Michael Krasny and Forum’s Producers’ Favorite Shows of 2013

Michael Krasny and Forum staff look back on the best shows of the year. (Kevin Berne/KQED)
Michael Krasny and Forum staff look back on the best shows of the year. (Kevin Berne/KQED)

When you work in radio, you listen to a lot of it. This is simultaneously a perk of the job and an occupational hazard — one’s memory merges shows and guests, and too often we become blasé about interviews that give listeners driveway moments.

Additionally, when you produce a show, you tend to be overly critical of it and engage in a lot of Monday-morning quarterbacking. You get mad at yourself because a guest was too tepid, a topic wasn’t discussed enough, or you let an off-topic call on air.

All that is to say, if those of us who work in radio recommend a show, chances are it warrants listening. So as the Forum staff gets ready to change the calendar over to 2014, here are shows that have stayed with us, and bubble as highlights of 2013.

Host Michael Krasny: I am still fascinated by the range and intensity of responses we received for the hour we did on the Bay Area’s attitude toward dogs.

The 20th anniversary show I did with Dave Iverson was especially memorable. I thought Dave Iverson was especially good at getting some nugget narratives out of me and I was surprised in a good way at the cuts Senior Producer Dan Zoll put together for the hour.

The most memorable interviews of the year were Justice Sonia Sotomayor and boxer Mike Tyson. Justice Sotomayor was terrific – lively, humane, totally engaging and she had an inspiring personal story.

Tyson was a surprise – smart, amicable, a good storyteller. From the get-go he called me “The Kras.”

Friday Host Dave Iverson: Two shows that were memorable for me: our program on kindness, which in turn prompted a show on apologies. What was striking to me was how each of those programs seemed to strike a real chord with listeners. It reminded me that as important as it is for Forum to cover policy issues, people’s lives, deep down, aren’t really about issues. What sticks inside us is often more basic. And getting a chance to hear stories about everyday moments that were turning points in someone’s life, in this case an act of kindness or an an apology, can be as important as our more usual fare. It’s the same reason we’re drawn to NPR’s StoryCorps. We all have a hunger to hear a good story, one that resonates within us.

Senior Producer Dan Zoll: The Forum team is still talking about Michael Krasny’s fascinating interview with boxer Mike Tyson, who was refreshingly open and willing to address tough questions and uncomfortable subjects, including the time he discovered his ex-wife Robin Givens with Brad Pitt. Tyson may be the only guest to have called Michael “The Kraz-ster.” The former heavyweight champ also talked passionately about his love of pigeons, the dangers of economic inequality, and military history.

Another program that stands out was our show on Propositions B and C on San Francisco’s November ballot. At Forum we take great pride in our election coverage. This year, there were not many high-profile issues on local ballots, but one exception was these two measures, which involved a proposal for the construction of a high-rise on the Embarcadero waterfront. Host Dave Iverson did a stellar job of breaking down a complex and contentious topic. Our panel was knowledgeable, passionate and well-matched, and featured one politician and one activist on each side. I think it was one of those shows that was both a service to voters and engaging radio.

Producer Judy Campbell: We did a really fun show on the “Magic and Mystery of the Bay Area’s Fog.” It was great to hear so many people chime in with their love, and their hate, for the fog, including a bar pilot who guided ships through the bay, who said that navigating a boat in the fog is like driving down a highway with the hood up.

Another favorite was our show marking the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. Michael talked with four Californians whose lives were profoundly affected by the war — a woman who lost her son, a veteran of the war, an Iraqi translator who now lives in San Jose and a woman with small children whose husband was deployed. It was a very personal and illuminating look back at the war.

Producer Irene Noguchi My choice is “The Case for Kindness.”

The idea for this show stemmed from a commencement speech that short story writer George Saunders gave at Syracuse University. Instead of doling out witty career advice, he asked graduates to do one thing: be kinder. We asked our listeners for their stories of kindness, or times when they wished they’d been kinder. I was fortunate to answer the phones that day, and some of the stories nearly brought me to tears. (Some of the best stories: A concentration camp survivor who remembered a starving child sharing food with him, a woman whose childhood bullies called her years later to apologize, and an alcoholic who tracked down his long-lost daughter — also an addict — and took her to Alcoholics Anonymous with him.)

My second pick is our show on efforts to save African elephants. Researching this show was both informative and heartbreaking. We get to do a lot of in-depth research on the topics we cover, and for this show, I was talking to world experts who described both the caring nature and gentleness of the elephants they studied, and the horror of elephants being slaughtered for their tusks over the decades. At this rate, I wonder if my future grandchildren will ever see a wild African elephant; it’s still hard for me to imagine any species we’ve grown up with no longer existing. We have to cover many difficult topics in our field, but this one reminded me of fragility of our ecosystem and how easily a species can disappear completely.

Online Producer Amanda Stupi: I was really pleased with the show we did in the wake of the shooting of Santa Rosa teenager Andy Lopez. For me, this incident crystallized the intersection of many issues: police and community relations, the reach of the gun lobby, the racial and class division in the North Bay. The latter is of particular importance to me, as I grew up in the North Bay, and am always amazed at how it is overlooked by the media. All too often our region is grouped together and dismissed as “the liberal Bay Area,” but in truth, the communities in the Bay Area differ widely, each with its own strengths, personality, and problems. For me this show and the Andy Lopez incident shone a light on the divisions of a community that often go underreported.

Just about every show in our Priced Out series has left me pondering a big-picture question, such as, “Is rent control really good for the rental market?” “Does anyone have a ‘right’ to live in a certain city?” and “What is gentrification?” But the biggest question surrounding the Bay Area’s lack of affordable housing is “What’s the solution?” Our show on the topic is one that has stayed with me months later.

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Amanda Stupi

Amanda Stupi is an interactive producer for KQED News. She grew up in Northern California, where her mother would woo her inside on warm summer nights with promises of The Monkees and CHIPS. Stupi is fascinated with the intersection between popular culture and the fine arts. Her idea of artistic perfection includes The Beastie Boys' Check Your Head, Joni Mitchell's Blue, Bull Durham, several episodes of Cheers, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and most of Wallace Stevens' poetry. Stupi's life goals include watching every episode of Law and Order, finishing a screenplay and thanking her mom in an Oscar acceptance speech.

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