she is an “only child.” It is my belief that having no siblings tends to make an individual even more driven toward success. My mother tells me that I put away my toys at age ten and told her I had to make something of my life.

Laurie has been fearless in the pursuit of her own dreams. Just prior to grad school, she pitched an idea for a nature television show to a commercial station near her hometown of Cheshire, Connecticut. There was interest in the concept, but grad school took precedence. After achieving her degree, she cold-called the local Public Broadcasting Service affiliate WGBY. This time the idea took wing and Laurie ended up producing 36 short television segments on natural history over a four year period. Television is an expensive medium, however, and she eventually turned to radio, and the local National Public Radio affiliate WFCR, 88.5 FM. What materialized was a six month, grant-funded series of two- to three-minute weekly radio pieces for WFCR.

Ten years later, Field Notes shows no sign of slowing down. Laurie strives to present timely pieces that are meaningful to her New England audience. She has only six minutes and eighteen seconds to captivate her loyal followers and hook new listeners in her Monday morning niche.

Gone are the days of lugging heavy tape recorders into the field to record both natural sounds and dialogue with human subjects. The emergence of compact digital recorders has meant that editing interviews and whittling the whole affair down to the allotted time limit has also become easier. No more splicing magnetic tape! There is even freeware like “Audacity” that facilitates the editing of sound files.

Still, it takes a great deal of time to produce a quality presentation. While radio is vastly cheaper than television, with a faster turnaround from recording to broadcast, it still takes twenty to twenty-five hours of production for a five minute piece. Some shows, like NPR’s This American Life, are highly produced, while others take less time and resources.

Laurie is delighted when a national show like Living on Earth wants to use one of her productions. I have a feeling that syndication could be in the offing for Field Notes if Laurie wants to make the next leap. Stay tuned.

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