From the Archive: Pitches (Part 2)

Editor’s note: “From AIR’s Archive” brings forward some of the lost (or long-buried) profiles and advice about audiocraft that we’ve collected over the years. Pitching is one of those evergreen subjects – in part because editors at different shows change over time, and tastes do, too. Below, you’ll find examples of pitches that worked (and one that didn’t) compiled by Dave Barasoain and Margo Melnicove. They were first posted in July 2006 on the AIRdaily, the ListServ for AIR’s network of producers. 

Last week, we shared a 2006 Q&A about pitching from Tanya Ott and NPR’s liaison with independent producers, Margo Melnicove. For more (and updated) advice, check out our 2014 webinar “The Art of the Pitch” with independent producers Ann Heppermann and Yowei Shaw, and John Haas of “Marketplace.”  Ready to pitch? Visit our index of programs’ pitch guidelines on the AIR Pitch Page.

On to the pitches:


Using Sept. 11 Funds to Aid Afghans – aired March 9, 2004, on “Day to Day”

Derrill Bodley’s daughter died in the 9/11 plane crash in Pennsylvania. He has decided to use a substantial portion of his U.S. government victims’ compensation money to help civilians injured by U.S. bombs dropped in Afghanistan, and to help Afghan non-profit groups.

I traveled with Derrill as he met with a family whose home was destroyed by US bombs, as well as sewing co-op members able to earn a living as a result of donations from US non-profits. During the journey, Derrill worked through some of the grief of his daughter’s loss and came to learn how complicated it will be to donate money in war-torn Afghanistan. This story will use little or no narration.

– Shared by Reese Erlich

• Recuerdos (“Remembering”) – aired July 16, 2004, on “Latino USA”

Mexican director Marcela Arteaga has created an intriguing film (Recuerdos) about the life of Luis Frank. Frank, a Lithuanian Jew, fought in the Spanish Civil War, was arrested by the Nazis in France and sent to Auschwitz, and eventually migrated to Mexico after WWII. The film is being presented at the SF Jewish Film Festival.

I’d like to file a feature for “Latino USA” using the film as a means to look at the lives of Mexican Jews. I plan to interview the director and experts on Latin Jewry. I’ll include clips from the film and reactions from the Film Festival audience. The Jewish Film Festival starts July 22nd and finishes August 9th.

– Shared by Reese Erlich

Young History Whiz Hopes to Cash in with Trivia – aired Aug. 26, 2004, on “All Things Considered”(shared by Sean Cole)

So the other story I’ve been meaning to pitch to you is this thing I’m working on about a presidential historian named Neil McCalmont. He’s kind of a savant, can name and number all the presidents in order, tell you which years they served, which was the tallest, the shortest, fattest, which one had the biggest feet, which state yielded the most presidents, the second most, etc.

He also happens to be 8 years old.

Apparently, he became curious about presidents in first grade when his teacher showed the class what money looked like. From there he Googled “US presidents” and learned all this stuff in the space of a week to a month (according to him).

The thing is his father didn’t know he knew this much about presidents until they took him on a tour of the White House and Neil started pointing at things and saying what they were. One of the security guards overheard him and started quizzing him. Neil got every question right. His father was stunned.

Anyway, to make a long story short, Neil and his dad Jim McCalmont decided it would be fun to create their own board game, a kind of Trivial Pursuit of presidential history. They published it themselves and are hoping to start selling it in stores this September.

So I talked to Neil (one of the more extraordinary people I’ve ever interviewed I think) and his dad and mom. Interviewed them all separately. Then dad mom and I played the game (Neil said he was too tired). And then I called presidential historian Robert Dallek and asked him about ten of the questions from the game on the phone. I think he got about two right.

Anyway I’m going to start putting this together for us. Thinking of airing it here late next week or perhaps during the convention. In any event, please let me know what you think when you get a chance. For us I’m thinking like 8 or 9 minutes but I don’t imagine it could run that long for you guys.

– Shared by Sean Cole

• PITCH: The National Park Service is addressing concerns from Native Americans about “religious groups” “praying” at Bear Butte (National Monument) – traditional sacred site (mountain) for many Plains tribes.

