This summer, Film and Media Studies Major Christina Stella '17 traveled to Cape Cod, Mass., to intern at Atlantic Public Media. We reached out to Christina at the end of her summer to ask her some questions about what it's like to make radio stories, her favorite interviews, and advice for others searching for an internship.
What is Atlantic Public Media?
Atlantic Public Media's work is, in concept, a galaxy of different projects in public media, all geared toward expanding the power of storytelling. I'll give some examples.
They co-founded Public Radio Exchange (PRX), which is the world's biggest and first internet-based public media distribution system. So, because PRX exists, we can listen to podcasts like This American Life, The Moth Radio Hour, or anything made by the Radiotopia network for free. APM manages Transom, too, and partners with WCAI, the NPR station for the Cape, Coast, and Islands. See? Many planets. Lots of radio revolution.
And how does your internship fit in to this?
As for my internship, it’s my job to travel around the Cape, stick a microphone in strangers’ faces, and make radio stories out of what I find. Those stories come in two forms: Sonic IDs and Creative Life pieces.
Sonic IDs are 30-second to one-minute-long aural snapshots of life on the Cape. Content wise, they run the gamut. Some favorites include: a guy complaining about how terrible his day is going, a woman musing on using Tinder at 62, a woman reciting Edward Gorey’s “The Gashlycrumb Tinies” for me. The other pieces I make are for WCAI’s Creative Life Series. Right now, I’m finishing up a piece about a local dude who makes inventions out of old broken bicycles he steals from the dump.
Who was your most interesting interview?
You know, I don't think I have one. Two pieces of tape are rarely interesting for the same reasons (or boring, that happens too). What I will say is that I love approaching people for one reason and walking away with something I never could have anticipated.
One day, I was in Provincetown with my mom. I'd left my gear at home and promised myself I was going to be a person and just enjoy the day. We get coffee and end up sitting next to this old man wearing a U.S. Navy cap—a fairly common demographic to encounter on Cape Cod. We made small talk, sure, that was nice. The next thing I knew, my iPhone was out with the Voice Memos app open, 40 minutes had passed, and this total stranger was telling me about what it was like to watch Hiroshima get bombed from above. Then he whips out a photo of himself with General MacArthur. So, that escalated quickly.
On a totally different note, I also have precious, precious tape of some poor soul at the Farmers' Market trying to rap all the kinds of organic mushrooms he sells. It's hysterical. Sometimes people get really, uh, brave when you stick a mic in their face.
Cape Cod seems like an interesting, and yet odd, place. Can you talk about what it was like to talk to people there?
I say this with a lot of love in my heart; hear me out, OK? The "Cape Cod" we know from a distance is a sham. I thought I was going to show up to lawns landscaped solely with Vineyard Vines patterned grass, lobsters washing up on the shoreline, spare Kennedys roaming the streets. Thankfully, I was very wrong.
Like anywhere, Cape Cod is made of its people, and its people are, well, individuals. There is the Cape Codder who works as a seasonal drag queen out in Provincetown but drives a truck in the off-season. What about the woman from West Dennis who, every Sunday, visits her ship captain ancestors' graves and sings to them? There are scientists at MBL who helped find the Titanic, kids who are bored out of their minds growing up on Nantucket, fishmongers who grimace when you ask for "skah-llops" because they only sell "scoll-ops." It was easy to find stories because it was easy to find people who had them. This place survives on history and stories and you can tell. People are totally happy to live their weird little lives and generally want to tell you about it.
Is creating radio interviews and interviewing people something you have experience doing?
Before I showed up, I had zero experience making radio of any kind. So when my boss handed me my shotgun mic on the first day, I was sweating it pretty hard. Random conversation is not something we're socialized to expect from strangers. We can all be really scared of each other. Add a microphone to that dynamic and things can quickly get awkward. After a moment of staring at it, I mustered up the gut to ask for advice. Viki told me, "Now, you have a passport to talk to anybody you want to. Your curiosity is now official. Few people have that." Now, I try to remember that whenever I go out to get tape.
It’d be weird to say "This internship forced me to teach myself, all by myself, for my spunky little self!" because that would be a lie. I've had great support from my mentors at APM and am unbelievably lucky to share a space with such creative, smart, powerful individuals.
How did you prepare to conduct your first couple of interviews?
So, to begin conducting interviews, I had to think long and hard about how and why I talk to others. I had to think about what I'm looking for out of my interactions with others and why I'm looking for it. At first, I was totally fixated on seeming legit and in control of the situation. Turns out, the faster you forget the microphone is there, the faster they forget, and the sooner you start having a genuine, interesting conversation.
As a fan of documentary radio, was working in the industry all you hoped it would be?
Yes, and less, and more. Rob Rosenthal is a teacher at the Transom Story Workshop, and he's got a pretty good saying about what its like to do this work: "Life is hard. Radio is harder." It takes an insane amount of effort for a very small amount of output. That means the satisfaction is one's own to create, largely alone. That's not always easy. But there's nothing like hearing something in the tape and thinking, "Jeez Louise, why does life sound even better the second time around?" On the other hand, sometimes I want to rip my hair out and feed it to a bunch of shock jockeys because it can be so tedious.
Advice for others looking for internships?
The best way to find an internship is by being a present, curious person. That might SOUND like it means absolutely nothing, but it’s actually our greatest asset as young people looking for experience. Scratch that, it's our greatest asset as people, full stop. It's fun to be shameless:
- Ask yourself, what do you find interesting about this world? Is there anything you want to learn more about? Be honest and specific. Give yourself permission to dream. If the feeling is lukewarm, move on to the next idea.
- Read up on The Thing. Google is your best friend.
- Find people who are Doing That Thing (or know somebody!) and talk to them. You have nothing to lose. An email or phone call has yet to kill anybody, but don’t reach out until you already have basic information on the work/position.
I think we sometimes kid ourselves into believing that one opportunity, one summer, one position will make or break us as young professionals. Wrong. Last year, I was rejected from every internship I applied to. This year, APM’s website didn’t even say anything about internships being offered. I’m here because of one timid email—a whim. And the fields? Completely different.