Wednesday, January 27, 2010

VPR's PrEview E-Newsletter: January 27, 2010

Next Saturday, some VPR colleagues and I will meet at the Burlington Waterfront and voluntarily go for a dip in Lake Champlain. It’s the annual Penguin Plunge, which benefits the Special Olympics. VPR has fielded a team for a few years now, but I myself am a plunge rookie. When I’m asked the inevitable question of why I would do such a ridiculous thing, the only answer I can think of is, “why not?”

When it comes to why I listen to Vermont Public Radio, my reasons are much more concrete. I listen because I cannot imagine a morning without Mitch Wertlieb and Morning Edition, an evening without unwinding with George Thomas’s jazz. I listen because I look forward to Saturdays with Spark and Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me, and because everyday I hear conversations that draw me in on Vermont Edition.

Why do you listen to VPR? You’ll find plenty more reasons in this edition of prEview. Read on for a recent lecture by Peter Galbraith, an upcoming performance by PoJazz, and a recipe for chicken with roasted lemons from our friends at Eating Well Magazine, tested and recommended by VPR’s Jean Murphy.


Monday, January 25, 2010

Careening down a mountainside at 35 mph

I moved to Vermont from Miami, Florida, so most people are stunned when I confess that Winter has become my favorite season. A major reason is that I can go sledding in Vermont at speeds that defy reason.

Recently, on assignment for a piece for Vermont Edition, I broke out my Hammerhead Sled and tested the community hill in St. Albans called Hard'ack. Hard'ack includes a snowboarding hill, cross country and snowshoeing trails and a hockey rink. But I was there for their sledding hill - a straight run with just enough dips and bumps to make it exciting. The Vermont-made Hammerhead Sled is the 21st Century's answer to the old Flexible Flyer - only lighter and faster, with steering like a sports car. I also own a Mad River Rocket (another VT company) and a Swiss Bob.

I spent both Saturday and Sunday at Hard'ack, ripping down the hill at speeds I'm guestimating at around 35 miles per hour. As much as the speed thrilled me, what impressed me most was the camaraderie amongst the sledders and the fun that parents were sharing with their children. What a great way to enjoy these winter months.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Win Tickets to A Prairie Home Companion Live in HD

When you pledge to VPR today you’ll be entered to win two tickets to A Prairie Home Companion Live in HD on Thursday, February 4th.

A live performance of A Prairie Home Companion will be beamed in HD to some 500 participating theaters across the U.S. and Canada, including the Palace 9 Theater in South Burlington, Catamount Arts in St. Johnsbury, and the Town Hall Theater in Middlebury. Watch the trailer below:

See what Dusty & Lefty and the "Real" Guy Noir look like, hear Guy’s All Star Shoe Band, and experience A Prairie Home Companion almost as if you were sitting in the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul.

This drawing is happening tomorrow, so don't delay! And with your contribution to VPR, you’ll also be helping us take a day off the upcoming membership drive – for every $48,000 raised before February 1st, we’ll take a day off the drive.

Click here to learn more about this special show. Also, you don’t have to pledge to be entered, but we hope you will. Read our contest rules for more information.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Story Behind NPR's Haiti Coverage

In the wake of disasters, news organizations must instantly shift staff, equipment, and resources to cover the event. In the wake of the devastating earthquake in Haiti last week, NPR News Director of Operations Charlie Mayer fills in on the behind-the-scenes factors at play in NPR's coverage.

Q: Given the huge difficulties of air travel into and out of Haiti, how is NPR getting reporters on the ground to do their work?

This is thanks entirely to the resourcefulness, leadership, and dedication of National Desk Assistant Producer Gisele Grayson and Morning Edition Senior Editor Maeve McGoran who have wrestled us on to all manner of charter flights out of Miami. The best story (and I don't know the details) is Morning Edition Senior Producer Tom Bullock. He arrived in Port au Prince on a King Air plane owned by Ted Turner. No kidding.

Q: With electricity down, how are reporters powering their equipment?

NPR correspondent Carrie Kahn charged her Iridium satellite phone at a medical tent on Wednesday night. NPR is now set up at a hotel where there is power.

Q: Are they using sat phones to file stories? Some of them sound a little garbled - is that the satellite interference?

The garbled sound comes from a handheld satellite phone called an Iridium. When Carrie Kahn departed Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday, this was the only satellite phone she could take. There was no room for producer Amy Walters or the larger Nera sat phone that we are used to hearing.

Now that everyone has arrived, we have six sat phones on the ground: Two Hughes 9201, one Explorer 110 and three Neras (including Neras 1 and 4, which are both 8.5 years old). We will now use those sat phones to file stories, so the garbled Iridium sound will become less present on the air. Some of these sat phones can be used to access the Internet, as well.