The religious freedom that the U.S. Supreme Court extended to American Indians in 1978 to practice traditional tribal religions at Bear Butte is now clashing with the same freedom granted to members of other religions. Native Americans who visit the site to pray are complaining about these groups – such as New Agers and Rainbow people – who they say are merely “using” the site as a campground and a location to practice religious ceremonies that “belong” to Native people.

The story would explore both sides of the religious practice issue and ask who determines what a religious group is and can one group practice the religion of another. Interviews would be with natives and non-natives at Bear Butte as well as National Park Service personnel. This issue is ongoing, but recent meetings between the Parks Service and Native Americans have brought the issue back to the surface.

– Shared by Ken Barcus, NPR’s Midwestern bureau chief

PITCH: In the old west, salesmen peddling exotic elixirs, tonics, miracle cures and gadgets traveled from town to town, set up an impromptu stage and tried to draw a crowd with their showmanship. That tradition lives on in the concessions areas of state fairs across the country as fast-talking itinerant sales artists work hard to make a quick sale to any one of the thousands that drift by their booth every day.

These people have to be fast, funny, smart, sincere and above all, tireless. The parade of potential customers at the fair is relentless – 10 or 11 hours a day they walk by and these performers/sales people have to get them first to stop, then be amazed, then close a deal with at least a couple of folks in the group.

They use some of the techniques we’re familiar with from late-night TV. First quoting what sounds like a reasonable price for a gadget, then offering two for the price of one, then announcing that the company has authorized him, only “while they last,” to offer up a bonus pair of kitchen shears to toss in the deal. Whether it’s the miracle mop, or the hand grater that protects your knuckles (“you know who makes those old style graters don’t you?” says one, “The people who make Band- Aids!”), or the incredible Mr. Sticky that picks up lint off anything, they have “remarkable” products to sell and a short time to do it in.

I’d like to explore these peoples’ skill, record their schtick, talk to them about their techniques, how they know who in a group is most likely to buy, how they feel when hours go by without a sale, how they maintain their energy, what life is like on the road for them, moving from fair to fair, trade show to trade show.

The fair runs through this weekend but I don’t think a feature like this needs to be tied to THIS fair so I think the story would hold and could be run about anytime.

If anyone’s interested, I’d like to know by mid-week if possible because the best day for me to go back would be Thursday, Sept.19.

WHY GOOD? Piece reeks with sound possibilities, presenting a scene that’s both familiar and exotic. Reporter has done his homework about the scene, the sales and the work life, has a good idea of what he’s going to do, and when it should air.

– Shared by Alisa Barba, NPR’s Western bureau chief

• PITCH: A small order of Franciscan nuns who run a ferry landing and a small general store, are leaving the island they’ve called home for 27 years.

DETAILS: The nuns have become a tourist attraction to the thousands of people who visit Washington State’s San Juan islands each year. They also provide a vital state service by operating the ferry ramp/landing on Shaw Island. It’s not clear yet why they’re leaving, but it’s likely because most of the nuns are very old and need to be near medical facilities – this is a ­­­ story among all elderly who live on islands. The move also casts a light on a way of religious life that’s nearly gone – this is a sunset moment.

TIMING: It’s not clear exactly when they’re leaving. I’m thinking November or early December. I think the best time to do the story would be during their last week. Also, the nuns lead a very secluded life. I would like the time to find an island resident or other Catholic liaison who can be a bridge builder so as to get good tape.

WHY GOOD? Focused, clear, straightforward and SHORT!!!

– Shared by Alisa Barba, NPR’s Western bureau chief

PITCH: The “academic sport” of chess is emerging as a way to encourage concentration and build critical thinking for elementary aged kids. Seattle and NYC are among the leaders in this effort. Said one public school principal, “I believe chess helps academics, but it also teaches kids that there are consequences for every move they make.” A sound-rich (lots of kids) piece could be nice before the school year ends.

WHY BAD? Because it’s too vague, too obvious; it’s not clear what’s ‘new.’

– Shared by Alisa Barba, NPR’s Western bureau chief