The Jobs Report: I’m A Public Radio Producer
12:30 pm, November 7th | by Sarah Devlin
This is the second installment in an ongoing series we’re calling The Jobs Report. In light of depressing statistics about unemployment, especially for recent college graduates, the task of finding a job you love — or finding a job at all — can seem insurmountable. We want to challenge those numbers and offer an antidote to the depressing data, so we’re asking women we know who have found jobs they love to share how they got their gigs and what challenges and rewards them about their careers.
Maddy Mahon is an assistant producer living in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
1. When and how did you decide you wanted to work in radio?
I grew up listening to public radio — it was just the background noise during car trips and dinner and basically anytime I was within 30 feet of my parents. I always wanted to do something with NPR, but I didn’t ever really believe that radio was something I could do for a career, even when I started college as a journalism major. It seemed like saying I wanted to be an astronaut or the Queen – just not on my radar. I worked for the paper in high school and just assumed I’d make that my career. However, I somehow got paired with Jack Mitchell as my adviser freshman year, the man who just happened to be NPR’s first ever employee and the first producer of All Things Considered. The first time I met with him in his office it all suddenly seemed feasible, and between that and discovering This American Life and Radiolab, I realized that getting paid to make informative, interesting noise come out of people’s radios was about as good a gig as I was going to find.
2. How did you get the job you have now?
Basically I worked a lot for very little pay (I’m sure this is a shocking revelation to everyone hoping for that million dollar salary from your local NPR affiliate…). Luckily for me, Wisconsin Public Radio’s headquarters were in the same building that housed all of my j-school classes, so senior year I applied for an internship with a great news magazine show at Wisconsin Public Radio, To the Best of Our Knowledge, and somehow got the gig. I did a lot of booking, audio editing and transcribing. I transcribed hundreds and hundreds of hours of tape, which should have been mind-numbing but basically meant I got to listen to really amazing interviews from people like Gay Talese and Ta-Nehisi Coates. My boss at WPR had an office that was literally stacked with hundreds and hundred of books stretching from floor to ceiling. It was heaven. After I graduated I did Peace Corps and worked in publishing for a year, but I kept writing and recording small audio pieces. I was lucky, again, to score a summer paid internship with NPR working for their arts desk where I covered their Books section. Again, dozens of free books and talking with cool authors and learning to do a lot of web building, editing and transcribing. That (aside from my current gig) was the best place I’ve ever worked. The tiny desk concerts happened next to my computer! Nina Totenburg and Robert Siegel walked by me in the hall! Nerds unite! After that I started applying like mad for producer gigs. I knew I wanted to work on a show that had a culture focus as well as hard news and I was really fortunate to land this spot at MPR, the NPR station of my childhood. Honestly, me probably yelling over and over again in my interview “THIS IS MY CHILDHOOD DREAM” may have helped, or may have just made me look crazy – regardless, I was hired!
3. What’s something challenging about working in radio that you didn’t know about before having this job?
The show I work on is a live program, and while that seemed all fine and dandy when I started, I totally underestimated the stress of producing three live hours a day. Most shows like All Things Considered and Morning Edition have a live host who tosses to pieces that were already recorded. On a live show, we have to focus on making sure guests arrive when they’re supposed to, or that phones don’t go dead while we’re on air or that a guest doesn’t stab themselves in the eye with the corner of a laptop live on the show and then make warbling death sounds as we all sit horrified in the studio (that happened.) Most days I have at least one guest on the show and still, eight months into the gig, I can’t help but shake like a leaf while I try to get everything together. Also, I’ve learned that one minute of a bad show can feel like an eternity.
4. What’s something great about working in radio that you didn’t know about before having this job?
There are so many great things about my job that I didn’t realize I would love. One is how much I love editing audio and doing the geeky behind the scenes stuff. I’m not tech-y in anyway but I could spend three hours happily making sure that a prerecorded interview is ‘uh’ and ‘um’ free. Also, I didn’t realize how much freedom I’d be given to put shows together. The day I walked into the office my host basically said book something, anything. Initially I thought I’d be booking mainly authors for the program, and while I do many of those I also book science shows and shows on the economy and politics and social science. Basically if I read an interesting article and can pitch it to my host in a way that makes sense, I get to make the show, which means finding guests, doing pre-interviews and whatever else is needed. Getting to see an idea play out like that is pretty cool. Plus I have a standing desk, and that rules.
Do you know a woman who has a cool job that she loves? Are you that woman? Nominate yourself or someone else to be featured in The Jobs Report at firstname.lastname@example.org.