Related Articles: Literary, All

Literature Over The Airwaves

Some of the best literature in the Bay is happening a dial turn away...

I'm going to let you in on a little personal secret of mine: I love listening to National Public Radio. I listen to it at work, I listen to it at home, I get my news from it, my culture from it; overall I think NPR is pretty great. But even though I'm a real fan of NPR there's something that bothers me about it, something that I've termed "NPR author migration." This is how it works.

On Monday I'll hear Author X on Michael Krasny's "Forum" and then a couple days later the same author will be the guest on "Fresh Air" with Terry Gross. Then, sometime next week Author X will be chatting it up on "All Things Considered" and a few days later that same author will make an appearance on "Talk of the Nation." It's not that I don't like listening to Author X pontificate about literature; it's just that a little more diversity would be nice.

Fortunately, the Bay Area is blessed with some fine local literary radio shows that regularly feature Bay Areas writers, many of whom fly right under the radar of the standard NPR shows. These shows might not be extremely high profile, but they're packed with literature and they're definitely worth checking out.

The first thing to know about local literary radio is that it's done for the love of the written word. Roman Mars, host of KALW's Invisible Ink Radio is a perfect example. Prior to Invisible Ink, he was "desperately trying to get into public radio" and spent a long time volunteering with KALW before the station finally got to discussing a show with him. As unpaid host, executive producer, editor, and mixer, Mars works extremely hard to make Invisible Ink work; he sliced the show's hour running time in half only after deciding that that he'd soon be either crazy or dead.

Jordan Rosenfield, producer and host of KRCB's Word By Word, has a similar relationship to her show. Last August, Rosenfeld gained local notoriety when she started a literary salon in Petaluma called LiveWire. Subsequently, poet Jennie Orvino approached her about doing a literary show to compliment KRCB's poetry show, Poetic License. KRCB runs on donations, so Rosenfeld is unpaid and as she puts it the show is "truly a labor of love."

Both shows make it a point to feature local authors with little or no reputation. Mars is a self described fan of the indie/zine variety of stories, and Invisible Ink has become an extension of his fondness for turning people on to his favorite stuff. With any luck, Mars hopes his show will grab NPR listeners who might not be aware of the plethora of underground authors in the Bay Area, while also demonstrating to the young, hip crowd that public radio is for them too.

Invisible Ink tends to change in format week to week, but it maintains a similar feel. For example, a recent show was centered on the theme of stalking and featured an interview and two short pieces which were part author reading, part performance. The next week Invisible Ink featured only one writer, A. H. Weatherman, and the show consisted of her newest piece, Confessions of a Child Beauty Queen. Both shows featured plenty of author interaction and were carried along by Mars' well-narrated transitions.

Rosenfeld tries to have a mix of local and more nationally known authors for Word By Word. Each show has a theme (some recent themes: Chicklit, Cultural Diversity) and Rosenfeld herself selects from new and upcoming books that fit the theme. Once the theme is set, Rosenfeld puts out a request for short pieces from local writers such as essays, books reviews, collaborations, and poetry.

Since funds are not necessarily available, Mars and Rosenfeld have found creative ways to publicize their shows. Drawing upon the large web of contacts she used to get LiveWire off the ground, Rosenfeld sends out hundreds of e-mails to advertise upcoming shows. Mars has been working on a CD of past shows, and has all of Invisible Ink archived on the web, which he says has attracted lots of listeners (Rosenfeld expects to have a web archive up soon).

These shows may not have the best publicity, but once you've found them they're definitely worth your while. So be sure to give them a shot, you'll be amazed at all the great literature happening right under your nose and in your ears.

Invisible Ink Radio: Hosted by Roman Mars, Sundays at 2 pm on 91.7 FM KALW

Word By Word: Hosted by Jordan Rosenfeld, every other Wednesday (next show is July 16) at 7 pm on 91.1 and 90.9 FM KRCB