Julie Shapiro is returning to Chicago — briefly. She already has her plane ticket for the Third Coast Festival in November, where no doubt she'll spend most of her time getting hugs from friends and former co-workers who still can't believe she moved halfway around the world. There'll be tears, toasts and late night ear bending. But when it's over, she's headed right back to the land down under. You would too if you were lucky enough to have her job.
In fact, is there a better radio gig anywhere than being Executive Producer of Australian Radio National's Creative Audio Unit? That's what we hoped to find out, and Julie was her usual unselfish self in answering all of our nosy questions.
ABC Radio National appears to be rebooting their spoken word production with the new Creative Audio Unit, headed by you. Can you talk about how it works and your role in developing it?
JULIE: One thing I realized as soon as I arrived at the ABC, was that I knew very little about existing programming on RN (They've switched from Radio National to just initials — RN — as another familiar broadcaster did a few years back), not to mention the other networks — there's a LOT going on at the ABC, and that's without even really getting into the TV side of things.
Before I started with the Creative Audio Unit (CAU) I was mostly familiar with the documentary and feature programs currently on: 360documentaries, Into the Music and Hindsight, and knew about past shows The Listening Room, Radio Eye, The Night Air, and Street Stories. But RN is packed with smart, engaging content of all stripes: culture, arts, music, politics, religion, design, technology; really every angle/topic covered by American public radio, and inspires the near-religious loyalty among listeners that NPR does. I should add that This American Life airs on RN, and is hugely popular, and by the way, many of the top shows and podcasts in the US are mentioned regularly in my conversations with producers and listeners here — Radiolab, the Truth, Love + Radio, to name a few.
But to your question... with the CAU, RN is supporting in full force the commissioning and production of creative audio content across two weekly, national shows — Radiotonic and Soundproof. This support for creative radio is hardly new around RN — we're carrying the torch forward from a long-respected tradition of sound-rich programming here — from acoustic art to complex documentaries. We'll be working with audio producers in Australia and beyond, and also reaching out to artists, writers, makers from other fields who have not yet worked in radio, but are interested in trying. We plan to collaborate both within the ABC and RN, and with external partners from a wide range of organizations, institutions, and community groups — theatre companies, arthouses, writing centers, museums, festivals, independents... all of the above and everyone else too. We're also keen to explore the beckoning potential of digital technologies, multi-platform presentations, experimentation with new forms, and to push/pull audiences (gently!) into new listening territories.