If you live in Anchorage, you probably recognize Barbara's voice from the radio, and remember her Daily News columns, which ran for 8 years. She has also written and acted in two one-woman shows, and has written travel essays, including one about a waterpark adventure that was selected for The Best Women's Travel Writing 2007.
She's one of those creative personalities always searching for new ways to tell stories. I wanted to ask her about her latest public radio project: "Hold This Thought," a one-minute excerpt from literature, often submitted by listeners themselves, that airs twice daily on KSKA. (Note to writers: Barbara has featured authors reading from their own work, as well as from others' work, and is always on the lookout for new material.)
Andromeda: Barbara, you are a woman of many talents. Where did you get the idea for “Hold This Thought?”
Barbara Brown: I was doing a series of on-stage conversations with very interesting people, and I arranged for KSKA to record and broadcast them. But more and more, I realized that people don’t listen to things for an hour; they catch pieces here and there. Sound bites are usually considered shallow; what if I tried to add depth to that? I’m a person who always – when I come across a compelling passage in a book – copy it, save it, think about it. I was positive there were more people like that out there. I was also very specific about tying it to literature. In the beginning, people thought it would be “musings of the mind,” and I definitely wanted something anchored in literature or history.
ARL: Is it airing just in AK, or elsewhere?
Barbara Brown: I have had requests from other radio stations. Right now, I’m in the process of handling the technology aspects of how to make it available to those stations. I hope, very soon, to be on other APRN stations and even Outside stations. Already, people have recorded at those other stations.
But you have to realize that Hold this Thought is multi-media; it’s also a podcast at www.holdthisthought.org. That part of it is already going around the world! It has subscribers in other countries, and active listeners throughout the U.S. I like checking their email addresses to see where they’re coming from: school districts in Washington, law offices in California; it’s kind of a kick.
ARL: How many readings have been broadcast?
Barbara Brown: The show launched January 14. With a new passage every weekday, it comes to 166 Thoughts on September 1.
ARL: Do you hear back from people who heard the “thoughts” or get many comments online?
Barbara Brown: I do. Two in particular have been pretty amazing; they were listeners (one in California and one in South Africa!) who heard old friends of theirs from years back and asked me to put them in touch. The South African woman heard the voice and saw the photo of her former childhood friend (now in Alaska) and now they’ve reconnected. This is something I would never have imagined would happen.
People email me directly about their appreciation for it. Then they’ll submit their favorite Thought, and then I get them to record. Lots of people from around the country often just email me to say how they begin their day with it or how it inspired them to read the whole book or how they reacted to a specific passage. Because I’m curious, I ask how they found out about it, and it’s usually because someone forwarded a Thought to them and they kept checking the website.
Most people seem to prefer telling me how the Thoughts have generated conversations for them rather than post it as a comment online. I’m not sure why. My original goal was to get people talking in person, at work or wherever, and their comments tell me they’re doing that. I’m now working on the part about having those conversations online, too.
ARL: Are you finding any time to write, in addition to logging what I imagine are many hours of radio production?
Barbara Brown: Honestly, the part about this that I have yet to figure out is how to get my life in balance. I just finished reading Winston Churchill’s “Painting as a Pastime,” and he mentions that “Reading and book-love in all their forms suffer from one serious defect: they are too nearly akin to the ordinary daily round of the brain-worker to give that element of change and contrast essential to real relief.” (This happens to me a lot: someone suggests a Thought and then, while fact-checking from the text, I become enamored with other passages, too.)
What Churchill’s quote means for me in real life is that I do not write because I need to get far away from cerebral work and my computer. I feel like getting a job lifting boxes or digging dirt. Churchill picked up painting. I need to use my hands on more than a computer.
Someone suggested that I start a blog of all the things that happen along the way with Hold this Thought, the friends finding each other, the conversations that start. But I cringe at one more thing on the computer!
This project has involved a very steep learning curve for me. At first, the technology was overwhelming: podcasting; radio recording, editing, and mixing; websites; Internet marketing. Every single day, I was living at the edge of my knowledge envelope. Then there was the publishing world, permissions, copyright. With what I’ve had to learn, I could start several cottage industries. Now I’m in a whole other world of marketing, sales, and expansion. This is so personally uncomfortable for me that I am actively looking for a partner, someone who sees the opportunities and wants to take on that part.