Monday, July 27, 2009

Upon the High Seas

I'm not particularly seaworthy and am a woefully bad swimmer. But for the second time in six months, I'll be playing on the Burlington Waterfront in a rather exciting event. In February, it was the Penguin Plunge. On Sunday, August 2, I'll be working with 21 other individuals to power a dragon boat during the Lake Champlain Dragon Boat Festival.

We had a practice last weekend and I became keenly aware of just how much my body can ache and also the importance of team work. One thing about dragon boats - rowing faster doesn't necessarily mean going faster. Rowing in time with your team (we're presumptuously called Chase Our Wake) does.

The event raises funds for Dragonheart Vermont (a breast cancer survivor group) and Camp-Ta-Kum-Ta (for kids with cancer).

Hard work aside, one thing became abundantly clear at the conclusion of our practice session. Win or lose, this is really quite fun. But I am hoping our craft doesn't become the latest installment in VPR's "History Under the Waves" series.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Farewell, Adieu, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye!

<---(final bows at the VYO "bon voyage" concert on July 3rd, at the Flynn)

When the Elley-Long Music Center opens its doors tomorrow afternoon, it will be for an occasion that actually marks a closure of sorts.

Troy Peters has been the Vermont Youth Orchestra's Music Director for the last 14 years. In that time he's also earned a solid reputation for himself as a composer, worked with the Vermont Mozart Festival and the Opera Company of Middlebury, and he's led the Middlebury College Orchestra in several successful seasons of music.

The VYO recently completed their tour of Québec City and France on a somewhat bittersweet note, knowing that the end of the tour also meant the end of Troy's chapter with them. If you followed the group's tour progress on the VYO blog (or if you're one of Troy's 900+ facebook friends!) you probably enjoyed the frequent - and frequently funny! - updates as much as I did. They also give some insight to the great care he brings to his work.

Apart from his deep professional roots in the community, Troy has also become a good friend through his work here as VPR Classical's alternate opera host.

We spent many Saturday afternoons together during opera fundraisers, sharing stories and anecdotes about favorite performers and recordings. Last March when Troy's 40th birthday happened to fall during the winter fundraiser, we celebrated with a glorious, giant, lit-up cookie. All of the phone volunteers joined in the "happy birthday" chorus for Troy at the end of the day!

Most of all, Troy has shared with me and the rest of the staff a deep, personal appreciation for the art of music and the public radio that makes it available for everyone to enjoy. We'll miss that.

Tomorrow's farewell reception at Elley-Long is an open event, I hope to see you there.

In any case please join me on behalf of us all at VPR in wishing Troy, Anne, Max and Sophie the very best with their new lives as they move on to San Antonio in a couple of weeks...y'all!

What: Farewell Reception for VYOA Music Director Troy Peters
When: Saturday, July 25 from 3:00 – 5:00 pm
Where: Elley-Long Music Center at Saint Michael’s College
Live music, light refreshments, photos from the VYO’s tour of Québec & France.
Free, casual, family-friendly.
Information: 802-655-5030 or

Monday, July 20, 2009

VPR Classical's 5th anniversary

July 20, 2004 - The job interview at VPR was scheduled to start at 9am. I had caught a late flight the previous night from my home in Los Angeles, and arrived at the station around 8:45 that morning more tired than nervous. (Probably a good thing my flight had been so late!) In that short time I already realized that Vermont was one of the most beautiful places I'd ever seen.

A little before 9 I was ushered into the Performance Studio with the rest of the staff, and after a short announcement there was a moment of silence followed by a brilliant brass fanfare: Vermont Public Radio's new 24-hour classical service, VPR Classical, was officially on the air! The staff cheered and there was a toast all the way around for the tremendous effort (ours, AND yours!) it had taken to reach that landmark achievement.

Later that summer I was very happy to find I would be moving here to become VPR Classical's first employee. I've thought back many times to that special July 20th, and how fortuitous it seemed at the time to have my interview on the very day the new station went on the air.

This morning with another successful membership drive having just ended around an hour ago, I find myself thinking again to that summer day five years ago and reflecting on how far strong listener support has allowed us to come in the time since then: Vermont Public Radio now has separate, dedicated services to serve the community's interests more fully. Our redesigned website supports all of the on-air efforts and offers a world of discovery and learning in its own right. It adds a visual dimension to everything you hear in our radio programs.

Work also continues on building VPR Classical into a regionwide service, with an opportunity right now to create a full-power signal in Addison County. VPR Classical now has three full-time employees, the most classical hosts the station has ever had. Between VPR and VPR Classical, we have more listeners now (182,000+ week) than ever. And thanks to continuing listener support and CD donations our music library expands almost daily to become an even richer and deeper resource.

