New Member Corner: “The power of audio to manufacture new worlds”

Producer Elizabeth Nakano sits, smiling, in front of a microphone.Name: Elizabeth Nakano

Hometown: San Dimas, CA

Joined AIR: May 2016


Professional experience/background: My work history includes indie film and TV production, non-profit development, and digital strategy

What’s playing on your radio right now? My radio is always synced to my phone, which streams my local NPR station (KPCC) no matter where I am. I have an absurd attachment to the voice of AirTalk host Larry Mantle. To me, it’s the voice of home.

What’s a podcast you’ve just learned about? I didn’t hear about The Guardian’s “The Biggest Story In The World” podcast until the end of 2015, and then I binge-listened to all 12 episodes over the course of two days.

What do you think about it? I really admire how nimbly The Guardian was able to take a complex, contentious issue that I would never dream of tackling and break it down into digestible bits of information while remaining engaging. When I first learned the whole series was about climate change, I groaned inside, imagining a bunch of alarmist statistics peppered with quotations from policy wonks. But it got such positive reviews that I gave it a shot, and I’m glad I did.

What’s the best piece you’ve ever heard? I love the sound design of “Disequlibrium” by Nick Ryan, Lisa Gee and Jeremy Mortimer. The immersive soundscape reminds me of the power of audio to manufacture new worlds for the listener.

What drew you to radio? My dad was bedridden for many years with a terminal illness. We would spend hours together streaming radio and podcasts from my smartphone. It was his window to the outside world. My radio consumption increased drastically during that time.

The moment I realized I wanted to move from listening to telling audio stories was while working on a documentary film. The film team sent me and a cameraman to interview an expert. I was terrified. I had never handled a mic much less ran an in-person interview, and yet I was expected to do both. But five minutes into the interview, my hands had stopped shaking, and I forgot there was a third person in the room. The editor ended up using multiple quotes from the tape.

What are you looking to learn about your craft? I want to hone my storytelling chops and get better at sound design and mixing.

What piece of audio do you love to share with others? Lulu Miller’s Radiolab story, “Falling,” just tugs at my heartstrings every time. It has such an intimate feeling—like I’m talking over coffee with Lulu and the interviewees—and the ending is so poignant that even thinking about it right now brings back all the feelings I felt the first time I heard it.

What’s inspiring you right now? I really love the ReplyAll episode “The Cathedral.” The way the producer, Sruthi Pinnamaneni, ended the episode is, to me, a powerful example of how to bring complex stories to a close without being trite or overbearing.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received about audio? Take yourself seriously. If I’m producing a piece just for me, I have a hard time justifying interviews with people. I worry I’m wasting their time, and the story gets compromised because of that. I was recently told I need to drop that mindset.

How does public media reflect your American experience? It feels like I’m able to more easily discover work by female producers every year. The conversations about diversity in public media mirror those that are happening in other fields I am or have been involved with, like film/TV production and even non-profit staffing.

How could it reflect your experience better? As more female producers come onto the scene, I think the range of narratives about the American experience will overlap more and more with mine.

Who have you always wanted to interview? The Italian author Elena Ferrante. I’m a fan of both her writing and her personal opinions on creativity and art. But she never gives interviews because her identity is a secret. So I should probably resign myself to letting that dream die.

• Elizabeth and other gifted producers can be reached through AIR’s Talent Directory. Not a member? Join AIR!