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Playlist: PRX Staff Favorites of 2013

Compiled By: PRX Editors

Curated Playlist

PRX staffers listen to a lot of pieces throughout the year. Here are some of our favorites from pieces added to PRX in 2013.

The Kindness of Strangers

From Kirsty McQuire | 06:15

"Some days I want to hide because people can be cruel but this story makes me want to hug the strangers around me." - Audrey

"This is just sweet and lovely and you should listen." - Genevieve

One woman's philanthropic mission comes full circle.

Kindness_4th-sept-2011_small During the leap year of 2012, Bernadette Russell embarked on a mission to complete 366 Days of Kindness. Her efforts were prompted by the riots that spread through her adopted home town of London and across English towns and cities, between 6th and 10th August 2011.

Bernadette has left sweets in phone boxes, books on trains, £5 notes on buses. She has given away balloons, cakes, flowers and lottery tickets, written letters to a soldier returned from Afghanistan and offered her socks to the homeless. She practiced ‘targeted’ rather than ‘random’ acts of kindness but she says she ‘expected nothing in return.’

Bernadette is now turning her 366 philanthropic experiences into a stage play, in collaboration with Jacksons Lane Theatre in London and with support from Birmingham Rep and Forkbeard Fantasy.

The Last of the Iron Lungs

From Julia Scott | 06:30

"A gem from our STEM Story Project." - Genevieve

Sixty years after polio was eradicated in America, a dozen survivors still rely on their iron lungs to breathe. Come inside the machine Martha Lillard would rather die than live without.

Dsc05880_small Martha Lillard is one of the last American polio victims who still rely on an iron lung respirator to breathe. Ten years ago, she was one of 30. Today, a dozen. But Martha, like other survivors, says she would rather end her life in her iron lung than risk using a modern replacement. THE LAST OF THE IRON LUNGS brings listeners inside an archaic machine – and a way of life – on the brink of extinction.

What Twilight Didn't Teach Me About Love

From Philly Youth Radio | Part of the At the Heart, From the Heart series | 04:23

"I LOVE this piece. Jaya Montague brings longing and tenacity to her central question: how do you find love? She's willing to dig deep to find answers - and actually does. Bonus video!" - Jones

Many songs, books, and movies focus on love and romance, but what happens when they become one’s only source for learning? Philly Youth Radio’s Jaya Montague used to love romantic movies, especially Twilight. But recently, she decided that she needed to find better sources if she wanted to end up with her own fairy tale. Here is her quest to find answers.

Screen_shot_2013-02-12_at_12 Many songs, books, and movies focus on love and romance, but what happens when they become one’s only source for learning? Philly Youth Radio’s Jaya Montague can tell you. She’s a junior at the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts and she used to love romantic movies, especially Twilight. But recently, Jaya decided that she needed to find better sources if she wanted to end up with her own fairy tale.

Maurice Sendak on Being a Kid

From Blank on Blank | Part of the Blank on Blank series | 06:00

"Sad. Beautiful. Much like the work of Maurice Sendak." - Audrey

"I still think the same way I thought as a child. I still worry. I'm still frightened... Nothing changes." - Maurice Sendak

In 2009 Newsweek's Andrew Romano and Ramin Seetodeh interviewed Sendak. They wrote a great article. But no one had ever heard the poignant conversation. Until now.

Maurice_sendak_square_small "I still think the same way I thought as a child. I still worry. I'm still frightened... Nothing changes." - Maurice Sendak In 2009 Newsweek's Andrew Romano and Ramin Seetodeh interviewed Sendak. They wrote a great article. But no one had ever heard the poignant conversation. Until now.


From Conor Gillies | Part of the Stylus series | 59:00

"This piece created quite a stir here at PRX, especially since it was made by someone we had never heard of! Conor Gillies/Stylus -newbie, no longer!" - Audrey

This pilot episode asks, is there such a thing as silence? How might complete quiet frighten, mystify, or exalt us?

Conor Gillies


"Silence" includes the voices of:

Kay Larson
, an art critic, Zen Buddhist practitioner, and author of Where The Heart Beats.

Pico Iyer, an essayist, novelist, and travel author who has written for Time, Harper's, and the New York Times.

Christopher Ricks
, a literary critic, professor at Boston University, and author of several books including Dylan's Visions of Sin.

James H. Johnson, professor of history at Boston University and author of several books including Listening in Paris.

