KALW Audio Academy is “Nothing Short of Jedi Training,” Says One Fellow
By Bo Walsh, KALW Audio Academy Fellow, and Ben Trefny, News Director, KALW Public Radio
This week, it’s my pleasure to share with you the perspectives of Bo Walsh. He grew up on the southeast side of San Francisco, where he still lives, very close to the KALW studios. A lifelong educator, and learner, he’s got a deep curiosity and significant interest in every aspect of radio production. Here are some of his thoughts, now that he’s part of our team:
It’s been almost three months since the Audio Academy began in late August, and thus far the experience has been way more than I could have ever imagined. I say that because from the point of applying for the Academy in March up until the first day of orientation this fall, it was hard not to imagine and dream about what it would be like or what to expect. I pictured that final scene from “E.T.” where he finally boards the spaceship as I licked my chops for the chance to learn from and just be around other audio extraterrestrials who shared the same desire for local storytelling that was increasingly burning inside of me. The first few days I was downright star-struck as I was seeing all these journalists and creatives up-close and in person whose work I had listened to and admired. I felt like an autograph seeking little kid at a Giants game, or a fanboy who wanted to shower these idol-turned colleagues with praise and admiration, but I had to play it cool.
The whole experience has been nothing short of Jedi training. I had a little audio experience coming in, but this Padawan quickly realized that he knew absolutely nothing, and I’ve learned that’s ok—I’m not supposed to. All those months of breaking down “Snap Judgment” episodes in my ears and mind couldn’t prepare me for words like evergreen, peg, and lede. I sat one day in the “Whisper Room” and watched James Rowlands slice through sound waves on Pro Tools like a master swordsman and felt the foundation of my perceived audio knowledge crumble beneath me. Potential stories and ideas that I previously thought were genius now began to be dissected and eventually tossed in the trash. My newly trained way of thinking was leading me to search for potential scenes and ambience that would make for more than just a conversation with an interesting subject.
My mentor Ninna Gaensler-Debs has been a great teacher. She’s a straight-shooter and when I thought my neighborhood vox montage was ready to be nominated for a Third Coast International Audio Award, she politely explained where the minutiae time gaps between the voices threw it all off. She does a good job of not letting me get too excited when I think I’ve struck gold, but she’s also equally encouraging like when I questioned if I even belonged in the newsroom. Watching her cover the North Bay Fires was a front row demonstration in journalism for me, and I was very proud to call her my mentor.
The highlight so far for me was getting to interview longtime KGO Sports broadcaster Joe Starkey. He used to call games for the 49ers and has been the voice of Cal Football since 1975. I wanted to reach out to him for an Audiograph, but couldn’t find his contact information anywhere. I creepily found a 2006 PDF file on page 7 of a Google search which had his personal e-mail address in a real tiny manuscript. I reached out and within hours he told me to message him again in a few weeks and said he would help me out. We ended up meeting on the Berkeley campus and he couldn’t have been nicer. When I turned my recorder off, I felt the need to ask him about how he got into radio. For 20 minutes, he told the story of how it was a “last shot” career change for him, and he explained the path radio has taken him on. Everything he said was exactly what I needed to hear and I walked away that day encouraged. Sheila E calling me on my phone from a blocked number to ask for directions to the station was pretty neat too.
This program has really given me a newfound sense of purpose, which I really needed. It’s early, and I haven’t even put out a story yet, but nothing has made me feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to in life like that feeling of connecting with an interviewee or walking around with my headphones on with recorder and mic in hand. Just being in the creative hub that is the newsroom for one day is a shot in the arm that carries over from week to week. Maybe I’m playing pretend for a year. Maybe this is actually for me. Only time will really tell. I’m still not quite sure how I snuck on this spaceship, but I’m enjoying every second of the ride.