We're celebrating VPR Classical's anniversary today. From all of us on this side of the radio, here's a big thanks to you for the last five years and for many more ahead!


PS: (I still think Vermont is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been.)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Break Time at Bennie's

We heard the visiting flock of flamingos on the VPR front lawn would go away when the membership drive was over. By around 2 this afternoon when it hadn't come to a successful conclusion yet, the flamingos were starting to look a little restless. We did the only thing we could: left the flamingos behind to run out for a post-lunch creemee break!

(left to right: cutting school, guilty as charged - Joe Goetz, Jonathan Butler, Cheryl Willoughby and Michelle Jeffery at Bennie's Creemee stand in Colchester)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Your Pledge Dollars at Work: Champlain 400

VPR's special series, Champlain 400, is truly an organization-wide project combining the efforts of VPR News, Commentaries, Music, and Online.

You may have heard this piece by John Van Hoesen, VPR's VicePresident for News & Programming, where he describes some of the "behind the scenes" work that went into the 10-part series Champlain 400: Stories from the Lake. VPR producers traveled to more than 15 locations, interviewed more than 20 people, and recorded 15 hours of sound - all to bring you the kind of stories and history and reporting you expect from Vermont Public Radio.

"Stories from the Lake": just one part of our multilayered coverage of Champlain 400, and just one more example of your pledge dollars at work for you.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A Blast (Lots of 'em!) at Fenway Park

Mitch Wertlieb shares his road journal detailing highlights of a fun-filled day at Fenway Park with VPR listeners. Check our photos from the trip, too! Thanks so much to Jim McGonagle for letting us use his camera after ours was accidentally left behind at the station!

9 a.m.: What a fun bus ride! It felt more like a road trip with old friends than meeting folks for the first time. VPR listeners proved adept at handling even my toughest Red Sox trivia questions (although there was some disappointment that the guy who knew the most was also the only Royals fan on board. Thanks for showing us up, Don!).

1:30 p.m.: A private tour of the oldest, greatest ballpark in America! Every time I take a tour of Fenway, I learn something new. It was also the first time I got to see State Street Pavillion where the Red Sox Hall of Fame is housed. We took a terrific picture of the whole gang atop the Green Monster (what a good-looking bunch!).

2:30 p.m.: We were graced with fine, sunny weather while Vermonters back home were dealing with yet another pounding of torrential rain. Folks fanned out to explore Beantown before the first pitch at 7. It was great timing as the Tall Ships were in town. I grabbed lunch and a house-made brew (Back Bay IPA) at Boston Beer Works with Michelle and Will and then caught up with some old friends in Jamaica Plain.

7:00 p.m.: Settled into our seats by Pesky's Pole in right field for the main event— Red Sox vs. Royals. What a slugfest! The home team hit four home runs (Varitek hit one that landed just 15 feet from our seats, and Youuuuuuuuuk wowed us with two blasts!). In the end, the Sox won 15-9, but not before the Boston bullpen gave up 6 runs over two innings to nearly squander a 9-1 lead! There was a bit of seat-squirming* before rookie phenom Daniel Bard came on and shut them down, thanks to his 99 mph fastball.

The rain started coming down - and hard! - in the 9th inning, but a quick 1-2-3 inning kept us under the wet stuff for just about ten minutes. We scampered back to our bus as fast as possible for the long ride home.

11:30 p.m.: Slightly soggy but in good spirits (sorry, Don), Meesh passed out cookies and we put on the Red Sox movie Fever Pitch for the ride home. We snoozed on and off until we returned to VPR at 3:30 a.m., tired but happy. What a great day! Go Sox, and looking forward to next year.

*Editor's Note: As one of the other VPR staffers on the trip, I cannot refrain from clarifying that when Mitch says "bit of seat-squirming" what he means is visible, inconsolable, nonsensical muttering about how he KNEW this was going to happen, and how the Sox were TOTALLY going to blow it, and WHY does this always happen to HIM.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Summertime Ode to VPR

While brainstorming ways to put some fun VPR's Summer Membership Drive, we came up with a long list of summertime essentials. When you make your contribution to VPR this week, let us know what's important to you!

Like a hammock in the breeze,
And lemonade – fresh squeezed.
A thick book on a lazy day
Or a cool dip on a very hot day.
VPR is essential to your summer.

For the news from near and far.
Vermont Edition podcasts – wherever you are.
For All the Traditions ballads,
And VPR Cooks recipes for salads...
VPR is essential to your summer.