Damian Carr, abbot of St. Joseph's Abbey, a Trappist monestary in Spencer, Mass.

Steven Cooper, clinical associate professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and speaker at Off the Couch, a film-studies series at Coolidge Corner Theater in Boston, Mass. 

Bob Celmer, head of the acoustics program at the University of Hartford in West Hartford, Conn.

Cecil McBee
, jazz bassist and professor at the New England Conservatory in Boston, Mass. 

Geoffrey Shugen Arnold
, abbot of the Zen Center of New York City in Brooklyn, New York.

Produced by Zack Ezor, Conor Gillies, and Andrea Shea. The episode includes Brian Calvert's piece The Rest is Silence, originally made for KCRW's Independent Producer Project. Editing help from Sean Cole, Katherine Gorman, and Erika Lantz.

Our engineers are Mike Garth, Marquis Neal, James Trout, and Paul Vaitkus. Our intro music is by Ryoji Ikeda and our outro music is by Laurel Halo. Artwork by Robert Beatty. Our executive producers are Conor Gillies and Zack Ezor and our supervising editor is Lisa Tobin. Presented by Qainat Khan.  

Stylus is on Twitter and iTunes.

Walking Across America ~ Advice for a Young Man

From Atlantic Public Media | Part of the The Transom Radio Specials series | 53:57

"This piece stuck with me for days after I listened to it. From the sounds of Andrew sitting down to coffee with his mom before he takes off, to all the advice and stories he hears along the way. Beautiful." - Audrey

Andrew Forsthoefel set out at age 23 to walk across America, East to West, 4000 miles, with a sign on him that said, "Walking to Listen". This hour, co-produced with Jay Allison, tracks his epic journey. It's a coming of age story, and a portrait of this country - big-hearted, wild, innocent, and wise.


From Andrew Forsthoefel:

I decided to walk across the country for several reasons. Producing an hour-long radio essay about it was not one of them. When I left home, I had no idea what would become of the tape I hoped to record.

At the beginning of the walk, I thought it would be a good idea to have a focus question for the interviews. The question was about transformation. What does it mean to you and when have you experienced it? I was at a transformative time in my own life, so that question seemed right.

I quickly abandoned the idea, though. It seemed too contrived or constraining. Instead, I just started talking to people about their lives and, sometimes, what their lives had taught them. I’d ask people about the idea of home, aloneness, family, love, death; all sorts of stuff.

I thought people would be resistant to being interviewed. Not so. The vast majority wanted to be heard, and they didn’t mind the recorder. Nearly every time, they had something they wanted to share.  I was wearing a sign that said “Walking to Listen,” and there was no shortage of people to listen to.

Support for this work comes from National Endowment for the Arts and the Transom Donor Fund:


Purple bag nostalgia

From KALW | Part of the Sandip Roy's Dispatches from Kolkata series | 04:30

"Sandip Roy is my personal guide to modern India, and he can be yours, too. Here's a dispatch about nostalgia for a purple piece of plastic." - Sam Greenspan

Sandip finds himself oddly nostalgic, for a noisy purple bag.

Purple bag nostalgia


Music World was a shiny retail chain, coloured purple like Barney the dinosaur, the kind of glossy brightly-lit store that heralded the new India of malls and multiplexes. Owned by a corporation that also the owned supermarkets and the Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation. 

Nostalgia today is no longer reserved for the disappearance of things we feel had been around forever. Or perhaps it’s our notion of forever that has shrunk - from 163 years for the telegramto 13 to 5. The MusicWorld store  was not even a decade old.

Essen, My Sweet

From Third Coast International Audio Festival | 03:00

"Oh, great, now I miss my grandma's matzo ball soup so much that it hurts. " - Sam Greenspan

A visit to a Jewish assisted living facility to record memories of what people hunger for over the courses of their lives.

Sd13_prichep_sweet_small A visit to a Jewish assisted living facility to record memories of what people hunger for over the courses of their lives.

Essen, My Sweet was produced by Deena Prichep and Joanna Stein for the 2013 ShortDocs Challenge.
 Listen to more than 240 ShortDocs submissions from around the world in the Radio Potluck

Keep Running

From The Truth | 12:08

"I love The Truth. Just dive in." - Genevieve

Wisconsin to Indiana: 80 miles, 12 hours, 1 day.

Keep Running
The Truth

Keep_running_icon_small A film without pictures, about a man running from Wisconsin to Indiana in one day. (he gets lost)

Performed by Peter McNernery, with Elana Fishbein, Louis Kornfeld, Julia Hynes, and Teddy Shivers.

