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.
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 Amazon.com’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,
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 -
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
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
’All Things Considered’
National Public Radio
635 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
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.