Katharine's Pre-Chemo Haircut  (Photo by Peter Konerko)

Katharine’s Pre-Chemo Haircut (Photo by Peter Konerko)

Ask any storyteller — journalist, novelist, podcast-maker, or bombastic grandma — and they’ll confirm that sometimes finding a story worth telling can be just as hard, or even harder, than telling it. And if you’ve signed up for the 24-Hour Radio Race — or are debating whether to sign up at all — you may have started biting your nails over that daunting question: do I really know anything worth talking about?

The short answer is yes. You do. In fact, an amazing story may be sitting right next to you, just waiting for the moment you start thinking like a radio maker. That was the case for Eric Drachman and Albert Dayan. They entered the Radio Race last year as Team Mic and Ike, and eventually took second place with their piece, “State of Overwhelm” — a feature about Albert’s wife, Katharine, and her experiences with breast cancer.

Eric had already produced a number of radio pieces before signing up for the Race, and in preparing to face the challenges that lay ahead, he showed all the gritty determination of a true radio pro. “In the days leading up to the race, I wanted to plan,” he wrote in an email. “I wanted to scour the newspaper and Internet to see what was happening nearby, so we’d have a list of local events ready to try to twist into whatever theme we got.”

Albert, though, was an artist with no radio background — and his more lighthearted approach eventually won the day. A “purist” committed to making the entire piece in the given 24 hours, he convinced Eric to wait until Race Day to begin drafting ideas for a subject. It wasn’t until the email announcing the theme — “The Last Thing You’d Expect” — finally arrived on a Saturday morning that the duo sat down for a “free write” to begin exploring possibilities. Draft, discuss, discard, repeat.

“Our story ideas were all over the map,” Eric wrote, “ We thought about a twist on ‘the last thing’ — doing a story about a funeral home — and maybe trying to find out about things that you wouldn’t expect to find there. We thought about doing a VOX POP where we ask some normal questions and then slip in one that’s really unexpected.” The story about Katharine’s cancer, though, just kept coming up.

Eric admitted that he was “wary” about the idea of tackling such a heavy subject. And, on a completely different level, it was hard to abandon the glamorous notion of “being out in the world and finding a story” in favor of a calmer model: interviewing Katharine and Albert in his closet while their son Henry watched Loony Toons in the living room. Ultimately, though, those choices steered their project in an unexpectedly rewarding direction.

“In retrospect, the fact that we didn’t have to leave the house was a huge benefit,” he wrote. Cutting down on travel time and scheduling complexities allowed Eric and Albert time to read through Katharine’s diaries from her radiation treatment, and to put together a story that explored “the humor and humanity” in her family’s experience.  Their piece is littered with jokes: Albert and Katharine laugh out loud remembering Henry’s attempts to process the information (“I was playing tag … and I tagged somebody and gave them breast cancer?”) and make fun of an encouraging photograph sent by Katharine’s coworkers. Once they’d committed to capturing the idiosyncrasies of their dynamic, the “serious and weighty and touching moments” that came with them “didn’t have to be pushed,” Eric said.

According to the National Cancer Institute, about 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime. Katharine’s situation isn’t unusual, but her story wasn’t about a diagnosis — it was about her. Team Mic and Ike stayed calm and let the story come to them, and as it turned out, they didn’t have to look far.