MEDIA: Considering all things on radio - From human interest stories to current events, NPR’s ’All Things Considered’ show indeed covers a wide range of topics. But that doesn’t make it an easy pitch Claire Atkinson tunes i

When weary commuters pack into their cars or board the train, the radio is often the only distraction from the grueling journey home. But finding something interesting amid a maze of noisy frequencies can be a challenge.

When weary commuters pack into their cars or board the train, the radio is often the only distraction from the grueling journey home. But finding something interesting amid a maze of noisy frequencies can be a challenge.

When weary commuters pack into their cars or board the train, the

radio is often the only distraction from the grueling journey home. But

finding something interesting amid a maze of noisy frequencies can be a


National Public Radio’s ’All Things Considered’ is one show that rises

above the racket.

The show is best described as the Dateline of radio. Producers sandwich

together hard news and real life stories, but there’s also a dessert

menu of book and music reviews and satire. Coverage spans from the

crisis in Kosovo to apple cobbler recipes.

When the show first started in 1971, it was strictly news-oriented,

covering the Watergate Senate hearings to vigils for John Lennon when he

was killed in 1980. It was also known for employing Susan Stamberg, the

first woman in the US to anchor a nightly news show. As the show grew

older, the producers added more human interest material, and today

executive producer Ellen Weiss is free to explore the weird as well as

the serious side of life.

Solid selling

For a non-commercial organization, NPR is a powerful sales vehicle.

Weiss says that if the show covers an unknown Brazillian music star, it

can send listeners racing into record stores. Weiss also claims, without

a hint of hyperbole, that book reviews on the show can shoot a title to

the top of’s best sellers.

Beyond all the boasting, though, ’All Things Considered’ does have the

stats to back up these claims. The two-hour program airs on about 500

National Public Radio stations, with most broadcasting the show at 4


As the second most-popular show on NPR, ’All Things’ reaches an average

of eight million listeners a week. Only NPR’s ’Morning Edition’ tops

those ratings. The show not only reaches radio listeners but also Web

surfers, as the content broadcasts on the Internet, following a tie-in

with AOL’s news channel.

Weiss, based at the NPR headquarters in Washington, has worked on the

show for the last 10 years. Her main focus is assigning long-term

projects such as coverage of the presidential primaries and making sure

content doesn’t overlap with other NPR shows.

The executive producer starts her day scanning about 10 front pages from

newspapers around the country. Then she heads into an editorial meeting

with the staff around 9:30 am, which is followed by an update with other

NPR executive producers at 10 am. Once that’s over, Weiss’ staff chalk

up the board with ideas for the day. By 4pm, the board has been changed

beyond recognition as new stories evolve.

A sample of one day’s recent news included: a piece on fetal surgery;

the president’s reaction to Hillary Clinton’s revelations in Talk

magazine; GOP tax cuts; and an interview with a reporter from Jane’s

Defense Weekly about the role of the Russians in Serbia. ’We saw that

story and contacted the journalist to come in,’ says Weiss.

Les Cook heads the business desk, and though the station does welcome

pitches for business-oriented in-studio guests, Weiss warns, ’We don’t

always go for the CEO, we go for the best interviewee.’

NPR is a tougher pitch than most commercial stations, says Richard

Strauss, president of PR broadcast services agency Strauss Radio, also

based in Washington. ’NPR takes a long time to analyze things. The

public relations executive needs to ready things in advance. NPR is not

WCBS,’ he explains.

Strauss, who met Weiss by accident on holiday in Jerusalem, adds: ’When

you get something on NPR, people listen and take notice of it. A lot of

my clients ask for the show. The audience may not be huge, but its

impact is great. The listeners are highly educated, middle class,

affluent professionals.’

One way to tip the scales in your favor is to contact the appropriate

reporter for the topic at hand. Unlike most commercial stations, where

it can be hard to determine who’s covering which story, NPR is set up

like a newspaper with separate desks: international; domestic;

Washington and federal government; even science and culture, which

includes media and religion. There is also a handful of reviewers such

as Alan Cheuse (books) and Tom Moon and Banning Eyre (music).

Selective pitching, please

As the show’s title suggests, the brief is broad, but Weiss says the

show does not cover self-help stories and advises PR pros not to pitch

books or experts of that nature. ’Medical and diet books are something

we wouldn’t do at all,’ says Weiss, adding, ’Don’t pitch us everything -

be selective.’

The best way to contact the show is to send material via fax - the

e-mail address is generally used for listener comments. Weiss adds that

it is rare for the show to take pre-prepared audio news releases.

The competition, according to Weiss, is just about everybody. She

doesn’t want to hear suggestions for stories that have already been in

The New York Times. Weiss says she is also competing against TV shows

like NBC’s Today, ABC’s Good Morning America and even CNN. ’They don’t

have the audience we have, so pitch it here first. Public radio has a

huge impact.’

Making the show distinctive is a daily challenge that weighs heavily on

Weiss, but one recent story certainly catches the imagination. The show

recently aired a package about a group of ocelots, weasel-like animals

that are sensitive about moving from their habitat. Scientists tried all

kinds of methods to draw them out until they eventually found a smell

the animals were attracted to. It happened to be Calvin Klein’s


’When people are stuck in traffic, I think, ’How are we going to make

this interesting for them!’’ says Weiss. It’s a bit of an obsession, you

might say.


’All Things Considered’

National Public Radio

635 Massachusetts Avenue, NW

Washington, DC


Tel: (202) 414 2100

Fax: (202) 414 3329



Executive producer: Ellen Weiss

Senior producer: Sean Collins Business editor: Les Cook

Co-business editor: Uri Berliner

Culture editor: Sharon Green

Science editor: Anne Gudenkauf

Domestic editor: Cynthia Samuels

International editor: Loren Jenkins

Art and music editor: Tom Cole Book reviews: Alan Cheuse

Music reviews: Tom Moon and Banning Eyre

Booker: Carol Klinger.

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