Brave New Whirl: Audio Slam 2011

Many of us have heard of or seen Poetry Slams – those hip-hop-infused live competitions in which young writers seize the spotlight with powerful performances of their poetry. Well, now the spirit of the poetry slam has come to public radio, thanks to the good folks at WMPG-FM’s Blunt Youth Radio Project, who held an Audio Slam hot enough to melt the ice and snow in the middle of a Maine winter. We asked them to share their experiences of their inaugural event in a guest blog post below.

Blunt Youth emcees

Blunt Youth Radio’s Great Northeast Radio Rally Audio Slam Throwdown brought the live action of a battle of the bands to the world of produced audio. The idea was to create a space for producers that would deliver the adrenaline rush of a live performance and a competitive atmosphere that would leave producers wanting more.

                                 “I liked seeing a brand new type of event.” — audience member

Blunt Audio Slam ScoreThe setting: Space Gallery in Portland, Maine, a cool, performance venue, dimmed lights, 150 people. The first 13 (of 26) audio slammers in chairs on the stage.
The emcees: two teens from WMPG’s Blunt Youth Radio Project, Iris SanGiovanni and Gabe Terracciano.
The format:
4 rounds, 1-minute of audio played each round (better make each minute count).
The judges: media pros from radio, print and film — hold notebooks and markers.
Their job: to judge each minute on the spot, using a scale of  1-10.
The stakes: a $500 cash prize for the winner.
The contestants: audio producers of every stripe, from 20-year veterans to teenagers.
The audio: This American Life-like features, radio drama, Moth-like stories and audio art

             “I was super nervous, but it was really fun. I loved the concept, the variety, and the turnout.”  — contestant

Audio Slam WinnerAfter the first round, participants who hadn’t made it to the next round stayed to cheer on their favorite pieces. It was exciting and intense. The audience – slammers and judges all – were totally engaged. In the final round, the $500 first prize went to to A.J. Frazier, of WNYC’s Radio Rookies for his piece, Promotion in Doubt. The list of winners is on Blunt Radio website.

“Diverse types of audio and a high level of quality throughout,” wrote one judge.

“The slam was fantastic!” — audience member

The audio slam was experimental…The good news was that the whole event went more smoothly, was more fun and better received than we had expected. Still, we have some ideas on how to improve for our next slam, and hope that others will give it a try, too.

Tips for hosting an audio slam:

1. Have competitors submit their pieces in similar format: Submit your piece divided into four one-minute mp3s, and one undivided mp3. This way you avoid converting files or slicing submissions. Get a bio from every contestant and any links to their audio. Getting the audio ready is a big job.

2. Figure out the rounds: For us Round One had 26 contestants; Round Two just 8; Round Three, only 4 and then in round four, the winner played all 4 minutes. We played one minute each round, but it was hard to get the true sense of the pieces. Next time we’ll play them cumulatively – Round One is minute one. Round Two is minutes one and two…

3. Create categories (a few) so that audio art doesn’t compete against news features. Then in the last round, the category winners compete in their entirety.

4. Require contestants (or representatives) to appear in person so producers can introduce the submission and visually represent it on stage. This created a live on-stage event and really heightened the atmosphere. Our emcees kept the pace, explained the steps, encouraged audience feedback, and created a great vibe.

5. Orient the judges and contestants carefully. Judging is slam-style from 1-10, decimal points allowed. Invite judges who can appreciate audio of differing types.

6. A stage manager, a score-keeper and a tech director for the audio are necessary.

                                “I hope that it won’t be the last Rally or Slam. It definitely reenergized me
                                 to work on radio stuff.” — finalist

This guest blog post was written by Claire Holman, Director of Blunt Youth Radio; Ness Smith-Savedoff, Blunt alum and Tech Director for the Audio Slam; and Katie Freddoso, Blunt’s Lead Coordinator, Special Projects.

Founded in 1994, Blunt Youth Radio Project produces a weekly call-in, public affairs talk show 7:30-8:30 on Monday nights on WMPG, Greater Portland Community Radio. High school age youth from the Portland area, both free and incarcerated, staff the show. Blunt Members learn all areas of radio production: interviewing, hosting, reporting, editing & engineering. Work by Blunt members has aired on NPR, the BBC & MPBN.