Based on an interview with Brian Foy.

Produced by Jonathan Mitchell.

#50 - The Loneliest Creature on Earth

From HowSound | 17:06

"How do you make a radio piece that includes inaudible sounds? Rob dives into this excellent piece by Lilly Sullivan and talks about the unique issues raised in making it." - Audrey

Lilly Sullivan relates the curious tale of "52 Hertz," the whale who sings at the "wrong" frequency.


Some solutions to audio problems are easy.

Got hum from a refrigerator in your tape? Piece of cake. Run a notch filter at 60hz.

If your tape is hissy, throw a high-cut filter on the file.

Someone pops a "p", cut it close and, maybe, roll off the low end. The p-pop is likely to disappear.

But, what if you have a recording that is well-recorded but you can't hear it. I know. Sounds like an oxymoron right? But that was Lilly Sullivan's problem.

Lilly was a student at the Spring 2013 Transom Story Workshop and she produced a story about a whale that sings at an unusual frequency -- 52 Hertz. In fact, that's the whale's nickname.

Lilly obtained a recording of "52 Hertz" from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and it's a perfectly fine recording. But, the frequency the whale sings at is too low for most audio speakers. (It's about as low as the keys on the far left of a piano.) In other words, if you listen to the recording on, say, your built-in computer speakers, you may not be able to hear it. The speakers, to put it briefly, don't go that low.

Well, how do you fix that? How do you produce a radio story about a sound that most radio's can't reproduce? Well, you'll have to listen to the podcast to find out.

And, I should mention, aside from this arcane audio problem, the story of the whale is a humdinger. I'm certain you'll love it. Lilly did a great job.

Now, go hook up your best speakers and have a listen.

Cheers, Rob

Teenage Diaries Revisited: Juan

From Radio Diaries | Part of the Teenage Diaries Revisited series | 29:09

"Sixteen years ago, Radio Diaries presented this portrait of Juan, a teenage undocumented immigrant from Mexico. This year, he recorded a new diary detailing what's happened since then." - Sam Greenspan

16 years ago, Juan reported on his life as a recent Mexican immigrant living in poverty in Texas. In his new diary, Juan takes us on a tour of the life he has builtince he first crossed the Rio Grande. It looks a lot like the typical American dream: a house, 2 cars, 3 kids—except for the fact he’s still living illegally in the U.S.

Juan_thumbnail_small 16 years ago, Juan reported on his life as a recent Mexican immigrant living in poverty in Texas. In his new diary, Juan takes us on a tour of the life he has builtince he first crossed the Rio Grande. It looks a lot like the typical American dream: a house, 2 cars, 3 kids—except for the fact he’s still living illegally in the U.S.

This story is part of the Teenage Diaries Revisited series, in which Radio Diaries caught up with five of the people who recorded their Teenage Diaries in 1996-7. Juan's two Teenage Diaries are also available on PRX: http://www.prx.org/pieces/459-juan-s-diary-part-1-looking-at-the-rio-grande

India's Shifting Gender Roles: One Girl's Tale

From Rhitu Chatterjee | 11:03

"I love how personal Rhitu made this. The banter between her and Sarita is heartwarming and illuminating." - Rekha

India has come under close scrutiny lately for its poor treatment of women and girls. Yet, this is a time when a growing number of women are enjoying unprecedented opportunities. More and more women are getting educated and joining the work force. So how are girls and women in the country seeing themselves and their future? To find out, The World's Rhitu Chatterjee spent some time with one girl in a remote corner of the country. (Multimedia elements available for embedding at http://www.theworld.org/2013/03/indias-shifting-gender-roles-one-girls-tale/)


The recent gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student in the Indian capital of New Delhi sparked unprecedented demonstrations across the country. It also fueled discussions about the status of women in India. But the recent spike in violence against women also parallels an increase in the number of women in public spaces, a fact that reflects the changing role of women in the society.

These changes have even trickled down to some of the remotest and most conservative parts of India.

But how do these changes play out in an individual’s life? How do old and new ways interact and clash in a family, and in a community? And who and what helps a girl learn what is expected of her what she can and cannot do?

The World’s Rhitu Chatterjee answers some of these questions through a look at the life of 12 year-old Sarita Meena, who lives in a remote village in Northwestern India.

