Radio, as we know it today, has manifested itself into many forms, but the primary goal has always been to tell stories. Eleanor Kagan shares with us her love of radio, what it means to her and how one of our favorite sites, Buzzfeed, has hopped onto the podcast bandwagon and her role in making that happen.
Do you remember your first week in New York?
I moved here almost six years ago from Boston for a job, and to go to school in order to work in that job. It was a graduate assistant’s leadership thing at Fordham University. I went to work at the radio station. I had to be a student to work there so I applied to grad school.
I moved into an apartment on the Lower East Side. My bedroom window overlooked Houston Street. So, during my first week I heard people drunkenly fighting and barfing and declaring their love for one another outside of my window.
Did you always want to come to New York?
I never ever intended to move here although I’ve lived in cities my whole life ... Chicago, Boston, D.C., Paris. My idea was to move somewhere quieter and slower after I graduated, but I ended up in New York.
I like the pace of cities. I feel I need a lot of action and stimuli.
Do you think you’ll stick around?
I don’t know that I’m a lifer but ask me again in about twenty years when I’ll probably still be here.
Did you end up in New York because of that job?
I really wanted to work in radio and this was the opportunity that came about.
Because it’s awesome. [Laughs] People thought radio was going to die when TV came along but radio has not gone anywhere. It’s such an essential part of people’s lives. I’m talking about radio as in “broadcast” not as just audio. Traditional radio is so important for people, especially those who live in rural areas. Radio can be very vocal and bring communities together. It’s intimate because it’s just listening to people’s voices. You don’t need to be literate to enjoy the radio. It’s the most democratic medium. And because it’s not visual it presents interesting challenges for me.
You opened up a nerd can. [Laughs]
Do you have any favorite podcasts?
My podcast app in my phone has a million different podcasts on it. My friend Andrea has this amazing podcast called “Why Oh Why?” which I was listening to this week. I was also listening to “Microphone Check”, which is a hip-hop podcast that NPR Music puts out that I had a teeny tiny hand in helping start. They get really deep and interview producers and rappers.
I love “Mystery Show” which is a new podcast from Gimlet.
Are you guys into podcasts? Do any of these meaning anything to you?
I’m really into podcasts but I have not heard of any of these.
Oh I’ll have to give you a list! “Criminal” which is a true crime podcast is really amazing. I just started listening to one called “For Colored Nerds,” two friends talking about pop culture.
What was your trajectory to where you are today?
So, pre-moving to New York I was interning for NPR Music in D.C. and then I moved to New York to work for WFUV, an NPR affiliated music station out of Fordham. After that, I had a stint in commercial radio, then I went back to NPR music. While I was there I started working on “Ask Me Another” which, at the time, was a newly developed NPR game/music/comedy trivia show. I worked on that for almost four years.
Two months ago I moved to Buzzfeed to develop and produce podcasts for them.
Buzzfeed has podcasts?
As of about three months ago. Right now there are two podcasts. I primarily work on one called Another Round, which is hosted by two really amazing Buzzfeed writers, Tracy Clayton and Heben Nigatu. The other is Internet Explorer which is also hosted by two Buzzfeed writers, Katie and Ryan. They go into the weird bizarre corners of the internet and explore them and it’s hilarious.
So what does your role as a producer entail?
A producer is always going to do slightly different things depending on where they are. I work with the hosts to figure out who they want to have on the shows as guests, what they want to talk about, manage bookings and facilitating recordings.
During the live recording I provide support for the hosts. Then I’m cutting the show, promoting the show, also thinking big ideas.
Is it a weekly podcast?
Yes, every Tuesday. It’s going great. We’ve had an amazing response to the shows and we’re going to do more.
Everybody loves Buzzfeed. It’s so fucking hilarious.
I am so glad to hear that.
Do you have any long-term plans?
I have big plans. The cool thing at Buzzfeed is that they’re very encouraging of one’s creativity and vision. There are a lot of podcast and audio ideas we want to do.
Do you see yourself sticking around the podcast world?