Like bug spray in your backpack,
Wheels spinning on your bike rack.
Sand between your toes
And Fahrenheit in the 9 – ohs.
VPR is essential to your summer.

For music, laughter and interviews.
Sports notes, poetry and quiz shews.
Vermont artists singing their songs.
And Champlain 400 all season long.
VPR is essential to your summer.

Like the cone beneath your creemee…
The strings on your bikini…
The flip flops on your toes
And the sunscreen on your nose.
VPR is essential to your summer.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Check out VPR's Artist Mug Gallery

Volunteer Shelagh Shapiro is a VPR member and artist mug collector. She had this to share about VPR's newest mug and Artist Mug Gallery:

Like so many listeners, one of my favorite parts of VPR’s membership drive is mug anticipation. I collect VPR’s artist mugs, and as a long-time member I have an impressive collection, if I do say so myself. In fact, it’s always something of a shock to go to a friend’s house and see a mug I not only don’t have, but one that I’ve never seen before.

That situation is unlikely to happen again, now that VPR's Artist Mug Gallery is up and running. There you can browse and admire all of VPR’s artist mugs, past and present.

VPR began commissioning mug designs from Vermont artists in 1992. Since then, more than 50 mugs have been created to celebrate VPR and its community. While mugs from past drives highlighted in the gallery are not presently for sale, a new mug, “Wabanaki Creation,” by Rick Hunt, is VPR’s latest addition to the gallery.

The really cool thing about Rick Hunt’s mug is that it tells the Wabanaki creation story as told by Hunt's wife, Carolyn Black. You can listen to the story here. Rick and Carolyn perform throughout the northeast as the Laughing Couple. Carolyn tells the Wabanaki creation story while Rick illustrates a mural depicting that narrative. Their performance describes the seven levels of creation; the birth of Glooscomba, the first man; the land of red soil and that of ice and snow; the significance of Gipboo, the bald eagle; and Glooscomba’s education into a leader who respects the teachings of his elders as well as the vision and strength of young people.

Artist mugs are a great way to show your support for VPR. Pledge $80 to VPR to support the programming and you’ll receive this beautiful new mug by Rick Hunt. Or, join the Artist Mug Collector’s Club for a pledge of $200 – VPR will send you the current mug and the next two, so you're guaranteed never to miss a mug. Thank you for listening, thanks for pledging, and thank you for the respect and support that you show Vermont Public Radio during our membership drives and throughout the year.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

82 to go...

My wandering around the state continues. In my quest to visit all 251 cities and towns in Vermont (and become a real 251 Club Member), I've now visited 169 of the places on the prescribed list, leaving 82 to go.

As I drive to and fro, I ponder whether I'm really such a simple person. Why does visiting some small burg fill me with such anticipation and joy? Does it take so little to entertain me and make me happy? Don't get me wrong. I love traveling abroad to visit new lands and make new friends in foreign countries. But now I've dedicated myself to seeing every acre of the Green Mountain State and it seems to easily satisfy my wanderlust.

Then there's the incredible people you meet along the way. On a recent trip to Coventry, I noticed a wonderful barn wedged between two homes. I parked the car and walked back to snap a photo. I didn't go unnoticed. A dog began barking at me and a woman sitting on the porch took notice of my presence. She asked me why the barn interested me. I was feeling a little awkward, but there was no need. In no time the woman, Jeanie Desrochers, was showing me the remnants of a grist mill in her backyard, Coventry's lower falls (where the salmon run in the spring) and giving me directions to other Coventry hot spots (the upper falls, Fred Webster's place and the site of the Phish concert).

Another neat thing that has happened since my last 251 blog post is that I received an encouraging e-mail from VPR listener Sara Spoor of Springfield who gave me a tip on finding the elusive town of Lewis, Vermont. Apparently, this place is the bane of 251 Club members.

So it's onward I go with renewed vigor in search of 82 more Vermont towns.

Happy Web Wednesday!

Today is Web Wednesday, where we'll try to raise as much money as we can before the on-air part of our membership drive begins tomorrow.

So without any further ado, if your membership is up, or if you've never given to VPR before, I hope you'll make Web Wednesday a success by pledging online today.

We've been experimenting with these web days before pledge drives for a couple of years now. Why? To start, giving online is easy, fast, and secure - and it saves VPR resources. But it's also a way to get a head start on the membership drive. All those Web Wednesday spots you've been hearing on the air don't interrupt regular programming like an on-air drive does. So, the more we raise today, the shorter the on-air drive will be, and the more programming you'll hear. And that's something we all enjoy!

Now if that's not reason enough to pledge today, perhaps we can entice you to participate in Web Wednesday with a special drawing. When you pledge today you'll be 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 - you can check them out online here.

