Tuesday, March 31, 2009

April Fool's Day, Public Radio-Style

If you think public radio takes itself waaaaaay too seriously to pull off a great April Fool's prank, think again. Over the years, NPR and other public radio outfits have had some great fun on April Fool's Day:

Our favorite, of course, was the 2005 story about a downturn in the maple syrup market causing Vermont's maple trees to explode as a result of sap build-up. Other gems include a story about steroid use in orchestras, portable "vanity" zip codes, and advertisements that could be projected onto the moon. Here's a list of and links to these and more April Fool's Day stories broadcast by NPR.

Even Performance Today has gotten in on the act. Last year, Fred Child and company aired a piece about a new concert hall in Copenhagen built entirely out of Legos.

Be careful out there today!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Blind Boys of Alabama

Well-known gospel group the Blind Boys of Alabama were the guests on On Point on Friday, and they joined the conversation from VPR's Norwich studio!

Here's a photo taken by Betty Smith, who staffs our Norwich studio. You can listen to the program here.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Mark Vogelzang Receives Vermont Arts Council Award

Yesterday was Arts Achievement Day at the Vermont State House, sponsored by the Vermont Arts Council. They put together the day-long event for arts organizations and artists to celebrate the arts in Vermont and to talk with legislators about continued state funding for the arts. It was fascinating to see the many talented UVM students who were performing and presenting pieces that address current events in Vermont. Vermont Poetry Out Loud Champion Audrey Kiely gave a riveting performance, and John Gailmor led the crowd in singing a new song “The Arts Deserve a Place Right at the Table.”

I was there to congratulate former VPR President Mark Vogelzang on his Citation Award from the Vermont Arts Council. This award is presented annually to artists, organizations, educators and others in recognition of distinguished service to the arts in Vermont. Below is a video of Mark's acceptance speech. VPR Classical host Walter Parker received the award in 2004.

Congratulations, Mark, on this special recognition!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Women of the Lake

Betty Smith is VPR's Commentary Series Producer. She offers this reflection of this week's Vermont Women series:

Although we've always made a conscious effort to offer individual commentaries on women's issues during the month of March and year-round, our annual, week-long focus on Vermont Women as a Women's History Month feature grew out of our work with regular commentator, Cyndy Bittinger.

In 2005, Cyndy offered to help identify five contemporary Vermont women to tell the stories of five historic Vermont women, and we haven't missed a year since. Along the way, Cyndy enlisted the help of the Vermont Women's Commission and the Vermont Women's History Project. VPR edits and produces the series, based on suggestions from Cyndy and the VWHP.

We've heard from Cyndy, Liz Jeffords, Deborah Clifford, Cathi Wendling, Marcelle Leahy, Ann Lawless, Edith Hunter, Deb Markowitz, Amy Cunningham, Barbara Snelling, Deborah Luskin, Diana Wright, Christine Smith and Galen Beale.

We've heard about Consuelo Baily, Esther Sorrell, Sally Experience Brown, Annette Parmalee, Lenore McNeer, the sisters of the Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph, Caroline Ardelia Yale, the women of Springfield's Machine Tool Industry, Ann Story, Winnie Perkins, Aschsa Sprague, Edna Beard, Sylvia Bliss, Hazel M. Weil, Clarina Howard Nichols, Grace Coolidge, Dorothy Thompson, Donella Meadows, Shirley Jackson, The Women's Relief Corps, Alice Herdan-Zuckmayer and Sister Jane Blanchard.

This year we add the stories of Fanny Allen, Philomene Daniels, Florence Weld, Sadie White and Grandma Lampman as told by Cyndy Bittinger, Julia Lewendoski, Joan Curtis and Louise Lampman-Larivee.

From pioneers and Abenaki healers to nuns, politicians, teachers, historians, factory workers and steamboat captains - these women's stories are rarely found in textbooks, but they reflect the history, culture and identity of our region. And understanding our past helps inform our future.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Here and Now Added to VPR's Schedule

Next Monday, we'll begin airing the news magazine program Here and Now weekdays at 1 p.m. The Story with Dick Gordon has moved to 2 p.m. It's replacing Day to Day, which ended production last Friday due to budget cuts at NPR. 

Hosted by broadcasting veteran Robin Young, Here and Now combines the best in journalism with intelligent, broad-ranging conversation for a fast-paced program that updates the news from the morning and adds important conversations on public policy and foreign affairs, science and technology, and the arts: film, theater, music, food and more. The program has been produced by WBUR/Boston since 1998. Originally a local news magazine, it is now distributed nationally by Public Radio International.  

