Redux: Let's Go to the Mall

On sweltering summer days when it was way too hot to play in the backyard, my mom would drive us to Crossgates Mall. It was only two towns away, but it felt like a million miles. Everything gleamed with possibility. The food court was vast and the movie theater was bone-chillingly cold.

The mall has lost much of its appeal over the years, but I still yearn for its over zealous air conditioning on days like this. If you'd rather flee the country than spend a minute in a mall, check out City X. Produced by the incredibly talented Jonathan Mitchell, this exploration of his Midwestern mall will have you day dreaming of coke and curly fries in no time.

Redux: Songs of Summer, 2008

Yep, Thao with the Get Down Stay Down's new album We Brave Bee Stings And All is my favorite of the summer. It's perfect picnic-packing, lemonade-drinking music. Rhythmically complex, yet simple and melodic enough to catch the ear of everyone at you summer BBQ. If you haven't heard how lead singer Thao Nguyen taught herself how to play guitar while working in her mother's laundromat (reported by stellar Salt alumn Jesse Dukes ), it's definitely worth a listen.

Thao and the Get Down Stay Down sound a little tired on this live broadcast (it's the second night of their cross-country tour, so they could probably use a nap), but Thao has some interesting things to say about women in rock and the size of the wieners in Columbus, Ohio (I'll give you a hint - they're quite large).

What's your favorite summer album of '08?

Redux: The Art of Getting People to Shake Their Booty

Ever wonder what kind of thought goes into getting kids, grandmas, and everyone in between to get out on the dance floor and shake shake shake? Shake their booty? This funny episode of What Would Rob Do? looks at the art of Bar Mitzvah dj-ing, which is entertaining in and of itself. But what's even more engaging is the banter between David Kestenbaum, science correspondent for NPR, and Rob. It reminds me a bit of those Saturday Night Live skits from long ago where the cast members would be refraining from laughing out loud at themselves for fear of crossing the point of no return. And bonus: in this episode, you get snippets of everything from "Celebration" to "Hava Nagila." Get ready to get those toes a-tappin.

Redux: Slug Slug Slugging!

When I lived in DC years and years ago, every weekday evening around 5:30 I'd notice a line of people gathering by the side of the road near the McPherson Square metro stop. These people seemed to appear out of nowhere. There was no sign to indicate what the line was for and no one really interacted with each other. This fascinated me. And one day I learned from a co-worker who did the slug thing that this was called "slugging" - basically ride sharing with complete strangers.

This piece dives into the concept of slugging and if you've never heard of it before, it's worth listening to. From a production standpoint, it's not the most enthralling piece I've heard - I kept wanting the producer to slug with the best of 'em. What is that experience really like? I wanted to hear the silence of the line, the communication about location drop-off, the car ride. If one of the unstated rules of slugging is that you don't swap names or personal information, what the heck do you talk about during the commute? How do you greet each other?

Blog: Za Vas!

When I was 10, my 3rd grade class had a "buddy class" in Russia. We sent them pictures and letters on cool air mail stationary and they sent us stories about their puppies and siblings in strange, slanted English.

It turns out that Third Coast has their own Russian "buddy" festival, Vmeste Radio (”Radio Together”) Festival. Third Coast's Managing Director Julie Shapiro blogged about her recent visit to the land of vodka and fur hats on the Chicago Public Radio Blog (a great blog, if you haven't already checked it out).

Indie radio producers in Russia are documenting their lives, cities, and neighbors on a PRX-like podcast site called Podstansiya. It's all in Russian, so you better dig out your Russian-to-English dictionary. And if you prefer your foreign exchange to be in-person, some top notch Russian producers will be making their way to Chicago for an upcoming Third Coast Festival soon. All of this makes me wish I remembered more than just "hello" in this rough, melodic language.

