Douglas Bell

Audio engineer, radio producer, video editor, musician

Meet My Job, Part 4: Make a Pledge, Create a Shift

As I have discussed throughout this week, my role as the Morning Engineer at WAMU is to work closely with our morning host, Matt McCleskey, to plan and put together the best combination of national content fed to us by NPR, local content provided by our newsroom, and local promos and underwriting to inform our listeners and pay our bills.

But in public radio, there is one particular event that occurs two or three times per year that listeners may not be wild about hearing, but is nevertheless necessary to keep WAMU afloat. I speak, of course, of the pledge drive — or as we call it, the membership campaign.

During membership campaigns, we dedicate time during our shows to ask our listeners to donate to the station in order to support our programming costs. Some listeners may not be wild about it, but the fact remains that pledge drives are an effective fundraising tool. After all, if listeners are going to pay to support public radio, you have to ask them for their support, and remind them of why they should invest in the station they listen to.

The membership campaign is an all-hands-on-deck kind of week at WAMU. But while many — if not most — of the staff are focused on encouraging listeners to donate, my job as an engineer is to carve out airtime to allow our hosts and staff to pitch to the listeners.

Meet My Job, Part 3: A Morning Show Made-to-Order

Morning Edition is a nationally-distributed NPR newsmagazine, that is in fact among the most listened-to radio programs in the country. Yet, it is said within the public radio system that Morning Edition is going to have a unique sound from station-to-station. And that’s because Morning Edition is designed for stations to customize it slightly, or even substantially.

In this series of posts about what I do as the morning engineer at WAMU, I’ve discussed how we obtain the live Morning Edition feed from NPR, and I’ve explained how NPR’s program clocks provide several opportunities for us to customize the show.

So on my shift, we combine local content and a little bit of national content from other sources with Morning Edition to deliver a blended, tailored product for the Washington audience.

Meet My Job, Part 2: It’s All About The Clocks

At 5 a.m. each weekday, I show up at work with five hours of live radio ahead of me — four hours of NPR’s Morning Edition and one hour of the BBC World Service’s Newshour.

In my last post, I described how live feeds of these programs are made available to WAMU. But our goal is not just to rebroadcast these programs out to our audience; we want to insert local content like newscasts, feature stories, weather, promos, and underwriting.

So how do we seamlessly and cohesively insert all this local content within these national programs? This is where program clocks come in.

Meet My Job, Part 1: Getting a Morning Show to Air

Earlier this year, one of the news reporters at WAMU sought to find out why, in the Washington area, one of the most common questions that come up in our social interactions is, “What do you do for a living?”

Well, it’s certainly a question that I get asked a lot. And when I respond that I’m the morning broadcast engineer at WAMU (or, as my official title says, a “Broadcast Technician”), there are often several follow-up questions regarding what exactly that means. So, I thought I’d take an opportunity to share a little bit about what it is that I do in my job.

The Future of Journalism is Multiplatform, But Its Future Business Model is Unclear

Journalism as an institution has been a fixture of our society for hundreds of years. But as the evolution of technology has accelerated since the turn of the century, changing both the prevalence of news distribution and the public’s news consumption habits, the journalism industry has undergone rapid change in a short period of time. With so much change, it is difficult to foresee what the future of journalism holds for an industry that is already struggling to adapt.

Ron Elving - NPR

Ron Elving, NPR
Photo: Doby Photography/NPR

I recently spoke with Ron Elving, a senior editor and correspondent for NPR News, on how he has seen journalism evolve during his tenure in the industry. Starting in the late-1970s, Elving was the state capital bureau chief for The Milwaukee Journal, and later became the political editor for Congressional Quarterly and then for USA Today.

From Elving’s perspective, most of the change that he has seen develop in the industry has come about in the last 10 to 15 years.

“It’s really very difficult to overstate the degree to which the world that I first encountered in journalism 40 years ago was a lot like the world of the fifties and sixties,” Elving said. In recent years, “it’s just been this accelerating blur of technology change that drives so much audience reaction and so much economic change that business models have been superannuated.”