I was a radio show host for a couple years for a Classic Rock station. Airing in a city where men outnumbered women 25 to 1 (no joke) and I being the only non-news female on the station, I quickly learned that my bookish sensibility was not the way I was going to make my mark. I eventually left radio for teaching but it will always have a place in my heart next to my rock tees and my slut bangs. Anyway, my dream job of course, would be to just talk books with everyone all the time. With that in mind I contacted a few book talk radio hosts from across the country to have a yarn.
Our dais includes: Angela Antle, host of CBC’s WAM, the weekly show “about our ‘Galoot of a Culture’ in Newfoundland and Labrador” airing from St. John’s; Joseph Planta host of Planta: On the Line based in Vancouver; Sean Cranbury, host of Books on the Radio for CJSF, Simon Fraser University’s independent community radio station broadcasting from atop Burnaby Mountain; and Stephen Clare, host of The Book Club at CKDU in Halifax.
How do you prep for your show?
Angela: I prep for my show all the time…I’m a FACEBOOK ad Twitter fanatic. It has made my job a whole lot easier and a whole lot more hectic. I read EVERYTHING: The NYT and the Guardian.co.uk for overall trends, the Globe, The Walrus and CBCbooks for Canadian trends and the Telegram and FB and Twitter for Nfld news. Technically, I prep from Wednesday to Friday but I find it impossible to disconnect on my days ‘off’ and I like to have some interviews lined up on Wednesday so I can hit the ground running…seven hours of radio time a week is a lot of radio time. I produce WAM but there is a technician operating the board when the show is on the air.
Joseph: I have to organise myself and book the guests, which is quite a time consuming chore. I wish I had an assistant or a producer, as it’d give me more time to research my guests, which is the bulk of the preparation. Research could involve reading the book—and I say could, because I often find myself with not enough time to finish a book, whether it’s a novel or a non-fiction work. It’s unfortunate, but it’s a reality everyone faces whether they’re running a website like me, or if you’re in public or private broadcasting interviewing authors, that there’s just not nearly enough time. Other research involved includes scouring clippings services and the internet for articles, stories on the guest, the book in question, and the subjects therein. And then there’s the note-making, which involves taking all the notes that one takes—in my case on yellow legal pad—and organising them.
Sean: I very rarely ever have used the studio to host my shows. Everything that I do is very self-contained at the moment. Generally the show consists of interviews with writers or people that I find interesting who happen to be involved in books or book publishing to some degree. I identify the people that I want to speak to and I find ways to get in touch with them. I very rarely do requests. If these people happen to be in Vancouver then we meet at a cafe or bar and I record the interview on my digital recorder or my iPhone. If I am speaking to someone across the country or across the world then I record our conversation via skype audio. Then I edit our conversation using a piece of open source software called Audacity and send it to the station which broadcasts it on Wednesday at 1PM PT. I will also upload the conversation to my blog Books on the Radio (www.booksontheradio.ca) where anyone anywhere can listen to it when they like. Most of my listenership comes from the web.
Stephen: I line up my guests weeks, even months in advance. The primary focus is local and regional writers, but I will often welcome touring authors from Canada and beyond. I research and prep questions on both the guest’s personal and professional life. With an hour-long show, authors can get into more than just their most recent work; we often discuss the creative process, the state of literature and publishing, etc. I also run a short segment at the beginning of the show featuring bestseller lists, upcoming events, news from the world of books, etc., and yes, I handle all of the show’s production.
Angela: WAM is a show about NL culture and our stories and tradition of story telling are the basis of that vibrant culture. Writers are preserving our stories as well as projecting us forward. There’s so much talk of the need for innovation clusters in this province. We already have an innovation cluster in the culture sector and it is fuelled by our writers. That needs to be supported by all levels of government as well as the business community because it is bringing tourists, fuelling festivals, attracting tech business like Other Ocean Interactive and film and TV productions. Writers are inspiring other writers, musicians, visual artists and filmmakers as well as creating jobs. Look at the number of Newfoundlanders who are on national book prize lists! So I am interested in the content of the books as well as the economics of culture.
Joseph: Authors agree to do interviews with blogs and websites like mine because it’s another opportunity to promote themselves and their books. I enjoy talking to authors as their books are interesting to talk about, and the story behind the book is just as fascinating. I’ve been a fan of broadcasters like Don Imus and Charlie Rose, and they’re outstanding book interviewers. So, as a fan you learn and if you have this opportunity you emulate.
Sean: Because books are the best, most versatile and enduring piece of revolutionary technology that we’ve yet invented. Because books are underestimated. Especially by many of those whose job it is to bring them into the world.
Stephen: I have a life-long love of literature. I blame my mother, who encouraged reading in our home. I now read 150 books a year on average. Atlantic Canada has a flood of great storytellers, and I believe that we need to more to support our writers and their works. This is my way of contributing.
Radio is a fast-paced industry in that you need to keep up on the trends on a daily basis and sometimes on an hourly basis. How do you manage that in the book talk world
Angela: Radio may seem like an old fashioned medium….but it really is the most NIMBLE of all the media and the most intimate. I just READ everything…the New Yorker, blogs, the twitterspehere. I’m a bit cracked like that and then I turn on the mic and talk about it…and I follow trend setters like Chad Pelley and Goodreads and the oh-so-smart women at CBC books (Hannah Classen and Erin Balser).
Joseph: The internet at once makes it easy to seek and follow trends, but it also can inundate one. I try to keep track of everything via the internet, newspapers, magazines. On the internet Facebook has been helpful, and Twitter has become indispensible.