How did we pick Here and Now? Over the last several months we listened to and analyzed the field of available programs to replace Day to Day. The analysis included an informal survey of VPR's Community Forum and data from previously-held focus groups.  We listened to hours of different programs and examined how they  performed in other regions. We were looking for a program that  would serve VPR listeners with strong content and strong presentation - one that we hope has even more promise for the future.

Why Here and Now? Well, we've found that VPR listeners especially enjoy news magazine-style programs, and Here and Now is one of the strongest news magazine programs we've heard. Since it feeds live at 1 p.m., the program provides an update on the developing news of the day and fits well in the midday lineup, following Vermont Edition and preceding The Story. The program is broad and features technology, finance, culture, theater and music.  Based in Boston, we also liked it because it sometimes provides listeners with a Northeastern perspective. Additionally, Here and Now has seen an increasing amount of interest from public radio stations around the country. We believe you'll find the program matches the depth, values, and variety you appreciate from VPR.

You'll find daily program descriptions and audio archives online here. We hope you'll listen and let us know what you think!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Thank You!

We have just completed the most successful membership drive ever in VPR's history. The goal of $570,000 was surpassed, with a total of $617,459 raised from more than 5000 donors. And, just as importantly, more than 40,250 meals were donated to the Vermont Foodbank thanks to the Vermont Community Foundation.

Thanks so much for your generous support of Vermont Public Radio and helping to address hunger in Vermont. VPR listeners are the best!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Pledge Drive Haiku, Take Two

Volunteer Barrett Grimm answers phones almost every morning during VPR's pledge drives. In between, he delights and amuses us (and himself) by writing haikus about the drive. Here are some of his latest:

A haiku-less drive?
Poetry on holiday?
Nope. Not on my watch.

David did okay.
The phones rang, people answered
And nothing blew up.

Slaloming dirt roads
Boiling sap, counting pledges
The real March Madness.

Why Does Spring Start on the 20th?

We celebrated the arrival of spring this morning at 7:44, prompting a listener to ask, "years ago spring came on March 21st!!! Why the change to March 20th???"

Mark Breen writes: 

"Calendars are funny devices...they try to make time even and steady, but the Earth's motions and orbits are not. It actually starts with leap years.  The orbit of the Earth around the Sun takes 365 and a quarter days.  We "save up" those quarters, so that every four years, we add that extra day to a year.  But the extact time of the Earth's orbit is 365.256366 days, a bit more than a quarter day.  Over a century, the extra 0.006366 days is more than a half day, so every year that ends in "00" we skip a leap year.  Of course, it isn't quite a full day, so after 4 centuries we've lost 1.5 days, so if the "00" year can be divided by 400, we add a day back in.  This keeps going, and takes into account other minor adjustments in the Earth's orbit and rotation.   Getting back to your question, because we added an "extra" day by having a leap year in 2000 (skip a leap year if it ends in "00", but NOT if it is divisbile by 400), this shifted the calendar back, so that all of the season dates are about a day earlier.  They will gradually creep back over the next 400 years.   I hope that makes sense.  It is an interesting question, and I am glad you noticed the difference."

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

VPR's Coverage of Same Sex Marriage Hearing: Your Pledge At Work

Tonight you are able to listen to the entire Statehouse Hearing on the same-sex marriage bill. You will also hear comprehensive news coverage of this important issue as it continues to unfold.

VPR's Vice President of News and Programming, John Van Hoesen, is in the middle of the many moving pieces that make this special coverage possible. He files this observation:

"Live broadcasts always create fairly electric moments in public radio. A surprising amount of connections need to be made to various electronic devices, and connections also need to be made among the people behind the scenes.

So at 6:06 p.m. when Sen. Sears announced the opening of the public hearing on same-sex marriage and VPR’s online legislative stream produced the crystal clear sound of his voice, it was a very good sign! All the checks and double-checks to make sure the stream would be clear and reliable had worked. So if you have your computer on and you’ve logged onto the legislative stream from the Vermont House tonight, you are tuned in.

Also, for the very first time, VPR is broadcasting the hearing live over HD-3, which is available on WVPS, WRVT, WBTN and WVPR. This part of the broadcast is coming from the House Chamber over a dedicated line to VPR’s Colchester studio where it’s being broadcast onto HD-3. So these two broadcasts are coming to you thanks to the hard work of VPR’s engineers, reporters and producers and the fact that VPR has studios, towers and an investment in new technology.

Everyone appears to be “on-mic,” and there are no extra buzzes or hums and no one is bumping into the mic. In addition, the audience microphone is well-placed and working well. This was the good work of the Statehouse audio crew, another key partnership in this successful broadcast.

