Category Archives: Articles & Musings

Creating programs is mostly “alchemy”

Master_alchemist“Making a successful radio program is neither an art nor a science. It’s most alchemy, in my experience. You need a host with potential, some terrific ideas, a few great producers and a willingness to tell management to bugger off. Mix well and assess in six months.”

_dvorkinJeffrey Dvorkin, former News Director and Ombudsman, NPR and former Managing Editor and Chief Journalist for CBC Radio

See the full article.

Signature Segment plays with words and pronunciation

A “Signature Segment” is something you produce to brand your program.

These are recurring regular segments – segments that become part of the “signature” of the program.  Signature segments have two purposes:

  1. To brand the program, so that audiences will recognize it and promote it by talking about it (as in, “You know – it’s the program that does x, y, and z.”
  2. To make the program more produce-able and efficient by introducing recurring elements that can be replicated week to week or month to month without starting from scratch each time.

Here’s a great example of a Signature Segment from KUT’s new statewide program, Texas Standard.


Don’t go to journalism school?

JschoolDon’t know if you saw his column Advice to Young Journalists, but Ezra Klein of Vox had some controversial advice about J-school: don’t do it. He wrote,

Don’t go to journalism school. You’re better off just interning, or writing a blog, or reading think-tank papers. When I hire, I see j-school experience as neutral — it doesn’t separate one resume from another in the least. And a lot of journalism schools teach bad habits, and make you pay for the privilege of learning them. Michael Lewis’s takedown of journalism schools, which was published in the New Republic, is worth reading. Letting someone pay you a bit of money to become a journalist, or even pay you nothing at all, is better than paying a j-school a lot of money to become a journalist.”

Personally, I did go to J-school at American University in Washington, but my motives were … perverse.

  • As a Junior, my advisor said, “Jim you need to get off the fence and make a decision about your major.”
  • “What are my options?” I asked.
  • “Well, you have enough history that if you take your Senior year of almost all history courses, you can get a degree in history,” she replied.
  • “What are my other choices?”
  • “Well, you can take all electives in your Senior year and graduate with a journalism degree.”

Now, to be fair to myself, I was working 40 hours a week AND going to school fulltime. What did I do? Well, I didn’t get that history degree. I am the proud bearer of a B.A. in Journalism!

Of course, I also enjoy Ezra Klein’s comment in the same article, about law school. With a nod to my lawyer-son who escaped the law for business:

Whatever you do, just don’t go to law school. At least not unless you’re really sure you want to be a lawyer. And maybe not even then.”

Mohn on Radio and Cockroaches!

2aMohn1503-522x400It probably wasn’t the most important thing he said, but it sure was the most quotable! In an interview with Current Newspaper, NPR CEO Jarl Mohn was asked about radio’s future, especially about a quote from his predecessor that radio would be dead in another five years. Here’s what Mohn said:

Broadcast radio is the cockroach of media. You can’t kill it. You can’t make it go away, it just gets stronger and more resilient.

That doesn’t mean that I see digital radio as a passing fad. It’s for real. I’m a huge Spotify user. I think it’s a great service, but I use broadcast too.

Two things are happening. One is the great technological innovations that give people more ways to expose themselves to media — on-demand television, on-demand radio, streamed radio. This convenience brings increased usage; podcasts are certainly a great example of that.

Another is the decline of commercial radio. It’s suffering right now, in part because of the incredible consolidation and cost-cutting that has occurred in the business. There’s less room for creativity, innovation and local relevance. Most often, it’s not live. People have become less interested in it.

Over-the-air commercial radio is not as good as it can be. That’s one of the reasons why I’m wildly optimistic about public radio — because public radio is committing money to being local and live. And many stations are investing in journalism.

Check out this link to see the full edited interview with Mohn.

Storytelling brings enlightenment

brainpickingsI want to point you to a great article that contains many important observations about how storytelling brings true wisdom and understanding (what I often refer to as “enlightenment”) to information.

“A great story, then, is not about providing information, though it can certainly inform — a great story invites an expansion of understanding, a self-transcendence. More than that, it plants the seed for it and makes it impossible to do anything but grow a new understanding — of the world, of our place in it, of ourselves, of some subtle or monumental aspect of existence.”

