Public Radio Exchange – Cambridge, Mass.


At the PRX offices  in Cambridge, journalists and web developers put their heads together to reinvent radio. By marrying this elderly service with the digital medium, this organization is finding new ways to tickle the ear buds.

“They put innovative ideas to practice,” said Rekha Murthy about the PRX team – of which she is a member. Murthy is director of projects and partnerships and a former MIT fellow (MIT is just a couple train stops away.) Her business card reads: Making public radio more public.

PRX is a “younger upstart network”, explained Murthy. “It’s a nonprofit, web-based platform for the digital distribution, review and licensing of radio shows.”

Basically, radio programming is posted by individual producers who maintain rights to the work. You need a membership to post and retrieve material. CBC Radio’s Quirks and Quarks and The Vinyl Café are both distributed on this site.

“PRX is also a growing social network and community of listeners, producers, and stations collaborating to reshape public radio.” (PRX website)

It’s not long into our conversation before Murthy mentions Jay Allison’s
involvement in PRX. Allison, Executive Director of Atlantic Public Media, is a known quantity among public journalism audiophiles across North America. (I am one.) I first heard this sound curator’s gospel at a Nieman Narrative conference about a decade ago right here in Cambridge. His creative ideas for the use of sound, voice and character development are award winning and well known to listeners of This American Life (among other programs).

“Jay came up with the new technologies for transferring audio files,” said Murthy.
Thus PRX was born. There are now hundreds of purchasing stations across the U.S. and more than 50,000 audio works in its portfolio.

Here are some of the cool things PRX is also involved in:

Reveal: This is an investigative journalism program that is produced in partnership between PRX and the Centre for Investigative Reporting.

“Reveal. There’s more to the story.”

This pilot project is aimed at telling compelling, original investigations to mobile, web and radio audiences.

“It takes a strong digital first approach,” said Murthy. “Even the Reveal pilot got a reaction from Congress.”

Reveal’s first investigation looked into U.S. veterans being over-prescribed painkillers. The radio program is now looking for stable funding.  This is an incubator for emerging, “scalable” media ventures. Its intention is to develop an ecosystem for social entrepreneurship.

“It’s for companies that are slightly formed, but feel they could use mentorship and money to grow,” said Murthy.

This is how Matter works: The start-ups with the bright ideas get $50,000 and five months to work on a prototype, find customers and see if it can build an audience. First the team goes through a bootcamp. The entrepreneurs get exposure through design reviews, a demo day in San Francisco and a media showcase in New York City.

The Moth Radio hour:  This show is all about storytelling.

“Moth storytellers stand alone, under a spotlight, with only a microphone and a roomful of strangers.” (PRX website)

Moth StorySLAM competitions started in New York City, but they’ve now spread across the country. The best stories end up on The Moth Radio Hour. And for those who need a bit of help and encouragement to share their tales, there are Moth’s community outreach workshops, MothShop. There’s also a Moth Pitch Line — online. Weekly episodes of Moth are available on PRX. In 2010, the program won a Peabody award. The judges described the show: “Storytelling, likely the oldest art, is revered and reinvigorated by this hour for everyday raconteurs.”

So back to those journalists and web developers who brainstorm together at PRX. It’s easy to see why journalists would want to work on innovative public radio, but why computer geeks who could likely find the technology sector much more lucrative?

“They have a passion, a dedication. Sure they could make more money elsewhere. But they want to work here,” said Murthy with a smile.

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