I do. Serial came out and got everyone interested in podcasts, which is great for us because we just want to make cool stuff. Now people are really into podcasting in general.
Podcasts have been around for ages but I wonder what it was about Serial that got people so into it.
I don’t know why people were so fascinated by it. True crime is obviously very compelling but also Sarah Keonig and her crew are incredible storytellers and they crafted the story in a very compelling way. The way that it felt like the story was building towards something was very interesting.
What was NPR like to work at?
Oh, wonderful! It was my dream job. To actually walk into the building, as an intern too, and be where all of these great stories are being made and see how these people think was great.
I had many incredible mentors. There’s a really wonderful community there.
Would you ever want to be the voice?
Totally. That’s my goal. I’ve done a bunch of stuff. I actually have a podcast in my extracurricular life, it’s called Bonnie and Maude. It’s about gender in film. It’s coming up to our three year anniversary and my co-host is about to have a baby so production is slowing down slightly for the moment.
We started it three years ago for a number of reasons, a) to hang out and talk about film, b) to teach myself how to host, produce, record and collaborate with somebody. Because I studied film and really love it I was interested in looking at roles given to women, but also I really like working through the why of why I love the things I love. For example why I liked certain movies or TV shows as a kid, and figuring out what my love for them may have resulted in.
We just did an episode on Titanic. Going back and re-watching it now and seeing Rose as a feminist icon. She carries the story. Of course, Jack had to die for her to blossom into this real bad ass, but I never realized that as a kid. I was just really sad that she wouldn’t move over on this piece of wood to let Leonardo di Caprio live.
He would have fit on it but he couldn’t have because he had to die. They should have just picked a smaller piece of wood. Scooch over Kate.
[Laughs] I’ve spent so much time thinking about this. It’s so nerdy.
The dialogue is terrible, there are a lot of super cheesy moments, but something about it made all of us fall in love with it. I really wanted to figure out what that was.
How long have you been living in Prospect Heights?
About 4 years. It’s lovely.
What are some of your favorite places in this neighborhood?
The park! Weather Up is an awesome bar, great cocktails. For food, I go to Milk Bar all the time. Barboncino is a pizza place that’s really good.
The Bearded Lady also has really good cocktails. There’s a lot of great stuff around here.
What is the best piece of advice you could give?
Listen. I think about that a lot. I’m a very chatty person, but I’m always trying to become a better listener. The reason I work in radio is to tell stories, and to tell other people’s stories. To give voice to people who don’t have a platform or access to the tools of radio.
What’s your favorite place to take out of towners?
If it’s nice, Prospect Park. Enjoying public spaces is really important to me. When someone comes into town, I always suggest taking a walk. Picking a destination far away and walking there.
Do you have a favorite New York moment?
Hurricane Sandy happened and I was glued to the radio for that entire time. Brian Lehrer who is a host on WNYC is one of my heroes, he was on air all day and all night having people calling in to tell their stories. He would just give them the floor and people were telling incredible things. That was an amazing moment in radio.
A couple of days after I was working at NPR’s office at 42nd street which hadn’t lost power. Someone needed a ‘tape sync’, which is when your host is in a different city to your subject, the host will get into a radio studio to do the interview but someone will also go and record the conversation from the subject's room as well. When you smash it together later nobody sounds like they’re on the phone. I was sent to do a tape sync of Steven Tyler from Aerosmith at The Trump Hotel. It was so exciting, and it was also my first tape sync.
The city was a mess, and the subways were still down. I jumped on my bike, and rode to The Trump Hotel, which took over an hour. I got there and successfully did the tape sync, and had to ride home. It was dark then, and everything below 23rd St was blacked out. I had forgotten my bike lights. I started biking through lower manhattan and it was terrifying. As I was getting to the bridge I came upon a whole group of cyclists who were all biking in a pack. I told them I’d forgotten my lights, and it turned out none of them knew each other either. They were just biking together, a group of strangers who shared their light with me. Half way across the manhattan bridge the lights came back on the Brooklyn side. It was amazing timing.
What does New York mean to you?
Stories, and collaboration.