We have four Iridium handheld sat phones, which are useful because the local mobile network is not totally working. Our Verizon international Blackberries are not working at all.

Q: With such a wide-scale disaster, how do NPR staff on the ground in Haiti taking care of their basic needs for shelter, food, and water?
This is the primary responsibility of producer Tom Bullock. He filled up a Pelican case (a water-tight hardcase we use to transport equipment) with camping and survival gear that we keep on hand for this kind of operation. Huge credit on this goes to Logistics Manager Bill Craven. We've got a mini REI and CVS that Bill has kept stocked for years. This is all Bill. This time last year, that stash kept us going through the frigid Obama inauguration. Yesterday we cleared the shelves in support of the Haiti operation.

Here’s what we sent from Bill's depot:

2 or 3 sleeping mats
Bungee cords
Two first-aid kits
2 rolls duct tape
1 boss light
8 packs matches
1 headlamp
Cable & safety pins
2 packets wipes
1 box non-lubricated Trojan condoms (These are standard field equipment – they go over the microphones if it rains.)
2 energizer LED lights
2 inverters
2 tarps
2 sunscreens
2 afterbite
1 baggie full of mosquito spray wipes
2 large raincoats
1 sleeping shell
2 water purification pumps
1 laptop

This was supplemented by the following supplies Maeve bought in Miami, and stowed in one large duffle bag, which she bought at Target. Everything below fit in it, except for 4 dozen of the water bottles which were carried separately by Tom on Ted Turner’s King Air.

5 dozen 12 oz. bottles of water
2 gallon jugs of water
Trail mix in many flavors
Beef jerky (flavors including Teriyaki and Kansas City BBQ)
Dried Fruit (including raisins, apricots, cherries, blue berries, and cranberries)
Tuna in a Pouch
Cooked Chicken in a Pouch
Crank Flashlights
A huge bottle of Purell
Smaller bottles of Purell
Heavy duty leather work gloves
Small cans of fruit including mandarin oranges and peaches
Power Bars (many dozens in many flavors)
Granola Bars

Deputy Director of Operations Sharahn Thomas, NPR's Operations Desk, and NPR's Information Services division have scrambled to activate and deploy mobile devices and extra reporting gear.

Q: What kind of transportation do NPR staff members have in Haiti? How did you get it for them -- or did they get it themselves?
They have hired a car and driver. They are also walking. Fuel is in short supply.

Q: How will you get them out, with flights restricted?
Flights are restricted. But our charter wranglers are somehow getting our people on the flights that are going. We have considered chartering our own plane, but have not had to do that.

Q: On the Information Services side, what happens if they have computer issues? Do they carry backups?
We haven't heard of a single computer problem. Why? Because we put our people in the field with hardware that works. The best kind of support is preparation. Huge credit on this goes to Information Services Manager Oumar Sall, the Information Services Help Desk, and Bob Duncan. We did send a spare laptop with Bullock. If anybody were to have trouble, Bullock would be the first line of defense. If that doesn't work, then the IS staff hotline and Bob Duncan are standing by to help. Bob was been working with our sat phone provider this morning to fix one issue with Jason Beaubien's sat phone, and reports it's now back in action.

Q: Do Blackberries work on the island? How are the reporters keeping in touch?
Not at this point. The mobile network seems to be coming back to life, but our Verizon gear is not working. This is because the Haitian provider that handles Verizon traffic was hit hard and their network is saturated. We're hopeful that this will improve. Oumar is working with Verizon. In the meantime, handheld Iridium phones are being used as we would normally use our BlackBerries.

Q: What other behind-the-scenes work is underway?
Nothing happens without money and NPR Finance has done an amazing job with the cash. This started before the banks opened on Wednesday. NPR Accounting Manager Susie Julbe and her team expedited wire transfers for Amy and Carrie early Wednesday and have since moved wire transfers for numerous other people. It is a cash economy at this point, so the availability and security of our cash is a top priority. Fortunately, Tom Bullock is an expert at this after years in Baghdad, Kabul, and other garden spots.

Some of our first responders on this were our engineers Melissa Marquis and Michael Cullen. They scrambled in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake to get Newscast set up with Skype.

Social Media and Haiti Coverage
NPR's Senior Strategist for Social Media Andy Carvin shares insights into how NPR is using Twitter and other social media tools in our Haiti coverage in this MediaBistro article. His work was also featured on DCFox5 TV news. (See 2:23 into the video.)

How Can I Help?
Below is a list of links VPR has mentioned in our own coverage of the Haiti earthquake and relief efforts.

