As I tour the US in the search of the future of Radio, I have had the pleasure to meet some truly creative people.
In Chicago, THE Station is WBEZ and the MAN is Torey Malatia
Here he is in a skit during our Chicago retreat. We forced him and others to put on a play that would tell us how they saw the future. Torey is really a professor type and very shy. He is also a graduate of literature at U of T - he brought the house down. Second City watch out
WBEZ is a hot bed of creativity and is the home of one of the most popular shows on US radio - This American Life
One of the aspects of the best of US Public radio is how it seeks to do more than offer good programs - no small thing - and also convene community. An interview that I did with Torey follows. Here he talks about how he is looking at the new technology and public radio as a way of bringing his community together.
So Torey how do you see what is going on?
More opportunities to realize what our listeners really want. I am really happy that the new technology allows people to amplify their experience and hence our value to them. By being both ubiquitous and inexpensive, it is very liberating. We can offer more meaning.
How are you moving forward?
As we move forward we do our best to evaluate everything that we do. We have also changed the cultural thrust of this work. As we began, we had the technology people in the driver's seat. But about a year ago we made the shift to programming and we have group of producers in charge. These are young and web savvy people. We wanted story and engagement to be the driver of what we will do.
So what is it that you want to do - what is your direction?
Our direction is to see the broadcast as an initiating event that takes us and the listener to the web where all sorts of interaction can then take place. The web is a launchpad, a kind of doorway, to community and to interaction. The broadcast is the "Beginning". Who can tell where an idea or an interest can go once it is launched. People will comment, expand and take off in all sorts of directions.
They are going to do this anyway. So we are enabling this by setting up a minimal structure so that they can make sense of the mass of information that will be available. I see it like an annotated bibliography. First they are fun. Then they take you to another one and to yet another one. We reduce the chaos but don't impose too much structure.
So what is your mission in this new world?
What it has always been - our job is to build a better community.
Chicago is an enormous city with many good things but with also many problems. Our hope is that if we can help more and more people get engaged with others here and how we all live, that we will make a difference. I hope that we can offer some simple kind of place in people's personal lives.
In this context then, the issue is not only to be an effective radio station but also to be a moderator of community.
How does the money work for you?
The way forward to financial viability is I think Content. We see great content coming out of our community. We have to a ton of work in connecting with the many communities that make up Chicago. We will drop into the suburbs and the neighbourhoods. This will be the source of our stories. To do this we have to develop deep and trusting relationships with people. We need to act less as advocates but more as a resource - we give people a voice.
I see this taking 10 years or so to fulfil and it involves a lot of production. But if we involve the community and the product is a better Chicago - I think that we can also engage the local philanthropy. We make the connection to what we do and the well being of the larger community. The funding comes because we are the facilitator of community
So there is a paradox here - the technology is key but the story is central?
Yes - I don't like the term "New Media" - it implies the technology first. I think that a better term is "Interactive" - this is the cultural process of a two way conversation that is I think the power of the change that we are experiencing. I also think that having the technical people in charge risks losing the cultural aspect. They tend to get attracted to the tools and to the flash.
We are so lucky. We have a young staff. We have programmers in their 20's who are very web savvy. I have given them their head to do their best.
Do you have any issues with the unions?
Not really. We have only a few union staff and they are all focused on the engineering side of broadcasting. They are not involved in the production of content.
Looking ahead 5 years - what would you like to see as a result of your work?
Well I hope this would till be a fun place and that we were producing great stuff - but more than that I hope that if you asked people here what were the 10 things that you could not live without, that we would be on that list.
How do you see the stations that are in your region operating in the future - do you see more cooperation?
I think that we can share information and work in common on the back end but we must not get involved in each others missions. There is a big disparity between Chicago and the rest of Illinois - there is not a lot of common feeling and identity. We have to be each true to whom we serve.