Meanwhile, Bob Kinzel was listening closely to the hearing in preparation for a live report on VPR at 7 p.m. with Mitch Wertlieb.

In the background, we are recording the hearing into a digital audio file, which we will later post online so you can listen to the entire hearing whenever you want from VPR.net.

Our reporters have cameras with them and they’ll be taking photos of the public hearing, which you’ll see online as well.

Plus, Ross Sneyd will be reporting from the scene as well in the event National Public Radio would like to have a story on the hearing. He’ll be contacting the Newscast Unit at NPR later this evening.

John Van Hoesen
Vice President for News and Programming

Soup for Springtime

Cooks Illustrated, page 18: Creamless Creamy Tomato Soup - chives, onion, garlic, red pepper flakes, tomatoes...and, a surprising NON-dairy ingredient to take away the tartness and make the soup smooth and creamy. Irresistible!

So I made the recipe last night and I have to say it's a great tomato soup. I've been a fan of tomato soup since I was a kid growing up in Denver...mom always made that for us along with toasted cheese sandwiches as a way to warm up after a morning of playing in the snow.

Adult life has been spent trying to find a recipe that recreates that experience.

The "no dairy" idea on this one is a twist I found interesting, and I was skeptical. But it really works. Creamless Tomato Soup is one of the many fool-proof recipes found in Cooks Illustrated, a thank-you gift VPR is offering for a sustaining membership during this pledge drive.

With springtime coming, the good news is you don't even need snow to enjoy it!

Cheryl Willoughby
Discerning Soup Fan

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Listen to the Gay Marriage Hearing Wednesday Online and on HD3

VPR will broadcast Wednesday's public hearing on gay marriage online via our stream from the Vermont House and our HD-3 channel. Coverage begins Wednesday, March 18 at 6pm.

Connect to the stream here. And, as always, thank you for making this important service possible!

Curating a World-Class Music Library - Your Pledge at Work

One of the questions I'm asked most often is, "how many CDs are there in the library?". I wondered myself a few years ago so I counted them. But I soon realized that was a much better exercise for providing an estimate than a hard number, because of the constant stream of new recordings coming in every day.

The reason? There are actually two, and they work together: one is the serious committment VPR has to building a multi-genre, world-class, music library;
the other is the listener-funded music budget that supports that vision.

Listener support also helps to pay for subscriptions to periodicals like BBC Music, Opera News, F-Roots, and Down Beat magazines. These are great resources for finding out about the newest releases around the world, as well as new venues and new artists on the scene, emerging styles and performance techniques, and industry trends.

Every music host at VPR is a curator in their specialized area of the library.
Based on their reading and the years of experience and expertise they bring to the job, hosts send me suggestions and requests for new recordings. My part of the process is placing the orders and managing the annual acquisition budget to make sure everyone's accommodated. (I admit it, I'm never shy about including a few of my own picks as well!)

It says a lot about the dedicated support of VPR's listeners that I've never before had the scope or depth of resources available to do the job I do at VPR. That translates into direct benefits for all of us: more new recordings, a better variety of choices, deeper cuts, and an expansive, ever-growing range of repertoire and performances.

Thank you for making it all possible! And yes,
we definitely take requests.

(By the way - the answer is "around 35,000". Today.)

Cheryl Willoughby
Dir. of Music Programming

Monday, March 16, 2009

Mitch's Beard, a True Sign of Spring

Since this is radio and you primarily know us by the sound of our voices, here's a little-known fact: each winter, Morning Edition Host Mitch Wertlieb grows his beard. He traditionally shaves it on the first day the temperature in Burlington reaches 50 degrees.

Friday morning while I was producing the membership drive during Morning Edition, I informed Mitch that my car thermometer had read 52 degrees last Wednesday afternoon. "You're WRONG!" Mitch insisted. "You're WRONG!" A brutal fight ensued (see photo, above). There was talk of calling Eye on the Sky's Mark Breen to help settle the matter. But I let it go.

After a gloriously sunny weekend, I came in this morning hoping Mitch had kept an eye on the temperature which, contrary to what we've all convinced ourselves by this time of year, can sometimes begin with the number 5.

Here's the after picture. It's one of our favorite signs of spring here at VPR. I hope you'll share yours with us online here!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Ten Reasons Why We Love Our Membership Drive Volunteers

1. They love public radio with an unwavering passion. And they love pledge drives – coming back year after year after year….

2. They love to be busy. When the calls slow down, they will the phones to ring.

3. They always come equipped with a smile. Visit the VPR pledge room for a dose of cheer and good humor.

4. When there is a challenge, they make pledges to help VPR reach the goal.

5. They cheer loudly when you help us reach a goal (very loud!)

6. They keep a personal tally on the calls they take and compete with their friends to see who has the higher average pledge.