Blog: Bryant Park Project Gets the Axe

If you scanned the headlines of the New York Times yesterday, you probably learned that NPR is canceling the Bryant Park Project. Now, I have never been a huge huge fan of the show (does anyone remember their failed Sigur Ros interview?), but I also recognize that it takes time for a program and hosts to find their groove. When the last episode airs later this month, they will have only been around for ten months - less than a year. I would've liked to have seen how The Bryant Park Project developed - if only their budget wasn't a whopping $2 million, perhaps we would have found out.

Blog: Newspaper on the Radio, part two

Over the past couple of weeks, Salt alums have been discussing a multimedia piece that was published in the Howard County Times, Hungry, by Salt photography alum Maisie Crow. I won't give any of the story away, but know that it's, at once, sad, inspiring, and captivating. And it's the first time she produced a multimedia piece. Wow, huh?

For more about the specifics of the discussion and the effect of silence in Maisie's piece, check out Salt alum Sam Greenspan's blog.

Thanks, Amy O'Leary, for sharing "Hungry" with us!

Blog: The Latest Transom Showcase: How Are You Who You Are?

I heart Transom. I really, really do. I love how helpful they are, how encouraging and informational. Transom.org, for those of us who are just starting out, is like a nice cup of hot tea on a bone-chilling day. Comforting. Reassuring.

Most of all, Transom is accessible.

Nothing shows that better than the most recent Transom Showcase, How Are You Who You Are? by Eric Winick and Jay Allison. Eric got started working on this piece through encouragement and advice by Transom and Jay - three years ago. After coming up with a draft version, Jay invited Eric to come to Woods Hole and spend a few days reworking and editing the piece together. The result is a powerful story of identity, family, and loss. The beginning question, "What if someone you loved changed so completely that you barely recognized them? Would you still love them?" grabs your attention and stays with you throughout. I was listening to this as I was doing other things and mid-way through, during a tear-ful conversation with Lynn, the wife, I stopped and stared at my computer. I felt like she was talking directly to me, the feeling was so intimate. This is what radio is all about. Thanks, Transom, for making stories like these possible.

Redux: Club Awesome! is, like, Totally Awesome

Sorry, no audio.

If you haven't checked out alt.NPR lately, you're missing out on such gems as Club Awesome! Yes, it has a rather silly name, but host Taylor Chapulin Orci makes this podcast about "any song that's meant anything to anyone, ever." feel poignant and thoughtful, without taking itself to seriously.

In its premier episode, Taylor dissects the terrible songs she loves to hate (or hates to love). Sadly, like everyone else who grew up in the '80s, I know the words to each one of these songs. Yeah, I kinda hate them too, but I love the memories of middle school bus rides and long lost crushes that they inspire.

My first thought upon listening to this podcast was, "Why isn't this girl working for NPR?" Her delivery is witty and real, without a whiff of Ira Glass-wannabe syndrome. I could listen to her read the phone book, but instead, I'll devour all 7 episodes and wait patiently for more.

P.S. It turns out that Taylor Chapulin Orci does work for NPR.

Blog: Where in the World is Jen Nathan?

Yes, I've been kinda quiet lately, but don't worry, I haven't joined a mutant race of verbal washing machines. I've been busy finishing up the first in a series of radio pieces about biotech. When did you become a science reporter, you ask? The day WFAE said they needed one.

In many ways, not having a slew of science degrees has really helped my science reporting. For instance, I'll never use the phrase DeNovo Sequencing without a pithy real-life analogy to keep science-phobes from turning off the radio. And I'm also oddly delighted to learn that enzymes are what make our laundry detergent work (hence the washing machine solo I'm recording here).

Not knowing all that much about science definitely requires lots of research and quite a bit of pondering - I've stayed up late many nights wondering how the heck a vaccine can get inside a soybean - but knowing more about how the world works is always fun, even if it does involve reaching deep into my brain for those bio notes I've long since forgotten.

* Amusing side note: our new high-efficiency washing machine doesn't make that "whooosh" sound I was hoping for. Instead, it makes a seriously pathetic trickle with a bit of a hum. I had to loop that sucker five times to make it sound like a washing machine. Damn you technology.