Hope you enjoy.

Best Podcasts Ever

Slate has published an excellent list of what it calls “The Best Podcasts Ever.” It is a really excellent listing of excellent podcasts, along with links to each so you can try them out and see what all the excitement is about. Check it out at Best Podcasts Ever.

andy_bowers-authorbioIn addition, Slate’s Executive Producer for Podcasts, Andy Bowers, has written an accompanying article about the first 10 years of Podcast history. Bowers wryly describes Podcasting as “an overnight success after years of work.”

Enjoy this introduction to Podcasting!

“Sins” to avoid when applying for media jobs

sinsI’ve hired a lot of folks over the past 35 years in broadcasting, and thankfully most have been good hires, some excellent, and some even extraordinary. I count in that latter group Robert Krulwich, Robert Siegel, Noah Adams, Scott Simon, David Brancaccio, David Brown, and many others.

But I have also encountered job applicants who left me with a bad taste in my mouth—not because of who they were, but rather because of what they did during the application process. For the benefit of future applicants, I thought I’d detail some of what I consider the “cardinal sins” of applying for a job.

Read the rest of the article … “Avoid these cardinal sins in applying for public media jobs”


A “radio” in every pocket

Alex Blumberg, the former This American Life producer-now-new-company entrepreneur, gets it.blumberg

He understands that the definition of “radio” has changed, to encompass all audio that is delivered to a listener. not just that beamed from an antenna to an FM receiver. In a recent article, Blumberg said: “Radio has been saved the disruption that has happened to other media. It’s been frozen in time for 50 years … Now that everyone is walking around with a radio in their pocket at all times, and now that all cars are going to be connected, the form can flourish again.”

Check out the latest review of podcasting as the new way “radio” on demand reaches its listeners. New York Magazine calls it a “renaissance” of the podcast.



What John Oliver can teach us

JohnOliver3John Oliver is a terrific and super-talented comedian, but he is a lot more than that. In the Lefsetz Newsletter, Jack Bruce sets out to analyze what makes Oliver so extraordinary. Among Bruce’s reasons are: “his passion. We’re drawn to it. We know Oliver cares. About both his subject matter and his delivery. We want to watch people go for the brass ring. That’s part of the appeal of professional sports, watching others do better at what we can only play at.”

Here’s Jack Bruce’s full list of what makes Oliver extraordinary:

1. He tells a story.

2. He’s not afraid to go long.

3. He’s not worried about looks.

4. He has an edge

5. He’s not afraid to be outraged.

6. He’s paid his dues.JohnOliver

7. Sacred cows.

8. Passion.

9. Willing to tackle non-sexy subjects.

10. Not afraid to have guests on who aren’t selling something.

Bruce concludes by saying “What we’re searching for in today’s society is excellence and honesty and John Oliver delivers this. … John Oliver has figured it out, you need to too.”

Check out the full article here.








Jim featured in Carl Kassel’s new book

Kassel bookJim is prominently featured in Carl Kassel’s new book, Wait Wait … I’m Not Done Yet!. Carl is former NPR Newscaster Extraordinaire and the Scorekeeper Emeritus of the NPR program Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me!

Jim is the person responsible for bringing Carl to NPR in the first place. Jim had worked with Carl at Washington, DC commercial radio stations WPIK and WAVA. In 1975, Jim “recruited” Carl to join him at National Public Radio. As Jim recalls in Carl’s book,

“Carl was not initially embraced by all of the mostly young staff at NPR. Many of them, in their mid-twenties, thought Carl, in his thirties, was too old and too ingrained in the old ways of broadcasting … I remember telling the twentysomethings that Carl would become the Rock of Gibraltar of NPR News, that others would come and go, but Carl would stay and become THE signature sound and style.”

Carl pays me a nice compliment, saying, “Jim Russell knew good radio. Brilliant fellow. I have a lot of regard and respect for Jim.”Jim and C. Kassel

Among those who praise Carl in his book are Bob Edwards, Cokie Roberts, Nina Totenberg, Paula Poundstone, Adam Felber, Susan Stamberg and many others.

You can buy Carl’s book on Amazon! Happy reading.