7. They write clever haiku:
Rain falls steadily
Volunteers work better dry
Open the door, Dan

8. When VPR volunteers sign up, we know they will show up – even at 5:30 on a wintry morning.

9. They’re totally honest. When they don’t like something, they say so. When they like something, they tell everyone.

10. They take care of their own dishes.

Thank you one and all from all of us at Vermont Pubic Radio!

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Voices of the Recession: Your Pledge at Work

The idea seemed simple enough when it was suggested by John Van Hoesen, VPR's Vice-President for News and Programming: tell the story of the recession through the voices of some of the people affected.

About two months after the idea first hatched, we aired Hitting Home. It was a series that mushroomed into 14 different stories, interviews, commentaries and Vermont Edition subjects.

We heard some poignant stories.

John Dillon introduced us to a recently laid-off state worker. Charlotte Albright tracked down a software developer who decided to launch his own musical instrument repair business in the Northeast Kingdom after being laid off. And Lynne McCrea told the heart-wrenching story of Meghan Cline, a homeless mother, and her fruitless search for an apartment. It wasn’t all bad news, either. We also heard from a couple of businesses in Burlington that are expanding.

A series like this takes time and people. There were at least a dozen VPR staffers involved in putting together the series, including reporters, producers, editors and audio engineers.

Take a listen to all of their work. The series is compiled online here. Thank you for making this kind of in-depth, poignant storytelling possible.

Ross Sneyd
News Editor
Vermont Public Radio

Thursday, March 12, 2009

From the Mountain to Your Radio - Your Pledge at Work

VPR Director of Engineering Rich Parker send this note yesterday:

It's the first day of our membership drive with volunteers answering phones and we always get a lot of questions about how VPR signals get to various parts of Vermont. When VPR started, there was only one transmitter, WVPR at 89.5 - it was on the top of Mt. Ascutney, overlooking Windsor, Springfield and the Connecticut Valley. Due to the faithful and generous support of our listeners and underwriters over these past years, we are now able to broadcast across the state of Vermont and nearby border states from nine full service FM stations and fourteen low powered translators - carrying VPR News and Information and VPR Classical to our listeners.

Because of technical advances and innovations, and with some infrastructure support in the form of grants from CPB (Corporation for Public Broadcasting) we are also able to provide the new digital HD radio to our listeners. With the capability for 'multi-casting' - putting multiple program streams on one frequency - we are able to serve our listeners better with more of the program services they enjoy. This is particularly important as we continue to expand our VPR Classical network - in areas where there is not an available signal for VPR Classical yet, it can often be heard on the HD-2 multicast channels of our other VPR News and Information stations.

But how does all this get to you - or more importantly, how does this all get into your radio? VPR has the majority of it's transmitters atop many of the high mountain peaks of Vermont. Today, we'll show you a little bit of the WVPS facility atop Mt. Mansfield.

The picture above was taken in late October, shortly after WVPS went on the air with it's new antennas, on a brand new tower atop Mt. Mansfield. The day before, tower riggers had just finished installation of the last panel antenna - it was a beautiful and sunny fall day!

As you can see from the picture, Mt. Mansfield can be a difficult place to work for much of the year, but the high elevation is key to the wide reach which WVPS has across the northern part of our state. When you turn on your radio to 107.9, you can picture the radio waves coming out of those panels at the top of that tower, going through all that ice and snow, and finally ending up at your radio receiver. While it sometimes seems like magic, it is the result of a great deal of hard work by our capable and very talented engineering staff - who sometimes have to go up there to work under less than ideal conditions.

We'll be profiling our other sites as time goes by - I hope you'll stay tuned; and I hope you'll make a pledge - we really couldn't do it without you! For the VPR Engineering staff - Mike Seguin, Brian Marshall, and Asa Sourdiffe I say 'Thanks for your support all these years!' 

Rich Parker, GSEC
Director of Engineering
Vermont Public Radio

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Herding cats

VPR's Membership Drive begins today. Thank goodness - I can relax! As Senior Producer at VPR, I coordinate the work of many people who make the drive happen on the air and on the web.

Launching a public radio membership drive takes several weeks of orchestrating dozens of moving parts. As the calendar counts down to the opening day, my to-do list only seems to get longer. But once the drive is underway, it's all in the hands of VPR's well prepared staff and generous listeners.

The whole process reminds me of when I was 8 or 9 years old. My favorite toy was my Erector Set: dozens of little metal beams, bolts, angles, gears and motors that could become a skyscraper, a space ship, an earth-mover or anything my imagination could attach a motor to.

