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Final "Sound & Spirit" broadcasts

One of my life's dreams was to have my own show on public radio. When I moved from NYC to Boston in 1987, that dream came true when I became the overnight radio host at WGBH-FM.  On air live from midnight to 5 a.m.,  I learned my craft in the "graveyard shift" as  I listened to - and played - reams of diverse music from the amazing WGBH music library. WGBH added a Sunday afternoon world music shift, and also made me the writer/host for a very eccentric national concert series (The Nakamichi International Music Series), whose producers & I joyously broke all the rules of classical announcing. In the next 2 years I created a trio of equally unlikely Jewish holiday specials. At that point, PRI asked me to pilot a national series that combined my passions for world cultures, history, humanities, and every kind of music. That show became my national series, Sound & Spirit, broadcast on nearly 300 stations nationwide.

By the time I left Boston in 2006, my awesome staff & I had created well over 150 shows. To my amazed delight, PRI chose to continue offering them to stations around the country. Only this year did they finally decide to retire the broadcasts. And so, next Sunday, June 27, 2010, will see the final radio broadcast of PRI's Sound & Spirit with Ellen Kushner.

There isn't room here for all my thoughts & feelings about it. So I hope you don't mind if I simply share with you, below, the letter I wrote last month to all the stations who've carried the show.

And the best news of all is that Sound & Spirit is going to remain available online! Thanks to the generosity of producing station WGBH Boston, you can listen on demand to shows ranging from Riddles, Storytelling, Tricksters, Borderlands, Dreams (with guest Neil Gaiman) to Surviving Survival (with guest Terri Windling) . . . all by going to: http://www.wgbh.org/pri/spirit  any time you want!

So, whether you're a longtime radio listener, a frequent webbiste, or someone who's only just learning about this interstitial hour of indescribable radio . . . happy listening.  And thanks.

Letter to Stations from Sound & Spirit host Ellen Kushner

When Sound & Spirit made its national debut back in Spring of 1996, I had no idea how much of a change it would make in my life. Or, rather, I didn't realize just what sort of change it would be. Doing a show about the music, traditions and beliefs of people around the world and through the ages meant I had to open myself up to everything, without judging (except, maybe, aesthetically) a huge variety of human experience. I just plain learned a lot about our world, and got to hear some really good music.

But my greatest learning came from you and your listeners. As you can imagine, the personal letters we got about each show were a revelation: moving, heartbreaking, hilarious, erudite, engaged - they reminded me of the range of humanity whose lives can be touched by public radio at any time. And they made me feel very humble, as what was sometimes just another sprint to a tight deadline on the part of my gifted, overworked staff and me could be a transformative experience for a listener. It wasn't really my voice or my words or my ideas that touched them, it was the material about the world we all live in that I was able to convey through the broadcast medium, thanks to you.

Traveling to stations for local events made all that even clearer. It was such joy getting to parts of America I'd never seen before, to be welcomed into each new community as a friend because of Sound & Spirit. I got to experience the spirit of each place, and I hope I brought a little of each back to the show. I know it changed the way I see our country, giving me an education I didn't know I'd lacked. Hanging out with colleagues at conferences all over the country was part of that experience.

What else? Well, I have to confess that doing a weekly one-hour show with an average of 100 sound cues in 59 minutes (yes, we counted once!) also taught me more about meeting a deadline and showing up on time than anything before or since -- and these are lessons that have stood me in very good stead as I continue my many-branched career in writing, publishing, teaching, public speaking, and performing here in New York City, where I've lived for the past four years.

I am very, very grateful to you for hosting Sound & Spirit on your air all this time. I'm deeply grateful to WGBH & PRI for supporting our quixotic venture from the beginning, and for keeping most of our archive of shows online for people to listen to on-demand. (I hope you can let your listeners know that the show is still available that way: www.wgbh.org/pri/spirit )

I'll miss you. So let's stay in touch, OK? I'm online at http://www.EllenKushner.com. Recent & upcoming projects include a new novel, a children's Chanukah book (and stage show in NYC), an anthology for teens . . . and, yes, a RADIO play: "The Witches of Lublin," a "Jewish holiday magic realist klezmer musical historical drama" I'm writing with musicians Yale Strom & Elizabeth Schwartz. Because I love radio. And there's still so much to talk about.