Sarita looks like a boy. She is skinny, and wears her hair very short. People in the village call her father's son. In a region, where most girls and women are quiet and shy with strangers, Sarita never hesitates to strike up a conversation. She is fearless, outspoken and likes hanging out with the boys at school.

She is the youngest of three daughters. Her two older sisters live in a small town an hour away and are among the first girls to leave the village for higher studies. Sarita wants to follow in her sisters’ footsteps and eventually get a job teaching school kids.

But she is also a dutiful, obedient daughter. She is eager to help her mother with housework and help her father on his farm. She worries about who will look after her parents once she and her sisters are married and living with their in-laws.

The contradictions in Sarita’s personality reflect a larger reality in Indian society. As women have more and more opportunities, they  have to decide for themselves how much they want to push back against tradition.

This story takes a close look at how one young girl is making those decisions and choices, and why. 

The Poison Squad: A Chemist’s Quest for Pure Food

From Sruthi Pinnamaneni | 08:03

Meet Harvey Washington Wiley, the mastermind behind this experiment where young government employees were fed poison-laced foods months on end. He's also the founding father of the Food and Drug Administration.

Prx_1_small In the winter of 1902, twelve robust, young men in suits gather in the basement of a government building in Washington DC.  Waiters serve them dinner prepared by chefs, courses like chipped beef and applesauce, served on fine china. The room and board is free.  The men eat what is served, though they know each course has been spiked with a dose of some unnamed poison.  They do this every day, three square meals a day, for the next six months.

The press named the group of men the “Poison Squad.”  Harvey Washington Wiley, the chemist who conceived this experiment, would go on to become the founding father of the FDA and the "Watchdog of America's Kitchens". A moral man, his heart with filled with righteous anger when confronted with tomatoes preserved in salicylic acid and eggs sprayed with formaldehyde.  His fight for "pure food" would span three vigorous decades, and he would take on tough opponents like Coca Cola or sodium benzoate, losing more often than he won.

This short radio documentary tells the story of Wiley and a colorful human experiment--one that began in a basement dining room and continues on our dinner plates today.

Editor and engineer: Brendan Baker

Italian Bakers: Mafia Slicing Into Profits

From Nancy Greenleese | Part of the Made In Italy...For Now series | 06:09

"Ok, this story has Italian bread (win) plus the Mafia (YES)...and perspectives on culture, vanishing traditions and craft. Lots going on, like a complex bread." - John


Italian bread and pastries, such as cannoli , are gobbled up worldwide.  However, the traditional artisan bakeries in Italy are suffering since people are eating less bread and often the mass-produced varieties offered in supermarkets.  Bakeries are feeling the pinch even more in southern Italy where organized crime wants a slice of the already limited profits.  Many bakeries can no longer handle the heat and are deciding to close.  However, anti-Mafia groups and some brave bakers are fighting back. 

Life of the Law #18 - Forensics in Flames

From Life of the Law | Part of the Life of the Law series | 16:26

"Aren't those 'everything-you-think-is-true-is-wrong' stories always the best? This is one from producer Michael May. Plus there is fire. And bad science. Deadly combo. Great listening." - John

Lime_street_fire1_small Here is some advice that I hope you are not looking for: if you want to kill someone?and get away with it, you might try burning their house down. Not only are fires?notoriously deadly, but it is possible to commit the crime and destroy all the evidence?at the same time. It is not surprising that law enforcement began to look for clues in?the smoldering remains of homes: anything that might tip them off to the cause and?origin of the fire.

Over the years, firefighters took notice of patterns left by fires. Sometimes they would?be able to tell that a fire started in several parts of the house at the same time. The?cumulative experience was passed on from investigator to investigator. A consensus?emerged. It became the forensic science of fire investigations. And it helped solve?crimes.

“You know, in arson cases, the scientific evidence tends to be quite central to the case,” says Jennifer Laurin, a law professor at the University of Texas. “We know the structure burned down. It’s gone—nobody disputes that. But how did it burn down? Usually there’s nobody there to say. Usually there aren’t witnesses to these crimes. And what the scientific evidence permitted the state to do in these arson cases is to say that this was no accident. We know that someone came in and intentionally set this house on fire.” These scientific techniques were based on years of observations, but they would never been subjected to the scientific method. That has turned out to be a problem. A big problem.

