Audio Academy Fellow Learns the Sonic Power of Telling Radio Stories
By Marisol Medina-Cadena, Audio Academy Fellow, and Ben Trefny, News Director, KALW Public Radio
This week, it’s my pleasure to introduce you to Audio Academy fellow Marisol Medina-Cadena. She came to our program after graduating summa cum laude from UC Santa Cruz in 2016 with a degree in film and digital media production. Marisol is a storyteller with a passion for local histories, social issues, arts and culture, and before joining our team, she was working on a documentary film about gentrification in cities across California.
Here are some of Marisol’s thoughts, in her own words:
From the very start of KALW’s Audio Academy, I knew I made the right choice. I took a leap of faith to momentarily leave my position at a public TV station to invest in my skills and pursue something I always was curious about, but never had the opportunity to explore: the oh-so-delightful world of radio. While I can turn to my arsenal of documentary skills I am also challenged to go beyond them to acquire new approaches to storytelling.
When I started this program, I naively thought radio journalism would be more straightforward than video journalism; thinking we just strip a story down to its core by eliminating distracting visuals. But now I realize, radio is so visual! A good radio story paints a picture. In other words, we aren’t just reporting, we are immersing listeners in a place and time, or maybe we are explaining big pictures ideas that tend to get lost in the thick of abstracted wordiness. Accordingly, we, Audio Academy fellows, are always reminded by our KALW mentors to think about why our story should be a radiostory, what distinguishes the way we will tell it sonically unlike other mediums.
These fundamental lessons became apparent at the very start of the program. My first week at the studio I shadowed my mentor, Eli Wirtschafter, KALW’s transportation reporter. When we first met, he was preparing his piece on MUNI buses being converted to ambulances. I assumed I’d just be a fly on the wall while he worked away. Instead, he solicited my feedback. Yes my feedback, a radio novice — my initiation into to the supportive and inclusive Audio Academy. After that, I observed Eli and his editor go back and forth about which sound bites were more punchy. I felt like I was watching a ping pong match, trying to keep up with each of them. I couldn’t believe I was witnessing radio-magic right before my very eyes. After that Eli let me sit in his tracking session. For non-radio people, tracking means recording in the studio. (I am still getting the hang of flexing this radio lingo and am loving it).
In the recording booths, KALW editor Lisa Morehouse prompted Eli to sound more like himself. I remember her saying something to the likes of “that take was good but do it again for me so I can hear Eli, not the reporters of Planet Money.” Her comment was eye-opening. “Wow, radio is the special world where you can be authentic to your voice,” I thought to myself. Before this, I just assumed that all the people on podcasts I admired were in on this secret formula to speaking, but really it’s just that they know how to write and report as themselves, which in turn is engaging for the rest of us. How cool is that?!
In the weeks that have followed, I continue to be starstruck in the presence of sincere, creative, and fair KALW reporters. I appreciate how much KALW staff believe in our abilities to create, encouraging us to seek out our “dream” interviews, even if we do err along the way. For instance, I did my first tape-sync last week. I was anxious about it, but the fact that my mentor never once doubted my ability assured me that I could do it. And I did! Now that I got over that first hurdle I look forward to the next month getting out in the field and continuing learning on the job. I couldn’t have asked to be placed in a better team than this. Cheers to more Crosscurrents stories with context, culture, and connection. I’m all about it!