Warmest good wishes,
Ellen Kushner



( 37 comments — Leave a comment )
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Jun. 20th, 2010 06:44 am (UTC)
And thank you, Ellen, for having produced all those thoughtful and moving shows.

Here's my tribute: I've just published my article on Tolkien and music (based on my Mythcon talks), with a title, "Liquid Tolkien," which is a quotation of your description of Sibelius from the S&S show on Tolkien and music. And of course I quoted you, with proper citation, in my discussion of Sibelius.
Jun. 21st, 2010 02:58 am (UTC)
That is insanely cool.
Jun. 20th, 2010 09:01 am (UTC)
Ellen, may I add this post to the Cabinet des Fées blog?

I'm going to miss this. You've done such good work with it over the years.
Jun. 21st, 2010 02:41 am (UTC)
I'd be honored! Thank you.
(no subject) - erzebet - Jun. 21st, 2010 12:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 20th, 2010 09:05 am (UTC)
I'm sad to hear that your show is going off air, I only really discovered it two weeks ago, when I finished the last book by you I had not read (Thomas the Rhymer)and was left with the need to hunt down every scrap (which is not all that easy from the other side of the planet) and your other projects. I came upon Sound and Spirit and since I did, I'm burning through the episodes, your voice is always in my ear when I roam the city and people keep staring at me because it so often puts a smile of joy on my face.

Fotunately for me I still have over a hundred episodes ahead of me to enjoy and I wanted to thank you for creating this wonderful show.

I'll be sure to look out for all your future shows and I can't wait for "The Witches of Lublin". Is their any chance it will be broadcasted on the internet too?
Jun. 21st, 2010 02:59 am (UTC)
Oh, you are too kind!

Fingers crossed that we'll be able to go into production for "Lublin" by fall, and air it in the spring. Almost everything on public radio here ends up on the internet, so chances are good.
(no subject) - ellen_kushner - Jun. 21st, 2010 03:06 am (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 20th, 2010 01:04 pm (UTC)
Thanks for posting this. I went over to that web page, and it appears they're not offering them as podcasts? Is that right? I would add my vote to the commenter over there who pleads for them to do so. I'll comment over there, too, but just wanted you to know here's one more newbie (to your programs) checking out the archives.
Jun. 21st, 2010 02:44 am (UTC)
Unfortunately, we don't have the rights to the music, which we'd need in order to podcast shows. It's annoying, isn't it? Because of course we'd utterly love to offer the shows as podcasts!

Though, as an old friend explained to me recently, 'bits are bits – the idea that “streaming” audio is actually different from “downloaded” audio is pretty much just snake oil. Audio that’s streaming is audio that’s downloading, it’s just getting cached in a more obscure folder on the local machine. For a few dollars anyone can buy software that makes permanent files out of any audio “streamed” to a personal computer – Audio Hijack is such a program for the Mac, for instance.'

Just sayin'.
(no subject) - threeoutside - Jun. 21st, 2010 10:05 am (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 20th, 2010 02:31 pm (UTC)
Oh, I'm so glad to hear that the shows will be available online! They've been a weekend highlight for me for years, and I have many of them taped on cassettes, though no longe having a cassette player, I cannot listen to them anymore.

I think my favorite will always be your show on Tolkien! Thanks to it, I was able to purchase the last available copy of The Hobbiton's CD!
Jun. 21st, 2010 02:45 am (UTC)
Ooo - loved The Hobbitons!
Jun. 20th, 2010 03:23 pm (UTC)
Thank god that Sound & Spirit will be online. It is quite an accomplishment and I have listened to nearly all of them. (I had cassttes of a lot like Dreamflower metnioned above. Tossed all dusty old cassettes at my last move.)
Jun. 21st, 2010 03:04 am (UTC)
Yes - back in the days before streaming online, we used to get letters from listeners *begging* for tapes, which we were unable to provide for the same reason that we now can't do podcasts: Music Rights. However, we found out that it was perfectly legal for listeners to tape shows off the air for "Personal Use" - so glad you were able to do that!
Jun. 20th, 2010 05:21 pm (UTC)
I'm sorry it's going, but it will be good to still have the archive to revisit.
That's a lovely letter.
Jun. 21st, 2010 03:04 am (UTC)
Thanks - I worked hard on that letter!
Jun. 20th, 2010 06:30 pm (UTC)
thank you!
Thank you, Ellen, for many, many hours of listening pleasure on-air and on-line. "Sound and Spirit" is one of the few shows I have ever made special plans to stay home to listen to, and it has always been worth it. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Jun. 21st, 2010 03:07 am (UTC)
Re: thank you!
The privilege was all mine.
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 21st, 2010 03:02 am (UTC)
I loved when we were on in the Twin Cities - I have so many friends there, and the show's partners/distributors, PRI, are there, so it seemed a sad irony when it went away there....

