"Radio has suffered corporate deadening just like other 'traditional' media, yet it retains an edge thanks to public, community, and college stations and the popularity of radio documentaries. Biewen, audio program director for Duke University's Center for Documentary Studies, offers a lively history of creative documentary radio in his introduction to 19 passionate, instructive, and unexpectedly moving essays by innovative audio journalists and artists who 'use sound to tell true stories artfully.' Such artists include the Kitchen Sisters, who write about their 'deep need to bear witness and try to heal the culture through stories and revelations,' and Ira Glass, who generously reveals just how much patience, effort, and luck are involved in creating This American Life. Jad Abumrad's description of his work with Robert Krulwich on the wacky Radio Lab series is matched by provocative accounts of radio diaries and bold audio performance art and Katie Davis' beautiful essay about her collaborations with Washington, D.C., teens in Neighborhood Stories and the practice of 'deeper listening.' Invaluable and many-faceted coverage of a thriving, populist, and mind-expanding art form."—Donna Seaman, Booklist

“A powerful and illuminating anthology about our most powerful and intimate medium. Reality Radio is a must-read for anyone who feels called to make documentary work or whose imagination and heart are stirred by the sounds of nonfiction storytelling on the radio. A wonderful book!”—Dave Isay, founder of StoryCorps and Sound Portraits Productions

"Reality Radio is a fabulous book I wish I could have read when I started at NPR in 1974. It would have shaved 10–15 years off the learning curve in discovering how to make great radio."—Bob Edwards, host of The Bob Edwards Show on Sirius XM Radio

“The producers who wrote these essays prove that there’s nothing more moving than real, truthful radio. I read a lot of the book in bed and soon heard the voices whispering in my ear: ‘Get up. Go record something. Now.’ You will feel the same.”—Neenah Ellis, independent radio producer and author of If I Live to Be 100: Lessons from the Centenarians

Reality Radio is a collection of masterful essays by radio’s best producers; I feel as though I’ve had a personal, one-on-one conversation with many of the medium’s contemporary heroes. This book will stoke the ‘radio fire’ in the bellies of its readers.”—Rob Rosenthal, independent radio producer and director of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies radio program

“The essays in this book were written by people thinking with their ears.”—Rick Moody, from the foreword

"True or false: the difference between reality television and reality radio is that the latter tells "true stories." The contributors to this book do not claim that specific point, but the title begs the comparison. Biewen and Dilworth (both, Center for Documentary Studies, Duke Univ.) collected essays by journalists, documentarians, and artists who have chosen radio as a primary medium for reporting audio that takes one inside a topic rather than offering 15-second sound bites. The names of the contributors will be most familiar to the public-radio listener, but their work has infiltrated a variety of old and new media, demonstrating its relevance. What is striking about this collection is how clearly the reader can "hear" the diverse voices and stories, despite the print medium. Biewen comments on the difficulty of "coaxing [the contributors] to articulate on the page what they do with sound." But the book succeeds admirably. It is a remarkable collection that reveals the process, creativity, and purpose behind stories designed to help listeners "feel something." It also provides lessons in journalistic decision-making, editing, and attention to detail --- how to keep listeners listening, and affect their understanding of the topics treated. A wonderful and accessible read. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower- and upper-division undergraduates; technical students; general readers.—F. Tavares, Southern Connecticut State University, Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries


Contributor Bios


Jad Abumrad is the host and producer of WNYC’s Radio Lab, an award-winning radio series that explores big ideas through conversation, sound, and storytelling. The son of a scientist and a doctor, he did most of his growing up in Tennessee, before studying creative writing and music composition at Oberlin College in Ohio. Following graduation, Abumrad wrote music for films, and reported and produced documentaries for a variety of local and national public radio programs.

