Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Tom Ashbrook Experience: All Along the Radio Tower

By: Annmarie Dean

On June 10th, Tom Ashbrook, host of NPR’s “On Point,” made a pit stop in Buffalo to broadcast his show live. He then attended a luncheon right here in one of our studios. While this event was very exciting, what made it even more neat is the fact that WNED’s own Daniel Robison was featured as a guest on the program!

I got the chance to sit down with our Innovation Trail reporter to discuss his “On Point” experience.

DanielRobison&TomAshbrookAs an aside - If I were you, I’d prepare myself for getting used to hearing Daniel’s name (or should I say voice) a lot. He’s been working as a full-time journalist for only three years and has already begun racking up first place awards left and right.

AD: I’m wondering why you were asked to be on “On Point” and how that offer even came about.

DR: I think they chose me because fracking is one of the biggest issues in Buffalo right now, as far as economic development. I’ve gone to protests and done research about this natural gas drilling technique.

The Tuesday before, I got a phone call from one of his producers. She asked me to be on the show. I was thinking, “Yes, absolutely! That would be amazing. I would love to sit across from him and talk about this.” The next day they called and said, “We are going to take the show into a different direction, we probably won’t have you on.” I was trying to look on the bright side because he was still going to come for lunch. Then they called on Thursday, probably an hour before I left to go home, and said “We want you back on the show.” So I crammed that night on all the material.

AD: How did you feel being featured on an NPR show that’s broadcast nationally? You said that you almost felt intimidated but when you actually went the studio were you calm or were you nervous?

DR: I think I was pretty calm because what’s the worst that can happen, right? Theoretically, this is something that I know about. This isn’t like a bar exam where I have to go in and answer a certain number of questions exactly right. You have to wonder what are the mechanisms behind the show working, what does it looks like on his end? We just hear what comes through the radio, so I was more interested in being in the belly of the beast. I think I was just curious and excited. I don’t feel that anybody goes on a show like that and doesn’t have at least a little bit of jitters. I wasn’t really nervous; I was just excited to do it.  

AD: I can’t even imagine what that experience was like. Everyone could hear you!

DR: Yeah, but the weird thing is, it’s like a room that’s not even as big as a small bathroom. There are a few microphones set up. You’re sitting there and he’s literally sitting right over here and he’s talking into this mic. He sort of reads everything very animated. It was like having a front row seat to watching him perform. I thought, “Man, this guy is really good at what he does.” He’s known for his voice. Even seeing him get a phone call and he just scribbles a bunch of stuff, you can’t read it, it’s totally illegible. The way that he recycles and reprocessed everything, it’s brilliant.

It was amazing because he’s got an hour. An hour is a long time but for a subject like this, it’s not that long of a time. In the midst of this show, you have to take phone calls, you have me on, these two other experts on, he wants to play sound bites and summarize different events, he wants to get everybody who is listening who doesn’t know about it on a very basic level of understanding, then he wants to go deeper, he wants to have a meaningful back and forth with all the pros and cons and he also has three show breaks. You have to fit it in all these little pie pieces. You want to have a nice conclusion and then say goodbye.

He had dozens of articles with highlights and things circled, all stacked on top of each other and spread out all over the desk. Two minutes before we went on the air, he knocked his water all over it. We’re sopping up all this water and he’s like, “It’ll be fun! Don’t worry about it!”

AD: Is there anything else you would like to say regarding your time with Tom Ashbrook?

DR: Well, I just want to say that he was very kind in person. He’s very well known and he’s very talented. When everyone was talking before the show, he was very polite, very nice. He put me at ease. He was very funny at the lunch and very gracious. It’s nice to know that there is a decent guy behind the microphone.

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