The Elusive Digital Stradivarius

From David Schulman | 07:38

"Can genius be digitized? Can craft be supplanted by code? Can art and an artist's touch be replicated at the touch of a button? Do we listen in wonder or horror? Is there soul in the new machine? If, yes, is it a replicant or a new-found respect? David Schulman masterfully tells an amazing science story and unleashes a symphony of questions…at least he did for me." - John


These days you can plug a pawn-shop guitar into a laptop (or even a phone) and dial up the sound of B.B. King, Carlos Santana, or Jimi Hendrix. All thanks to software that models vintage guitar gear, digitally. 
So why has no one yet modeled a million-dollar Stradivarius? 
Scientists say the violin is one of the hardest instruments to mimic. But MacArthur Award-winning violin maker Joseph Curtin has been working for several years with physicist Gabi Weinreich, along with sound engineer John Bell and industrial designer Alex Sobolev, to create a digital violin. They say its sound will be hard to tell from a recording of a Strad.

During the piece, neuroscientist Daniel Levitin — author of the best-selling "This Is Your Brain on Music" and a professor at McGill University, listens to audio samples of the digital violin and an actual instrument by Antonio Stradivari. And he tries to tell from the sound which is which. The results may come as a surprise.

(The musical demos of each instrument — an excerpt from the Tchaikovsky violin concerto — were played by Naxos recording artist Ilya Kaler. Kaler has won the top prize at the Tchaikovsky, the Sibelius, and the Paganini international violin competitions.)

This piece comes in two versions — a 5'00 version and a full7'38 mix. Please consoider the full version if your clock allows, as it provides additional context, and more commentary from both Curtin and Levitin.

More info on the digital violin is at www.weinreichlabs.com

Those who license this piece also get access to bonus audio that allows stations to replicate the demonstration of the concept of "convolution" that is central to the digital violin. These files include a room recording of producer (and violinist) David Schulman playing one of Joeph Curtin's fine acoustic violins, and versions of the same signal processed through a series of convolution reverbs. These reverb filters were created by sound engineer Peter Steinbach using a technique that precisely replicates the acoustic characteristics of Disney Hall, Alcatraz, and a Giza Pyramid. Many thanks to Peter for so graciously sharing his work for the cause of the public radio.

This program is part of the STEM Story Project -- distributed by PRX and made possible with funds from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. 

99% Invisible #83- Heyoon

From Roman Mars | Part of the 99% Invisible (Director's Cut) series | 27:07

"Full disclosure: I helped produce this story. But I can say that this one episode of 99% Invisible seems to really resonate with people. A Canadian MFA is currently adapting it into a stage drama!" - Sam Greenspan

Bored and disaffected and angry, Alex longed for a place to escape to. And then he found Heyoon.


Growing up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Alex Goldman was a misfit. Bored and disaffected and angry, he longed for a place to escape to. And then he found Heyoon.


(Illustration by Emile Holmewood.)

The only way to find out about Heyoon for someone to take you there. It was like there was this secret club of kids who knew about it. Alex got initiated when he was fifteen.

To find Heyoon, you’d drive out into the middle of nowhere, deep in the country, and park alongside a dirt road. A fence ran along the property line, with signs explicitly telling passers by to keep out. 

(Illustration by Emile Holmewood.)

Once over the fence, a path behind a white farmhouse led to a thin line of trees, and then to a huge field. And there was something else there in the field. Something man-made. Something really big.

 (More at http://99percentinvisible.org/post/54446468136/episode-83-heyoon)

Underground Trade: From Boston to Bangkok (Series)

Produced by WGBH Radio Boston

"Impressive transglobal reporting and engaging storytelling." - Rekha

WGBH Senior Investigative Reporter, Phillip Martin, traveled in the U.S. and across East Asia to explore the modern slave trade of human trafficking. He examines the routes from New York to New England and from East Asia to New York and connects the dots.

Most recent piece in this series:

Underground Trade Part 8: What Now?

From WGBH Radio Boston | Part of the Underground Trade: From Boston to Bangkok series | 08:20

8-_mg_4881_small There are no simple solutions to stamping out human trafficking, but thousands of people and organizations worldwide are trying.  From the cab driver in Saigon who uses his own money to rescue exploited kids to a cop in Boston who works overtime and with few resources to assist exploited women.  In his final report in our serties "Underground Trade" investigative reporter Phillip Martin looks at individuals and institutions that are working to end what some view as modern-day slavery. In our final report we hear from activists and law enforcement officals in Saigon, Chiang Mai, New York, San Francisco, Boston and elsewhere.