The moving parts in a pledge drive involve people, ideas, copy, audio, computers, telephones, and supporting partners... as well as VPR.net, Facebook and Twitter. The glue that holds it all together is the shared enthusiasm, creative energy and commitment that VPR staff bring to every drive.

While coordinating VPR’s Membership Drive can be frazzling and exhausting - it's also quite invigorating. I love the synergy of the entire VPR Community coming together: staff members who don't normally work side by side; volunteers who come from near and far to answer the phones; corporate partners who donate enticing drawing prizes; contributing listeners (who actually love VPR so much they stay tuned through the pledge drive) and donors who offer challenges and matches to encourage others to give.

When everyone does their part, it runs like a dream and we reach our goal. It's like throwing the switch on my latest Erector Set creation and watching it whirr to life.

For those of you too young to remember Erector Sets, click here.

Slate magazine recently published a fun article about pledge drives that was quickly emailed throughout the public radio world. It gave us all the chance to laugh at ourselves. To read it, click here.

And the number to call is... 1-800-639-6391, or pledge online at VPR.net.

Franny Bastian
Senior Producer

Monday, March 9, 2009

It's Web Tuesday!

More and more listeners are giving online because it's easy, fast, and secure. But there are more reasons than ever why giving online during Web Tuesday makes your pledge go far.

Pledging early helps make VPR’s membership drive as short as possible and, in the process, helps our neighbors. For every pledge made to Vermont Public Radio during this drive, the Vermont Community Foundation will donate five meals to the Vermont Foodbank. Not only will you help pay for the programming you love, you'll tangibly help Vermonters in need.

By pledging early you are also entered to win a $1,000 gift certificate to Northshire Bookstore to use in their Manchester store (or online). You'll also be entered into ALL of the prize drawings for the rest of this membership drive - and thanks to our membership Drive Partners we have some great prizes.

So, I hope you'll make your pledge online today during Web Tuesday. As always, it's not the amount of your pledge - it's the fact you pledge. And during this drive, thanks to the Community Foundation, the Foodbank, and you, every pledge goes that much further.

Jonathan Butler
Online Manager, VPR

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

"First Tuesday" Is Here

The first Tuesday in March is Town Meeting Day and VPR has many ways for you to get your town's news on the air and online. Plus you can hear all about towns and cities around the state.

Today: Vermont Edition at Noon
We'll talk with Kermit Richardson of Orange, who's stepping down after 50 years as town meeting moderator there; with Rockingham moderator Mike Harty about the effects of tough economic on voter generosity; and with Alison Forrest of Huntington about the town meeting lunch. We'd also like to hear about your Town Meeting traditions.

You can email us at Vermontedition@vpr.net or post your comments here.

Tonight: Special Coverage on VPR from 7 to 8:30 p.m.
Bob Kinzel hosts with guest Steve Jeffery of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns. We travel around the state to hear results from the day during this special 90 minute program. Email results or comments to news@vpr.net or call the show 1-800-639-2211.

Anytime: Post Your Comments or Your Town’s Results.

VPR Documentary: First Tuesday
This hour-long documentary, narrated by VPR's Steve Delaney, explores the rich tradition of Town Meeting Day, its importance to Vermont life and the challenges to grassroots democracy during changing times.

Where We Are: See Ross Sneyd’s post for more on Town Meeting and where VPR’s staff will be.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Town Meeting

Covering Town Meeting Day is one of those assignments that reminds people like me why it’s so fun to be a reporter. That’s because we get the chance to go out among our neighbors and hear what’s on their minds. This week, VPR News will take you along when our reporters cover meetings around the state.

John Dillon will be in Calais, reporting on towns that are considering a resolution that opposes giving the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant a 20-year license extension.

Nina Keck will be in Rutland and Lynne McCrea will be in Burlington. Both cities have important mayor’s races this year.

Betty Smith’s gone to town meeting in West Windsor for several years now to gauge the mood of an average Vermont town. She’ll be back again this year and will report on what’s changed – and what hasn’t.

Steve Zind is headed to Craftsbury, one of a handful of towns that have to take two votes on a school budget under a new state law.

And from tiny Guildhall, population 268, Charlotte Albright will report on a local controversy over library hours – and accounting for how tax dollars are spent.

We'll put it all together with a live, 90-minute special report hosted by Bob Kinzel starting at 7 p.m. Bob’s guest will be Steve Jeffrey of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns. But Bob will also check in with VPR reporters and newspaper editors around the state for a recap of the day’s debates and votes.

On Morning Edition on Wednesday, we’ll wrap it all up with reports and interviews.