On Air! KALW Audio Academy Student’s Features Find Airtime Covering Local Stories
By Guest Columnist Ben Trefny, News Director, KALW Public Radio
After many months of training, the Academy fellows have reached the point of regularly getting their stories on the air.
We asked every member of the class to make a feature about the neighborhood just down the hill from KALW, and they’ve been spending many weeks crafting them with their mentors. The first set of those features on the Portola District aired Tuesday, and they were a joy to hear. Cari Spivack‘s story took on one of my favorite topics: how do you actually pronounce Portola? Jeremy Jue brought us into a multigenerational gaming hub. And Boawen Wang showed us there’s a book club in the district for people with developmental disabilities. It was a lovely Valentine’s Day show!
This was also an extraordinary week of content on KALW’s Crosscurrents in which the work of our Audio Academy alums — and some current fellows — were really showcased.
On Monday, four stories by Angela Johnston (’14) and Eli Wirtschafter (’16) about California’s high-speed rail came together in a scene-rich documentary. The two reporters traveled up and down the rail line, bringing a range of stories and voices from the Central Valley up through San Jose and to San Francisco to give substance to the infrastructure debate. The stories were organized in a beautiful online package, and the doc was featured in The New York Times’ “California Today” section.
On Thursday, current Academy fellow Josiah Luis Alderete went to San Francisco’s Civic Center to record the “Day Without Immigrants” demonstration, which we paired with information from Cari Spivack about how quiet the Mission District’s cultural center was with store closings. Their work, contextualized with President Trump’s press conference that morning and information about his policies and rhetoric, set up a cohesive picture that led into a package of sound-rich stories about Japanese-American incarceration during World War II, including Academy alum Hannah Kingsley Ma‘s (’15) lovely profile of a Kindergarten teacher who was incarcerated as a five year old
As we approach spring, the foundational education we’ve developed with Audio Academy fellows starts to manifest in their storytelling. It’s an exciting time for them, and for me, and we’ll be sharing many more stories in the coming weeks and months!
Audio Academy graduate Geraldine Ah-Sue (’16) dropped by KALW last week to record a piece that will be air soon on Crosscurrents. She just landed an audio production job with one of San Francisco’s most popular museums. I asked her to share some thoughts about how the Audio Academy affected her life, and here’s what she had to say:
When I was a child, much to my dismay, I wasn’t allowed to watch television. Well, I was on a very restricted diet: approximately 2 hours of TV a week. But two hours wasn’t enough. I craved to know what was happening on the tube. So, not being able to sit directly in front of it, I’d instead sit just outside of the TV room, where I could still hear everything. I’d hear scenes from shows like I Love Lucy and Bewitched, a network crime drama or a sitcom, and that’s how I’d watch television. By listening.
“Think with your ear.”
I’ve been thinking about these words a lot lately. This was one of the first pieces of advice I took home from Audio Academy, and it’s still with me. I realize that since childhood, I’ve actually been consuming stories with my ear, passively constructing them in my imagination. Audio Academy is where I got to turn that script upside down, where I got to come out of hiding from the room next to the television and actively make a story specifically intended for the ear.
With Audio Academy, I learned the language and tools needed to consciously be my own audio storyteller. I learned about sound-gathering, scene-setting and script-writing; finding characters and talking to them; tracking, mixing and sound design; and, perhaps most importantly, how empowering it is to make a world of audio! I spent so much of my childhood thinking that accessing stories through the ear was a kind of deprivation. Audio Academy showed me how to take that experience and turn it into a super power of creation. I recently got hired to produce SFMOMA’s second season of their podcast, Raw Material. This season we’re focusing on art and social justice, and I’m taking everything I’ve learned from the Academy — skills and heart — with me.