Sean: For me radio is another tool for getting the message out. And it’s cool because it seems so antiquated. I called my show Books on the Radio as a kind of inside joke. Like killing two already-dead birds with one stone. I don’t think that there’s anything fast-paced about radio or the radio environment. The magic of talking about books and using the radio as a means of broadcast is that it slows everything down and returns the conversation to something resembling the speed of the human heartbeat. It’s an analog conversation in a digital world where the warmth and candor of the voices are the transmission and the listener fills in the blanks with her mind. Trends don’t matter when you’re talking about books on the radio.
Stephen: I could care less about trending. The Book Club might be a little old-fashioned that way – no facebook or twitter accounts, nor even a website. We have built our audience through word of mouth and reputation. We have been very fortunate to have a who’s-who of literati on the show; Naomi Klein, David Suzuki, David Adams Richards, Stuart McLean, Alistair Macleod, Donna Morrissey, Ian Brown, Michael Crummey, Linden MacIntyre, Kathleen Winter, Diana Gabaldon, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Miriam Toews, Russell Wangersky, Neil Peart, Simon Brault, Jian Ghomeshi, Lesley Choyce, etc…and people tune in to get the “story behind the stories.”
What do you foresee to be the next big trend in writing and publishing?
Angela: I love the DIY nature of web 2.0. I think more people are writing, recording, editing, creating than ever before. Unfortunately sorting through all that content is more and more difficult. ‘Curation’ is of course the name of the game now and CBC is really well placed for that – people trust our opinions because they are not influenced by commercialism. The other interesting upcoming trend is ‘game-ification’ — is that a word? I’m looking forward to seeing what Sara Tilley, Michael Crummey, Lisa Moore, Kathleen Winter and Craig Francis Power will come up with as gaming starts to influence the literary sphere. And by that I mean the sensibility of gaming: the serial nature of it, the interactivity, the competitive elements etc.
Joseph: eBooks are incredibly popular, if not fashionable. I don’t own a device or have read a book on one, but one simply has to look at the bestseller lists in various publications and we’re seeing them differentiate between so-called traditional books and those sold electronically. I’m all for it if it means people read more. But I’m not for it if it means the book goes away. I’m hopeful both worlds can co-exist. For how long will be very interesting to see.
Sean: Disco Chia Pet Pop-up Encyclopedias are bound to hit it big! The trend that I hope emerges in the future is this: people will stop considering books to be on the brink of extinction or talk about them as though they are in need of ongoing lamentation. Books will endure. Great writing will endure. Kick-ass visionary authors will continue to demand use of paper and ink. In the same breath, I would also like to say… Digital has cracked the back of traditional publishing and there is no turning back. Writers/creators have more power now to control their careers and the quality of their work than ever before. You see evidence of this all the time and there will be more examples with every passing day. The trend is and will continue to be toward independent publishing of digital books with the physical book as the sidecar. This is for the immediate and near future. Further down the road, books will be a by-product of creative, collaborative web-based projects that embrace a huge range of different media. These projects will be built by creative teams that collaborate across vast distances – continents away from each other is as easy as next door – and the books that they create will be available in high quality print on demand editions delivered to customers quickly wherever they are in the world. The creative process is changing. Books are a vital vehicle of expression and documentation.
Stephen: Good writing isn’t trendy. However, the publishing world is in real flux. In the same way that iTunes became an unwritten social contract between musical artists and their audience, I believe that a middle ground will be created between authors and readers – perhaps something as simple as the selling of individual chapters so that readers can get a taste of the work first before deciding whether or not to pursue the book further.
Are you a writer? If so, list genre(s) and publications.
Angela: Although I write radio and TV scripts and pitches I cannot claim to be a writer. I do have an active visual arts practise which is informed by and inspires my radio work.
Joseph: No. Other than writing occasionally for the site, and of course writing up the often verbose, sometimes pompous, rarely short, introductions I provide my guests at the start of an interview, I do not write.
Sean: I am a writer. I write mostly for the web. I will have a book available in the next year or so.
Stephen: Atlantic Canada’s 100 Greatest Books (non-fiction, Nimbus Publishing, 2009) Now Here, Nowhere (poetry collection, published privately, 2010)
Name one person in the book industry—publisher, writer, etc—who you’d love to interview and why.
Angela: I would love to interview/pick the brain of TV’s Mad Men writers and I’d love to shadow Todd Haynes the filmmaker on his next project – I know they are outside of the Canadian book industry – but I am currently thinking about their work a lot. I have been so lucky in this job as the host/producer of CBC’s WAM – every writer and publisher I’ve called calls me back and agrees to be interviewed. It’s a recognition of the CBC’s role in the literary world and a recognition of how ‘hot’ Newfoundland is right now…every single non-Newfoundlander wants to come here to see what the cultural fuss is all about and to drink the water that our writers are drinking.
Joseph: I’d love to interview Dick Cavett. I’ve been lucky over the nearly seven years of interviewing to have interviewed interviewers I’ve admired, if not stolen from. Eleanor Wachtel and Ken Rockburn have graciously appeared, and Steve Paikin and Rafe Mair have been good about appearing regularly. Cavett was a fine interviewer, and he remains a witty conversationalist and personality. I think anyone who does what I do will do very well in trying to emulate Cavett, his personable style, and his ease at engaging in conversation. And I think he’d be incredibly fun to talk to and interview.
Sean: Sonny Mehta. Publisher at Alfred A. Knopf in New York. Legendary publishing figure. When Simon and Schuster balked at publishing Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho at the last minute, Sonny moved in quickly and published it via Knopf. Shrewd and epic. And from everything that I hear, a very nice man.
Stephen: I’ve interviewed Leonard Cohen several times and would do it again in a heartbeat. Our conversations are enlightening, entertaining and often outright hilarious. Most people have no idea what a brilliant sense of humour this man has.