May 19 2008

My Life in Radio, and the Story of Rose Maddox

Published by at 7:17 pm under Audio,Public Radio Features

For years it’s been nagging at me that I need to digitize my old public radio programs, but I’ve never had a free moment even to figure out where to start.

Well, how’s this for fortuitous: the day I found out I have all this unexpected free time, I stumbled upon a box of DAT tapes of my work: Steel Drivin’ Man (about the John Henry legend), Skip Through the Shadows (my childhood series), A Gathering of Days (Adi’s and my holiday series), something I did about financial abuse of the elderly, and the one you’ll read about in just a second. I didn’t even know I had these in demi-digital form.

So my plan is to upload these thangs to this here blog one by one, as I convert them. Someday I hope to try to salvage all the rest of my stuff, which is on decomposing analog tape.

Before we get to this first program, a little background:

I started as an independent producer for National Public Radio in about 1982. Unsolicited and unknown, I mailed them my first radio piece (about involuntary sterilization abuse of Mexican-American women) and they accepted it. I didn’t learn until much later that it was an exceptionally difficult field to break into. I’m glad I didn’t know, or I might never have tried.

For years I probably earned about ten cents an hour, but it was an incredibly fun time to be working in public radio: a climate of experiment and creativity. I did pretty much whatever I wanted. I accepted a number of assignments from them, but mostly I came up with my own strange ideas and executed them in my own style. The West Coast Desk editors rarely tried to change what I did. I don’t know why I was so lucky.

Here’s something I don’t tell people often: I never listened to much public radio myself. I just liked making it. Maybe that was a good thing, because I wasn’t trying to emulate anyone else’s concept of what public radio should sound like.

Okay, so: this first documentary feature is about rockabilly legend Rose Maddox. I produced it with my friend TJ Meekins, who had a world-class weekly American country and rockabilly radio program on KVMR-FM in Nevada City. Immersed as she was in that culture, she knew (and had interviewed) a bunch of its pioneers. It was she who provided all the knowledge, insight and connections that made the program possible.

Rose Maddox: $35 and a Dream

Rose was her friend, so she arranged that interview for us. We also flew down to Burbank to interview another of her old pals, country musician and songwriter Cliffie Stone.

Cliffie Stone & TJ Meekins Cliffie Stone & Ginna Allison

I also used bits of earlier interviews she’d done with people including Tennessee Ernie Ford, and archival material she’d tracked down.

It was a fun program to produce because the subject is intriguing and because TJ is a blast. It aired on NPR’s All Things Considered or Weekend All Things Considered (can’t remember which) in whatever year that was. 1996 or 1997, I think. Here it is (13:33 minutes long):

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Rose Maddox died around a year after this program aired. So did Cliffie Stone. I’m glad we didn’t procrastinate.

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “My Life in Radio, and the Story of Rose Maddox”

  1. mark says:

    Say, that was great. MB

  2. Richard says:

    I’ll tell LaTeej you posted this. She’ll be delighted. Meanwhile, celebrate your free hours by writing a mystery novel. Put own experiences to work! Set the story in Guatemala, say, and throw in some giant spiders and an ex-husband or two.

    Relax! Enjoy!

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