St. Paul/Minneapolis: What's Playing ~ In The Loop

 Like many people on Gather, I love and support public radio. I’ve spent the majority of my waking life for the past 10 or so years listening to the programming that comes to me through Minnesota Public Radio. I’ve wiled away many a weekend day listening to Car Talk, The Splendid Table, This American Life, Speaking of Faith, The Local Show With Chris Roberts, and many of the other national and local shows I can tune into. I am fascinated by a well-told story and have had, what many people term, “Driveway Moments”. If I am out and about running errands, or returning home from work, and there is a compelling story or song, I have to sit and wait in the car until the it is finished. I don’t have a driveway, so I have “Curbside Moments” or “Parking Lot Moments”.


Have you ever wondered what goes into making a great radio program, or do you simply believe it magically happens? The making of a radio show is a collaborative effort, but it also can be a pretty solitary endeavor. A reporter or correspondent may go out and collect their information for a story, then return to edit their piece down for broadcast. For host-driven shows, there are themes to be discussed, guests to book, interview pieces to be put together, listener call-ins to to be screened and arranged, and eventually, edited together into a seamless whole and put out there for us to enjoy. But it’s all done behind-the-scenes and we never get to see how it all comes together. Until now.


The Minnesota Public Radio program, “In The Loop” provides listeners the opportunity to not only attend live tapings of the program, but to also be part of the process. The show is broadcast locally on the third Friday of every month at 9pm on KNOW (91.1 FM). As it states on their website, “We like to think of it as a radio show for people who talk back to their radio. Our goal is to push the boundaries of public radio, opening the way for new voices, new attitudes, new radio techniques, and an entirely new way of relating to our listeners.” Each new show is based on a theme or idea, be it from the news, sharing a cultural perspective, or life experiences. There are monthly informal gatherings at a local bar or coffee shop which members of the listening public are invited to attend, discuss the topics, bring up story ideas, and/or share personal experiences, all which help to drive the direction of the show. This culminates in the “In The Loop” staff putting together some stories based on the discussions, and then, presenting it to a live, in-studio audience at a free, monthly taping of the program in the UBS Forum in the Minnesota Public Radio headquarters in Downtown St. Paul. It’s not just a passive experience. The audience is asked to participate throughout the show by providing their own comments to questions. There are also live guests, interviews, humorous sketches, and music.


I finally had the opportunity to attend the most recent taping of “In The Loop” and thoroughly enjoyed it. Myself, plus several dozen hearty Minnesotans braved the sloppy, slippery streets following our first Minnesota snowfall (I arrived via my personal limousine, the 50S bus), gathered in the lobby of the UBS Forum, treated to some lovely refreshments of mini-eclairs, coffee, cookies, and bars (you have to have bars at any Minnesota gathering). The theme of this month’s show was “Lighting Up The Holidays: Feeding and fighting our addiction to light.” A look at how we view light and dark, and how both affect us during the holidays and at other times of the year. Stories ranging from putting up your Christmas lights, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), how other cultures view darkness and light for their holiday traditions, to guest artists discussing their work with light and dark within their art, and three local writers who read essays/poetry about their affinity with darkness.


The whole experience was entertaining, interesting, and, at times, very powerful. It was almost a performance piece in its own right. Although being recorded for radio, they use all media forms to help create the atmosphere, and to also lend more depth to the stories for those in the audience. For some pre-recorded stories, there were accompanying photographs displayed on a large screen, for others, just the words emanating from the speakers, leaving your mind to fill in the pictures, like good radio does. Some stories were done live, such as Assistant Producer Sanden Tottens’s story about SAD, or Technical Director, Alan Frechtman’s very humorous story about Hanukkah. There is the house band, The Smarts, that presented their own original songs, and provided the segue music between pieces. Jeff Horwich, host of “In The Loop,” was very engaging and made us feel at home, informing us what to expect, that there may be re-takes now and again, that he would be going into the audience to solicit opinions and comments about the topics at hand.


What I appreciated about it was the way they set up how the show was presented. A minimal “set” consisting of a table, a laptop, some decorations, (love the lava lamp), and an area for the band, backlit by holiday lights, and the extra bonus of a view of the State Capital Building lit up at night only a few hundred yards away, made for an inviting setting. It wasn’t simply a starkly lit space, but utilizing lighting and the audio for effect that drew you in, even when there were technical details being dealt with at times. Recorded in real-time, the show flowed from one segment to another and it was fascinating to watch how they accomplished this. Yes, there were the occasional stops and starts, but that’s part of the process. I feel that having the audience there also elevates the show to a more personal level in that they get the immediate feedback, be it laughter, applause, or comments. The added bonus is knowing that you were there when you listen to the finished product when it is aired, and you can remember what was happening at the time.


All in all, it was very entertaining, compelling, and informative. It definitely piqued my interest in attending more tapings, and perhaps to even become part of the “In The Loop” community, to be a part of the brainstorming sessions. I like the idea of interactive radio they are attempting, and applaud them for the idea. It helps to create a new sense of community and it brings people together who not only are passionate about ideas, but also passionate about public radio. That is something that is very rare these days. Maybe someday, one of my ideas will turn into someone else’s “Driveway Moment.”


To learn more about the show and to hear the streaming audio broadcast, or for more information about how you could be involved with the “In The Loop” community, click here.


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