As always, it's not the amount of your pledge - it's the fact you pledge. Thank you so very much for your support.

Monday, July 6, 2009

How Using the VPR Audio Player Saves Money

A listener wrote us recently and asked us how exactly using the VPR Audio Player sounds better and saves VPR money, as he's been hearing us report on the air.

The Audio Player saves VPR money because we pay for bandwidth streaming capacity and the Audio Player uses less bandwidth than listening to comparable MP3 streams in iTunes or Windows. Online streaming is like a utility, like electricity or gas, in the sense that the more we use, the more we pay. We offer 3 different bandwidth options for our MP3 streams at 24k, 64k, and 96k for VPR, and 24k, 64k, and 128k for VPR Classical. When listening via iTunes or Windows, listeners can choose any of these streams. When a listener chooses a lower bandwidth stream, such as 24k, she's streaming less audio data, therefore costing VPR less than the person streaming at 64k or 128k.

The VPR Audio Player offers only 2 options for each stream: a Low bandwidth at 24k, and a High bandwidth at 64k. Most listeners who use iTunes or Windows choose the higher bandwidth options (96k and 128k) because in general, the higher the bandwidth, the better the sound. For every listener who switches to the Audio Player from a 96k or 128k stream, we save bandwidth costs.

The other point about the Audio Player is that it sounds better. The Low options on the Audio Player are the same 24k MP3 streams offered through iTunes & Windows, so there's no difference there. However, the 64k High streams on the Audio Player are not MP3 streams, they're AACPlus streams. You can learn more about AAC, Advanced Audio Encoding, at Wikipedia, but basically AACPlus is an improvement on MP3 which sounds better than MP3 and uses less bandwidth. Our audio engineers and music director agree that the 64k AACPlus stream sounds better than the 96k and 128k MP3 streams, so we feel confident in claiming that it sounds better for listeners who switch over.

Originally, the primary reason for developing the Audio Player was that lots of listeners wanted to be able to stream online through the website without having to use iTunes or Windows Media. The fact that it saves bandwidth and sounds better were compelling reasons as well, but the demand we heard from listeners was primarily about the ease of use.

You can find the Audio Player in the top right corner of any page on look for the button that says "Listen Live". We hope you'll give the VPR Audio Player a try and tell us what you think, but we invite listeners to choose the player and stream that works best for them.

And no matter how you choose to listen, thanks for listening.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Why I Volunteer for VPR Pledge Drives, by Eileen Kristiansen

It's nearly membership drive time again, and we need volunteers to help answer the phones. To encourage you to sign up, we asked long-time volunteer Eileen Kristiansen to share her thoughts on why she volunteers at VPR. See what she has to say, then visit this link to sign up. The drive begins next Thursday, July 9.

Did we mention that we feed you really well?

And that we're charming and lovely to be around?

And there's a box of free books and CDs, just for volunteers?

And there's an endless supply of chocolate?

Okay, enough out of me. Listen to what Eileen has to say about volunteering at VPR:

I have been volunteering for VPR membership drives for nearly 9 years. My first time was answering phones and writing the pledges down on paper. I went with colleagues from work because I was nervous and there was safety in numbers. I was hooked after the first phone call. People that pledge are so warm and supportive and grateful for the volunteers. The staff at VPR feels the same way. I felt so good about what I was doing and about how it was helping others in so many different ways that I've only missed one drive since that time. I can't say enough good
about VPR and how they treat their volunteers. The friendships that I've made there are for life, too. Becoming a VPR volunteer has been one of the smartest things I've ever done."

Here's the link again. Please sign up, and thanks!

Finding VPR in the Most Unlikely Places

As I drive hither and yon, I tend to listen to VPR 75% of the time, an audio book 20%, and a music CD about 5% of the time. Usually I can keep straight what I'm listening to. But the other night as I was listening to what I thought was an audio book, I heard a woman say that she usually listens to Vermont Public Radio. So I just assumed that I must have the radio on.

Au contraire!

I was listening to Death du Jour by Kathy Reichs. Like the author herself, the book's lead character - Temperance "Tempe" Brennan - is a forensic anthropologist who splits time between Charlotte, North Carolina and Montreal. So I'll assume that when Kathy spends time in Montreal she tunes in to VPR. And thus, that's how we warranted a mention in the book. I'm half way through the book and enjoying it quite a bit.

I'm also loving the series written by Louise Penny set in Three Pines, Quebec (I enjoy learning about our neighbors to the north). I was tipped off to this series during Vermont Edition's winter book show. It's amazing the things I learn listening to VPR. And to audio books.