Getting Pitchy at Third Coast

A. You have an idea – a burning desire to tell a story.

B. It begs to be broadcast on public radio.

C. It must be heard on a national program.

D. And you deserve to get paid.

How do you get from point A to point D? 

Pitch! Pitch! Pitch!

Pitching is the process of fleshing out a concept with as much detail (and as few words) as possible in order to persuade an editor to give you the time of day. It reminds me of a sexist metaphor a male high school teacher used when answering my innocent question, “How long should my social studies report be?” He replied, “The length of a girl’s skirt: long enough to cover the subject, but short enough to make it interesting.” Oh, the memories…and how teacher etiquette has changed in 30 years…but I digress…(or is my skirt too long?…)

Now, let’s be honest: A bad pitch leaves a bad taste, a bad impression. A good pitch winds up with an assignment, and hopefully, good feelings and good money. I’ve been on both sides of both kinds of pitches, as a reporter and an editor. I know the joy of a well-articulated idea and both the dry mouth and eye-roll of a weak effort.


Are you a good pitch or a bad pitch?


Here’s one way to find out: Follow the yellow brick road to next month’s Third Coast International Audio Festival in Chicago, where you can meet those “men behind the curtains,” the Wizards of public radio Oz. AIR is a sponsor of the conference and will be hosting a lively pitch session called Win-Win. AIR Member Laura Starecheski has lined up two killer panels of editorial experts including:

Christopher Turpin, Executive Producer of

Julie Snyder, Senior Producer, This American Life

David Krasnow, Senior Editor of Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen

Julie Subrin, Executive Producer, Vox Tablet

Celeste Wesson, Senior Producer, Marketplace

Tony Phillips, Senior Commissioning Producer for Landmark Programming, documentaries, sport, religion, cultural, music, arts, drama, factual and environmental programmes, at the BBC World Service

How’s that for a title? Definitely more interesting than Duke, Viscount, Earl or Baron, eh?


Are you ready for your close-up?


Here’s how it works. Decide which program you want to pitch your story to. Read these guidelines. Then email your pitch to pitch(a) by 5 pm ET on Friday, October 1, 2010. You’ve got 48 hours. Go!

If your pitch is chosen for presentation at the Win-Win session, you may get a little coaching from AIR member Peter Clowney, the Executive Producer of Content Development at American Public Media. A former Executive Producer at the late Weekend America, Peter was also on the MQ2 Talent Committee.

Laura’s advice: “First, keep it short and sweet. (It’s always good to leave people wanting more.) Draw your editor in with a strong hook up top… make them want to keep reading. If there’s a conflict, what is it about?  Tell us what’s at stake, and for whom.  Give some context for why this story matters, right now. Next, why are you the person to produce it? Do you have special contacts or access?  Finally, let your personal style come through. If the pitch is well-written and distinctive, it speaks for your skills.”

If you want to get an sense of what this dynamic event might be like, you can tune into the archived audio from The Perfect Pitch session at Third Coast 2008. Click here for Part One and here for Part Two

AIR member Anna Boiko-Weyrauch was one of the indies who participated in The Perfect Pitch last time. The story she pitched that day never made it to the air, but she said the experience was still worthwhile.

“The best thing to come out of participating in the Pitch Session was feeling what it’s like to be part of a supportive, creative community. After I pitched, I got a lot of tips from experienced producers about how to pitch better, how to craft my story better – I got a lot of encouragement from my peers for getting up in front of people with my story idea. Just sharing my idea started a lot of great conversations throughout the conferenc.”

Plus, her participation opened the door to other paying assigments. Anna wound up meeting an editor from Marketplace and since the last Third Coast conference, she’s worked on several pieces for that program.

“Almost every time I find myself in the middle of writing a tricky pitch, I think back to the critiques I heard on the “hot seat”…People petrified at the pitching process should think about the session not as a place to get cut down, but as a collaborative process between the editors on the panel, the presenters and the audience, all working together to do the hard work of kneading, pulling, twisting, contorting and yanking the essence of a story out, which is what goes into a good pitch. Even if it doesn’t result in getting that story on the air at that show, it’s a good learning experience that teaches as much about what makes good radio and how to maximize the independent producer/show relationship, as it does about the technicalities of pitching.”


Extracting the Nectar


The final word at Win-Win will go to veteran producer and AIR founding member Karen Michel, who again is serving as Rapporteur (rapporteuse?) for the event. Last time around, she left the room full of independent producers with this parting provocation/benediction:

“The gist of this is you all have to lie down with snakes and just get over it, and have your dream, but be able to express the dream as succinctly as possible and make sure the people you are pitching to share your dream. If you are pitching your dream to people who don’t dream at all but instead stay awake all the time, it’s the wrong show. Each show has its own sonic signature…as do you as producers, so make your point about what your signature is that matches theirs…As much as you think, you have to say that your story is really juicy but if you can’t extract the nectar from the juice and make it appealing to people who hate pomegranates, you’re in trouble. Nag if you must, but take the hint. We’re talking about radio, sound will drive the story.”

So, if you haven’t registered yet for the Third Coast International Audio Festival (October 28-31), do it today. And don’t forget to release the pigeons by clicking on the link at the bottom of the page. If you crank up your audio, you might just hear the lovely sounds of wings flapping as the birds zoom by.