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Public Radio Is 'Glamorous'? Our Intern's Reflections

Each semester and summer, VPR hires an undergraduate college intern to learn the ropes of public radio news and assist with the production of Vermont Edition. This week, we bid farewell to fabulous winter intern, Devin Karambelas, a junior at the University of Vermont. On her way out the door for a summer position at WGBH in Boston, we asked her to reflect on her time with us:

Oh, Vermont Edition. You have given me so much joy (and a little anxiety) over the past four months as I have gotten used to my role as a production intern for three very talented producers. When I began in mid-January, I was a starry-eyed college student with a background limited to print news reporting and editing. Having just concluded— “survived” might be the more appropriate word— my position as managing editor at a campus newspaper, I was more than content with being at the bottom of the totem pole again, mostly because this internship was my official entry into the world of public radio. As my time here draws to a close, I’ve realized just how much I want to keep venturing further into this world. Working at Vermont Public Radio has had everything to do with this— and here’s why:

Mennonite singers, bird watching and the 48 Hour Film Slam: Projects I worked on for Vermont Edition

Early on Patti Daniels, Vermont Edition’s managing producer, stressed that this internship was going to be a hands-on position where I would be expected to contribute original content to the show. Over the past few months, I have edited a pre-recorded interview with singer-songwriter Rachel Ries, whose folk style is partially inspired by her Mennonite childhood, and prepared questions for a Gulf War veteran named Robert Vallieres who has worked to overcome his PTSD through bird-watching. I’ve edited audio, formatted scripts, and researched topics and guests that made it to air on Vermont Edition. A number of fascinating people call Vermont home, and working on a show like this has allowed me to bear witness to what these people are doing to change their lives or someone else’s.

By far my favorite project, however, came recently when producers Patti, Ric Cengeri and Sage Van Wing sent me off into the trenches (my word, theirs is “field”) to record a coda— short, audio-rich segment — on the Green Mountain Film Festival’s 48 Hour Film Slam Competition in Montpelier. With recording equipment in tow, I followed the competition from beginning to end on one cold weekend in March and came home with hours of audio that I eventually turned into my own narrated story. (Editor's note: It's an excellently crafted story; follow the link to listen.) With a lot of help from stellar Vermont Edition host Jane Lindholm, I transformed three days of chaos into a short, coherent story about what happens at an event like a film slam and why people are willing to submit themselves to sleep deprivation in the name of art (and, I guess, cash prizes). While I may not have broken Watergate, creating this coda from nothing taught me how enriching reporting can be when it transports you. Using sound— something I had rarely, if ever, utilized before— opened up the possibilities to me of where journalism can go, and gave me a tangible result of this internship that I can add to my arsenal of skills.

“Hi, thanks for calling Vermont Edition.”

Day-to-day, I answered and managed the phone lines from noon to 1 PM during Vermont Edition’s live broadcast. When I think back to Day 1 doing this on my own, when I’m pretty sure I single-handedly sabotaged what should have been a normal show thanks to mixing up the callers on air, I’m surprised with how much better I’ve gotten. There is a lot of finesse that goes into something as seemingly simple as this: you’ve got to quickly pick up a line, hear and try to understand what someone is saying, and clearly communicate that information to the producer and host. Not so easy when all six lines go off at once! Yet when I finally mastered it, not only could I multi-task (hugely important for any kind of profession and especially in journalism) but I was also better prepared to speak to any kind of person on the phone, which is similarly critical for reporting. Additionally, from my perch as a call-screener I could both listen to the show live and see how the producer, engineer and host interacted throughout the course of the broadcast, leaving me with a decent understanding of how a radio news show comes together from all sides.

Thing I learned along the way:

  • How to edit audio in Sony Vegas
  • How not to edit audio in Sony Vegas
  • Editing audio for a segment versus mixing a broadcast or podcast
  • Writing a script
  • Talking to listeners and handling their questions, comments
  • Formatting questions the right way
  • Learning the quirks of every host and producer and adapting to those
  • Contributing topic ideas during a producer’s meeting
  • Writing copy for
  • Recording someone for optimal sound quality
  • Identifying good ambient sound
  • Carrying an equipment bag in the least awkward way possible
  • Speaking in a “radio” voice both on air and for recorded segments
  • Learning how to ask questions to people whose careers you would like to some day also have

It occurs to me that this last skill might be the most significant, when I ask myself why I applied to intern at VPR in the first place. Whatever I did on any given day, being surrounded by professionals who have made a living out of my budding interest is inspiring. While public radio can be glamorous, it isn’t usually. But either way, being situated in that milieu three days a week has taught me how dynamic a field it is, and how it’s made possible by different moving parts coming together. I never would have thought I’d be interested in sound engineering, but conversations with sound engineers at VPR have made me rethink that. Similarly I would not have expected I would learn anything about corporate and individual giving, yet I’m surprised by how endlessly fascinating the business side of public media is.

So as I leave this position, I’m filled with nothing but gratitude for the individuals who took me under their wing and taught me some critical skills and lessons I can apply to any future position in media and the non-profit sector. Thanks VPR!

Patti is an integral part of VPR's news effort and part of the team that created Vermont Edition. As executive producer, Patti supervises the team that puts Vermont Edition on the air every day, working with producers to select and research show ideas, select guests and develop the sound and tone of the program.
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