Thanks for mentioning the staff - it was a small band of gifted, dedicated professionals who put heart & soul into every hour of radio.
Jun. 22nd, 2010 08:56 am (UTC)
lovely, gracious letter. must be a terribly momentous occasion, bittersweet. thanks for sharing the pride, pleasure and pain!
Jun. 22nd, 2010 01:30 pm (UTC)
I'm fine with it now - I mean, I was genuinely astonished that PRI kept it on the air in "reruns" as long as they did! - every year I expected to hear it was the last . . . But I must admit that when the call finally came (a couple months ago), it was a jolt. What I did was to leap up and put Warren Zevon's album "Life'll Kill Ya" (which I got as a promo and used to listen to all the time while working on the show - I know, I know, you thought it was all chanting monks & R. Carlos Nakai) on the stereo, and play it really loudly over and over until I'd absorbed the news.

Weirdly enough, my dad formally retired last Friday (at the age of 81), and my mom stepped down from her presidency of some board or other last night. Seems to be the month for it, in our family!
Jun. 22nd, 2010 08:28 pm (UTC)
Thank You
Plese add my voice to those thanking you for fourteen years of "Sound and Spirit". The program led me to interest in the interstitial arts movement; yet, my Sunday afternoons shall seeme emptier.
Nov. 19th, 2010 12:49 am (UTC)
Re: Thank You
So good to have you with us! I've always felt that "S&S" is a very interstitial show - when public radio program directors used to ask, "Is it a music show or a talk show?" our answer was usually, "Yes!"
Jun. 27th, 2010 02:47 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much Ellen. Sound and Sprit touched my heart. I will continue to listen, and good luck to you. Jean
Jul. 1st, 2010 08:42 pm (UTC)
Ellen, I've enjoyed these for years and will no doubt continue to enjoy hearing them online. Even folding laundry is better with "Sound & Spirit." The image of the backyard girls in their grey summer hooded capes, ready for adventure, always sticks with me. And I don't need to wish you luck because I know that you are a Luck Child and quite good at making your own!

Good cheer,
Nov. 19th, 2010 01:39 am (UTC)
Re: Thanks--
Marly, thank you! I love that you remember that bit about the grey cloaks from the "Lord of the Rings" show.
Jul. 3rd, 2010 11:29 pm (UTC)
Good Bye and Thank You

Thank you for your wonderful show, which has been a part of my weekend routine for years. I'll miss it a lot.

Joanne in Sacramento
Jul. 4th, 2010 04:46 pm (UTC)
An Aching Void
Yet another blow to our local "public" radio programming on WUOT. It has spiraled steadily downward as it has resolutely marched toward talk radio under the direction of current program director Regina Dean who, it seems, doesn't much care for music. Yours was one of the very few worthwhile syndicated programs they carried (with local programming almost completely obliterated). Needless to say, your slot has been filled with yet another tiresome APM show (admittedly, I haven't given it much of a chance, yet, but so far..).

I can't imagine why your show was brought to an end. Maybe you can't tell us. But, unless you simply grew weary of it and walked away, somebody made a big mistake.
Jul. 7th, 2010 03:01 am (UTC)
thank you
I was not a regular listener, but I do regularly visit the website to listen to your shows. I will miss having new ones, but am so grateful to WGBH for keeping the website up.

This has been so wonderful - I hope your new ventures are as great.
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