Jay Allison is one of public radio’s most honored producers. He was the host and curator of This I Believe on National Public Radio. Over the last thirty years, he has independently produced hundreds of documentaries and features for radio and television, and has won virtually every major industry award, including five Peabodys. He co-created the acclaimed websites, which helps people tell their own stories, and the Public Radio Exchange (, which helps get those stories on the radio. Allison also founded the public radio stations for Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and Cape Cod, where he lives. With his friends the Kitchen Sisters, Allison co-produced and curated the NPR series Lost & Found Sound, the post-9/11 Sonic Memorial Project, and Hidden Kitchens. His ongoing project Life Stories gives tape recorders to citizens and helps them tell about their lives. Allison is working now on bringing the live storytelling project The Moth to public radio.

damali ayo is an artist, writer, performer, and clothing designer. According to ayo, “art should make you think and feel.” Much of her Now Art is participatory and free; she eschews art that is primarily for decoration or profit. She believes that artists’ true place is at the forefront of social change movements. In 2003 ayo created the internationally acclaimed web-art-performance, which explores the commodification of race and the interactions between blacks and whites in society. Her book, How to Rent a Negro, was lauded as “one of the most trenchant and amusing commentaries on contemporary race relations” and received an honorable mention in the Outstanding Book Awards from the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights in 2005. The radio feature “Living Flag: Panhandling for Reparations,” which ayo co-produced with Dmae Roberts, won a 2005 Silver Reel Award from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. Her book Obamistan! Land without Racism: Your Guide to the *New* America has been described as a “wonderfully subversive little handbook . . . a blueprint for our brave new utopia.” (Patricia Williams)

John Biewen is audio program director at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. His radio reporting and documentary work has taken him to forty American states and to Europe, Japan, and India. Biewen started as a reporter with Minnesota Public Radio. He reported for NPR News from the Midwest and the Rocky Mountains, and then spent eight years as a correspondent/producer with American RadioWorks, the documentary unit of American Public Media. Among other honors, Biewen’s work has received two Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Awards for coverage of the disadvantaged, the Scripps Howard National Journalism Award, and the Third Coast International Audio Festival’s Public Service Award. He teaches undergraduates and continuing studies students in CDS’s Certificate in Documentary Studies program.

Emily Botein, an independent radio producer based in New York, helped launch Public Radio International’s The Next Big Thing in 1999 and served as its senior producer. Since 2005, she has been involved with a range of shows and institutions, including American Routes, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, NPR,, Studio 360, and Weekend America. Before going into radio, Botein worked for seven years on local and national folklore programming initiatives at the Smithsonian Institution, the Brooklyn Arts Council, and the Center for Traditional Music and Dance. Before that, she received a professional pastry certificate from Tante Marie’s Cooking School and made appetizers at a four-star restaurant in New York City.

Chris Brookes was a theater director before he became a radio journalist. During the 1980s he reported out of war zones in Central America, and was a field documentary producer for the Canadian network radio program CBC Sunday Morning. More recently, as an independent radio producer, his documentaries have won international awards including a Peabody and a Prix Italia, and have been broadcast in the United States, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Austria, Finland, Sweden, Canada, and Britain. He has directed and produced documentaries for Canadian network television, and his television writing has been nominated for a Gemini Award. A published author and playwright, Brookes has taught documentary feature-making and storytelling at radio festivals and workshops across North America and Europe. As a sound artist, his audio art has been exhibited at international festivals and released on CD. Brookes currently directs the production company Battery Radio with studios at the bottom of the cliff where Marconi received the first transatlantic wireless message in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

Scott Carrier is an independent radio producer and writer who lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. His radio stories have been broadcast on All Things Considered, Day to Day, This American Life, and Weekend America. His print stories have been published in Harper’s, Esquire, GQ, and Mother Jones. A collection of Carrier’s stories, Running after Antelope, was published in March 2001 by Counterpoint. Some of his radio stories can be heard on

Katie Davis is a writer and broadcaster living in Washington, D.C. She is a regular commentator for NPR’s All Things Considered and a contributor to PRI’s This American Life. She is the founder/director of the Urban Rangers, which mentors teenagers and raises money for their college educations. Davis has released a three-CD set of her work over the past decade called Neighborhood Stories. She is currently at work on a memoir based on these stories.

