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Sounds of Silence: Public Radio’s Canceled Program Archive

Failure is an option. In fact, some of our best and favorite national programs in public radio are no longer broadcast: Fair Game with Faith SalieBryant Park ProjectThe Next Big Thing…Crossroads, just to name a few that I personally appreciated. Which shows do you miss the most?

Over the summer, I posted a call-out on the AIR listserv, the vibrant bulletin board and discussion group for over 750 independent producers who are members of AIR. I asked this group of wise elders and savvy youngsters to help me crowdsource a list of nationally syndicated programs on public radio that have faded from the airwaves. The response was tremendous and the list quickly grew to over 60 programs. People even reminded me of a few programs I produced that are now gone, including some shows where perhaps even my own smudgy fingerprints may be on the murder weapon…How soon we forget.

Do Not Speak Ill of the Dead

The main purpose of my little trip down memory lane was not to wax nostalgic or revive controversy, but to look at the public radio landscape over time and piece together the puzzle of success and failure on the national level. While some tech start-ups participate in FAILFaire, an open-source platform where it’s okay to talk about what didn’t work, we in public media don’t honestly talk about this very much. As a fleeting medium, we dwell in the daily, the deadline, the present moment, while carefully planning for the future. We celebrate new beginnings and launches with fanfare, but go gentle into that good night when shows stop. As we move to reinvent public radio in this rapidly changing digital and mobile era, wouldn’t it be good to glean the lessons of our collective past, to create a knowledge network that can inform our next steps? 

Why do some programs survive, even thrive, while others perish? Does anybody have definitive answers?  Sure, sometimes a show might just be a bad concept or poorly executed, with the wrong host, weak leadership or off-chemistry. But truthfully, that’s rare. Public radio is filled with tremendously talented, super-sharp, mission-driven people with an abundance of ideas and the tenacity to try new things. Surely funding is a key factor. And, some shows just aren’t meant to last forever. But while they are on the air, they make a lasting impression.

Can you Surry? Can you Wiki?

Not Laura Nyro’s words exactly, but…the flood of engagement on the listserv led AIR to conclude that a wiki would be the best way to gather this collective intelligence. So, today we officially launch the Sounds of Silence: Public Radio’s Canceled Program Archive. It’s a place where you can post information about programs you may have contributed to over the years. We want to know who produced and distributed the program; who were the key players on and off air; when was the show syndicated; your fondest memories and favorite broadcasts; why the program closed down and what you think are the key take-aways from that experience.

This wiki will be a great resource for those of us in public media who are having “senior moments,” and can’t recall names of people we may have worked with or the exact dates of programs we may have worked on. And, it will be a big help to new folks coming in to public radio, offering them a litany of the great work that has come before them. No longer will next generation producers have that “what you talkin’ ’bout?” expression on their face when someone mentions Monitor Radio or News and Notes.

Once the wiki is bursting with content, we can begin to have that conversation about what it all means in retrospect. What are the common threads we can pull on? Not just the “where did we go wrong?” but the “where did we go right?” 

Names R Us

This wiki is also supposed to be fun. As such, we invited AIR members to help us come up with what to call it. The suggestions were so clever and witty, we decided to share some of them with you. Here goes:

Story Corpse, Mourning Edition, This American AfterLife, Public Radio’s R.I.P. List, Dead Air Archive, All Things Obliterated, Hear Today – Gone Tomorrow, Tell Me No More, Into Thin Air, Off the Media, RadiObituary, National Perished Radio, The Short Circuit, Ephem Radio, Wait Wait Don’t Kill Me, Public Radio Heaven, Public Radio Program Graveyard, Sound Cemetery: Public Radio’s Dearly Departed, Golden Moldies: Public Radio’s Final Resting Place…

We decided to go with Sounds of Silence: Public Radio’s Canceled Program Archive. We invite you to visit the site, read the parameters, create a log-in that will give you editing capability, and add as much factual information and personal memories as you can. And, please, tell anyone and everyone you know in the public radio family who may have inside scoop, to surry on down…

So, which national shows do you remember fondly and why?