Rep. Peter Welch

Senator Bernie Sanders

City of Burlington

American Red Cross Vermont

National American Red Cross

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

VPR Presents Paul Searls

Professor Paul Searls has thought a lot about what it means to be a Vermonter. As he researched the topic, he borrowed terms to describe what two camps Vermonters fall into: "uphillers," or the Vermonters who arrived here first and began settling on the tops of hills, and "downhillers," who came later and settled downhill.

It's a fascinating way to describe the groups we commonly refer to as native Vermonters and "flatlanders." "Native" Vermonters, after all, came from somewhere else. They just got here first, a long time ago, and worked the farmland on the hilltops. And as a "flatlander," I find the term "downhiller" more fitting, since I came to Vermont from a relatively hilly part of Massachusetts.

Whether you're an uphiller or a downhiller, I hope you'll listen to VPR Presents: Paul Searls, and enjoy learning how these "Two Vermonts" have historically interacted and shaped the state we have today.

Check out Searls' lecture to find out more.

Join VPR's Community Forum

Every two years, a new group of volunteers joins VPR's Community Forum for some robust conversations and a lot of fun. Plus, there's definitely some quality emailing! It's a great way for VPR to get to know you and hear your thoughts about programs and public service.

The most recent Community Forum participated in discussions about VPR’s strategic plan. We had a "listening session" in which we had a chance to hear samples of some new programs VPR was considering. And we had some great discussions about public radio and media in general.

The Forum is a great way to get to know more about VPR, meet members of the staff, and meet other people interested in the future of public radio. At the end of the term, you’ll be surprised how much ground we've covered and how interesting it’s been.

There are two half-day sessions a year and meetings usually alternate between north and south (Burlington and Chester have been the locations to date). And we have a modest lunch together.

Sound like you? If so, we're taking applications now for the new Forum and it would be great to hear from you.

Visit for more information and to apply to join the Community Forum.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

VPR Adds Spark and To The Best Of Our Knowledge

The first time I heard the program Spark, I was driving home from roller derby practice in Bolton. I’m usually so wound up after roller skating for two hours that I have a hard time giving my full attention to the giga-bytes of public radio programs on my iPod, so I listen to music instead. But I’d heard great things about Spark, so I hit play and started down the winding access road.

I was hooked immediately as I listened to host Nora Young’s piece about capchas, those funky-looking words you have to type out to verify your identity to a website. I learned about people who are finding ways to put the time we spend typing those out (150,000 hours a day!) to more productive use, like helping to digitize books.

So it's with great pleasure and excitement that I tell you Spark will begin airing on VPR this Saturday at 1 p.m. VPR is the first station in the US to broadcast this program, a production of CBC Radio. It’s about technology in our everyday lives, and how it’s changing the way we live: how we learn, communicate, raise our kids, work, and play.

By a different but no less significant token, To the Best of Our Knowledge is program I’ve followed for years. It’s an audio magazine of ideas, and each program explores a single subject from a variety of different angles. For example, this program explores the difference between loneliness and our need for solitude. You’ll hear the program, hosted by Jim Fleming, at 2 p.m. beginning this Saturday.

At 4 p.m., you’ll hear The VPR Saturday Special, which will include listener favorites like Radio Lab and The Moth Radio Hour when programs are available, as well as other specials and documentaries you won't want to miss from VPR, NPR, American Radio Works, and more. The VPR Saturday Special kicks off this weekend with the first of five episodes of Radio Lab.

I depend on public radio every day to stay up on the news and issues that affect me, my community, and the world. But I think public radio is at its best when you learn about issues you’d never even considered, much less learned about before. That’s what all of these programs do. We’re excited about VPR’s new sound of Saturday afternoons on VPR, and we hope you’ll enjoy the new lineup as much as we do. You can learn more about the new sound of Saturdays on VPR – and hear an audio sample – here.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Clearing Our Plate, Er....Dish

Many of us across the region were digging out of yesterday's snow storm, and VPR was no exception! In this picture, VPR's Sean LaRock clears snow off the satellite dish outside our Colchester studios. Even a small amount of snow or ice on our dish can disrupt our feed of NPR and other programming, so when the weather gets bad, our announcers keep a close eye on the dish to keep VPR programming coming to you! Stay warm!

(Photo courtesy of VPR's Aaron Kimball)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Montpelier Baker On Weekend Edition

Gesine Bullock-Prado, owner of Gesine's Confectionary in Montpelier, has written a memoir called Confections of a Closet Master Baker. Liane Hansen interviewed Bullock-Prado on NPR's Weekend Edition this morning about her escape from Hollywood and how she learned her craft. It's a fascinating and fun story. Click here to listen. For Bullock-Prado's blog and her irresistible recipes, click here.

Note: Listen to Gesine's interview on Vermont Edition from November, 2009 and try her recipe for Golden Eggs featured in VPR Cooks.