Sherre DeLys has worked with some of her favorite writers and musicians to create radio art that finds a true meeting between sound and story. Her work has been commissioned by national broadcasters and artist-run Internet stations and presented at major museums and cultural centers in Europe, America, and Australasia. She has enjoyed teamwork as a producer for The Listening Room at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and for The Next Big Thing at WNYC. She has collaborated with visual artists and architects on sound installations for the Sydney Olympics and Biennale of Sydney, and has worked with sculptor Joan Grounds for more than a decade—their sound sculptures enter into a call-and-response with the environments they inhabit. DeLys has also performed with improvising music groups, created sound designs for Sydney Theatre Company, hosted conversations with musicians for ABC TV, and taught and published on sound art and documentary. More recently she founded Pool, ABC’s first participatory media project. As executive producer, DeLys works with researchers, radio producers, and the Pool community of contributors to develop new forms of collaborative creation in public media online.

Lena Eckert-Erdheim helped found the Center for Documentary Studies’ Youth Noise Network in 2003 and worked with YNN throughout high school. She graduated from Durham School of the Arts in 2007 and now attends Smith College.

Ira Glass is the host and creator of the public radio program This American Life. The show had its premiere on Chicago’s public radio station WBEZ in 1995 and is now heard on more than 500 public radio stations each week by over 1.8 million listeners. In March 2007 a television adaptation of This American Life premiered on the Showtime cable network. Glass began his career as an intern at NPR’s network headquarters in Washington, D.C., in 1978, when he was nineteen years old. For the next seventeen years, he worked on the daily NPR network news programs, first as an editor and producer, and later on air, as a reporter and host. Under Glass’s editorial direction, This American Life has won the highest honors for broadcasting and journalistic excellence, including the Peabody and duPont-Columbia awards. In 2007 he edited a collection of narrative journalism, The New Kings of Nonfiction, published by Riverhead Books.

Alan Hall has been producing radio broadcasts since 1990 and has built an international reputation for long-form features, music programming, and what’s been called ‘‘impressionistic radio.’’ Much of his work has been produced for the BBC, but he has also had programs commissioned by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (‘‘Once Around Joby Talbot’’), Danish Radio (‘‘Tin Pan Alley’’), and Chicago’s WBEZ (‘‘Studs Terkel—The Last Touch’’). Hall’s non-broadcast work includes the production of numerous audio tours for art galleries and museums and running the Creative Radio segment of Goldsmiths College’s MA Radio Course (1998 to present). His programs have received many awards, including two coveted Prix Italias, Prix Bohemia and Third Coast International Audio Festival awards, and several Sony Radio Academy Awards.

Natalie Kestecher has been an on-staff feature maker in the Features and Performance Unit of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation for the last nine years. Her first degree was in history and drama, with further studies in communications and scriptwriting. Before finding radio, Kestecher taught English to migrants in Australia and Spaniards in Spain, edited a disability journal, worked in a youth detention center, and sold lots of shoes. She’s recently also fulfilled a lifelong ambition of becoming a marriage celebrant. These skills have proved invaluable in her media career. She blends fixation, fate, fact, and fiction to create unusual stories that demonstrate the fluid form and boundless possibilities of the radio medium.

The Kitchen Sisters (Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva) are producers of the duPont-Columbia Award–winning and James Beard Award–nominated NPR series Hidden Kitchens, and the two Peabody Award–winning NPR series, Lost & Found Sound and The Sonic Memorial Project. Hidden Kitchens, heard on Morning Edition, explores the world of secret, unexpected, below-the-radar cooking across America—how communities come together through food. The series inspired their first book, Hidden Kitchens: Stories, Recipes, and More from NPR’s The Kitchen Sisters, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year for 2005, which was also nominated for a James Beard Award for Best Writing on Food. Their national radio collaborations, in partnership with Jay Allison, have brought together independent producers, artists, writers, archivists, and public radio listeners throughout the country to create richly layered, highly produced, intimate, and provocative radio documentaries that chronicle untold stories of American culture and traditions.

Maria Martin is a pioneering public radio journalist with over two dozen awards for her work covering U.S. Latino issues and Latin America. She began her radio career as a volunteer at the first Latino-owned and -operated public radio station in the country—KBBF in Santa Rosa, California. She’s gone on to develop groundbreaking programs and series for public radio, including NPR’S Latino USA, and Después de las Guerras: Central America after the Wars. A recipient of a Fulbright and three Knight fellowships, she has extensive experience in journalism and radio training in Latin America, especially in Guatemala and Bolivia. Martin holds a master’s degree in journalism from the Ohio State University, and currently heads the GraciasVida Center for Media and GraciasVida Productions based in Austin, Texas, and Antigua, Guatemala.

