Producing a short, non-fiction radio story (a good one) takes a lot of time. First you actually have to find the story. Sometimes you just stumble upon it, sometimes it takes a little more time to evolve. The story you think you want to tell often times leads you to the story you absolutely have to tell.
Once you find your story, you have to immerse yourself in it. Sit with the characters. Get them to trust you. Eventually you’ve spent enough time together that they’ve forgotten about the microphone that’s shoved three inches from their face. They can tell you their story as if you were relatives or old friends. You have to simultaneously be in the moment, fully connected with your subject, and in the editing room, making choices that will help you later on.
The hunting and gathering is over (for now). It’s time to sit down with the loads of tape you’ve collected: interviews that can go on for hours, perhaps a whole days worth of tape of your characters out living their lives, and monotonous, ambient tracks that go on forever but that you have to sort through and mark from beginning to end.
I know I’m romanticizing it, just a tad, but it is an all-consuming, intense, sometimes maddening process. Culminating with this beautiful moment when, even though it doesn’t feel finished, even though it will never feel “finished,” you have to just let it go. The story never ends, but your role in it does.
KCRW’s 24-Hour Radio Race is a celebration of this process, but also an experiment. We want to see what happens to a radio producer’s creativity when given nothing but a kind of abstract theme and a ridiculously short timeframe.
And more broadly, what happens when we drastically limit the time we have to make something? Do we feel more freedom to experiment with a crazy idea? Do we become more honest with each other and ourselves? Do we feel stifled and shut down? Are we energized by the idea that there are fellow radio producers all over the world, going through the same thing at exactly the same time?
So yeah, 24 hours isn’t a lot of time to make a really good, non-fiction radio piece… in the traditional sense. Our hope is that the Radio Race will encourage radio producers of all levels of experience, who love what they do, to think about what they do in a totally different way. We’re really excited to hear the results.