This American Nerd
I'm pretty sure my co-workers think I'm a huge nerd. This is for many reasons, but especially because I'm one of those people who listens to public radio all the time. I am a little excessive about making sure I am in the car at the top of the hour so I can hear the news.
Practically every morning, I overhear something on WUNC 91.5 FM that I absolutely have to share with someone at the office. I feel like I say, “They were talking about _____ on [name of radio show here]” at least twice a day, if not more.
But it’s OK if they think I’m nerdy, even if they think I’m as nerdy as the people in this video. I’ll own up to that in a heartbeat — I am pretty nerdy.
Listening to public radio has become a major part of my life. Now that I’m hooked, I can’t envision myself listening to anything else in the car. It keeps me abreast of current events and gives me fascinating insights into other people’s lives. It’s good journalism. Sometimes the stories make me laugh and sometimes they make me cry. And the best part is: Kind of like breathing, I don’t have to do anything out of the ordinary with my life to attain it (well, other than fiddle with my car radio’s frequency). In a nutshell, public radio has a great product and I consume it all the time.
Last week, I went with some friends to see “This American Life Live“ in the movie theater. I was blown away. (“This American Life,” a thematic storytelling show hosted by Ira Glass, comes on the radio on Friday nights. They also did a live show in 2009, but I somehow missed that. Probably because I wasn’t a nerd yet, I guess.) I sat in the movie theater with scores of fellow public radio nerds as we watched Glass, one of public radio’s gems, tell stories in a whole new way: The show took an auditory experience and made it both visual and interactive.
As an audience, we witnessed animations, a short film, dance and musical performances, costumes, hairstyles, facial expressions, body language, emotions, sweat. We accompanied band OK GO live on hand bells using a special app on our smartphones. We watched the Monica Bill Barnes & Company perform some amazing modern dance pieces. We laughed at stories from David Sedaris, David Rakoff, Glynn Washington, Ryan Knighton and Tig Notaro. We viewed a short film by Mike Birbiglia. We had our breaths taken away by a gorgeous photo-tribute to little-known street photographer Vivian Maier. And, best of all, we got to put faces with a few of NPR’s famously weird names. (Side note: This NPR Name Game is awesome. From now on, you may call me Suslannah Medonosy-Osinalice.)
I have a very active imagination, so I usually try to picture in my head the interviews and performances I hear on the radio, but “This American Life Live” was different. Instead of seeing with my mind, I saw with my eyes the things you can’t (and probably shouldn’t, for safety’s sake) see when you’re driving to work in the morning.
The entire evening was a reminder of all the things we perpetually have at our fingertips that didn’t always exist, like videos and apps. “This American Life” (and all other radio, for that matter) normally exists in a dimension that only requires sound, just like the news and stories my grandmother used to listen to in the evenings with her family. Radio is a medium that somehow never died with the birth of records, tapes, CDs and now the Internet, where, ironically, we have additional access to radio, like Pandora and podcasts. It’s a little funny to me that this radio show brought these new-age things into their traditional format that, in my opinion, should take pride in its sustained existence.
But I loved the evening nonetheless, because the stories were as remarkable in person as they are on air. It was special and it was exciting to be a part of it. And, in two hours, they turned an everyday experience like listening to the radio into something that was both meaningful and memorable to us nerdy consumers — a statement on the passing of time.
If every brand could do something like this, it would be amazing. I mean, it’s been almost a week and I’m still raving about it, and I don’t plan to stop. I’m not saying every company should code an event-specific smartphone app and produce a two-hour live show starring radio celebrities, but if every brand could make their products or experiences this memorable, they’d see a lot more success.
Whether it’s an event you’re hosting, a new product or an ad campaign, make sure there’s at least one element attendees will be talking about tomorrow in their respective break rooms. If radio can do it in the age of YouTube, Spotify and iPods, I’d say you have a pretty good chance as well.