Karen Michel is an independent radio producer who got her start in media as a guest on Art Linkletter’s Kids Say the Darndest Things. Based in upstate New York, she has lived and worked in Alaska, Mexico, Japan, Greenland, India, Canada, Kenya, Nepal, Madagascar, and other geographies real and imagined. Michel works regularly with teen radio groups (notably WNYC’s multi-award-winning Radio Rookies), teaches workshops around the country, and continues to produce work for national radio programs. She is also a photographer, and is interested in developing ‘‘performance documentary,’’ combining visuals, text, and sound. She has numerous awards (including a Peabody) and fellowships from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Federation of Community Broadcasters, the Japan Foundation, and the Fulbright/Indo-U.S. Subcommission.

Rick Moody’s first novel, Garden State (1992), was the winner of the Editor’s Choice Award from the Pushcart Press. His novel The Ice Storm (1994) was made into a film directed by Ang Lee in 1997. His other books include two collections of short fiction, The Ring of Brightest Angels around Heaven and Demonology; the novels Purple America and The Diviners; a book of novellas, Right Livelihoods; and The Black Veil: A Memoir with Digressions, which won the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for the Art of the Memoir. He is a past recipient of the Addison Metcalf Award, the Paris Review Aga Khan Prize, and a Guggenheim fellowship. His radio pieces have appeared on The Next Big Thing and at the Third Coast International Audio Festival.

Joe Richman is an award-winning independent producer and reporter for NPR’s All Things Considered and the founder of the production company Radio Diaries. Since the 1990s Radio Diaries has helped pioneer a model for working with people to document their own lives. Past series and programs include Teenage Diaries, Prison Diaries, New York Works, ‘‘My So-Called Lungs,’’ ‘‘Mandela: An Audio History,’’ and ‘‘Thembi’s AIDS Diary.’’ Richman is also an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

Dmae Roberts is a two-time Peabody Award–winning independent radio artist and writer, who has written and produced more than four hundred audio art pieces and documentaries for NPR and PRI programs. Her work is often autobiographical or about cross-cultural peoples and is informed by her biracial identity. Her documentary ‘‘Mei Mei, a Daughter’s Song’’ is a harrowing account of her mother’s childhood in Taiwan during World War II. She led the production of Crossing East, the first Asian American history series on public radio. Roberts received the 2007 Dr. Suzanne Ahn Award for Civil Rights and Social Justice from the Asian American Journalists Association and was one of fifty artists selected for the 2007 United States Artist Rockefeller Fellowship. Her other awards include the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, the Casey Medal, the United Nations Silver Award, two Clarion Awards, two Heart of America Awards, and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Award. Roberts is the executive producer of MediaRites, a nonprofit organization dedicated to multicultural arts production in radio and educational outreach.

Stephen Smith is executive editor of American RadioWorks, the documentary unit of American Public Media. Smith reports on a wide range of international and domestic issues, including human rights, science and health, race relations, and American history. Smith is the coeditor of Say It Plain: A Century of Great African American Speeches (New Press, 2007). Smith has won the duPont–Columbia University Gold Baton, for investigative reporting in the Balkans, as well as many other national journalism awards. Smith graduated from Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and was a William Benton Fellow at the University of Chicago, where he earned a master’s degree in the humanities.

Sandy Tolan has reported on land, water, identity, and conflict from more than thirty-five countries. He is the author of two books, including The Lemon Tree, a finalist for a 2006 National Book Critics Circle award. Tolan has written for dozens of newspapers and magazines, and produced hundreds of reports and documentaries for NPR and other public radio networks. His work has been recognized with more than two dozen national and international awards. He is co-founder of Homelands Productions, for twenty years the producer of international documentary programming for public radio. Most recently Tolan has been senior producer for working, an international series of worker profiles aired on Marketplace, and for The Hunger Chronicles, a series for public radio and the web. Tolan is associate professor of journalism at the Annenberg School at the University of Southern California, where he teaches radio documentary, magazine writing, and multimedia reporting classes.