What it’s like to do KCRW’s 24-hour Radio Race for the first time

A few weeks ago five reporters from the Boyle Heights Beat in East L.A. participated in KCRWs annual Radio Race, where teams of audio producers have 24 hours to turn a theme into a four minute radio feature.

After only a month of radio training, the Boyle Heights Beat producers set out with their digital recorders to document an alternative energy festival in their community. Here is the result of their radio efforts. 

We asked them over Slack what it was like to do the Radio Race for the first time.

In the field with the Boyle Heights Beat team. Photo: Jackie Ramírez

What’s it been like to learn the ins and outs of making radio so far?

Rosario: It has been an interesting experience. I didn’t expect to be doing radio pieces when I joined BHB, but I’m glad to have learned this new skill. It’s a good way to capture stories because it has more elements to it than print stories. In print there’s a limit to what you can include. In radio you can add sound which helps the viewer understand more or visualize the story more in depth.

Alex: It’s been really amazing to learn about the ins and outs of making radio. Getting the opportunity to work on a radio story hands-on has given me a greater appreciation for the art of radio. I’ve been able to learn about different aspects that go into radio in comparison to print stories. I really love it. I hope to continue making stories using a radio format as it is something very interesting.

Jackie: I really enjoyed learning how to produce radio pieces. It wasn’t something that I ever thought about doing and with this learning experience I can picture myself producing more radio pieces. Making radio pieces i feel is much more fun than writing because we can make it more personal and we can actually hear the emotions the person is feeling in voice.

Liberty: It has been exciting, already knowing how to use programs for video and print made radio easier than I expected.

Adelmi: I learned that the difference between print and radio includes how there can be a personal aspect to a story. From the sound of rain playing in the background of a story about a hurricane to the sound of someone crying, it’s a good way to paint a picture while telling a story

How did you prepare for the Radio Race?

Alex: We had a few weeks of audio training under Jesse Hardman, a professional radio journalist. We got together as a group and learned about the ins and outs of radio. We planned where we’d meet the day of the Radio Race, and when the day came, we brainstormed ideas.

And once it started? Give us a blow by blow of how the 24 hours went for you…

Alex: We analyzed the theme for connotations and denotations. Then we picked our focus, and headed to Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights where the event would take place.

Liberty: We met on the day of the radio race around 9:45 at our regular meeting spot once we got the radio topic we started brainstorming for “Down for Whatever” interpreting it in a symbolistic way instead of a literal way which made it easier for us to work with. We analyzed it for connotations and denotations. We were looking through social media pages and came across a flyer for an East L.A. renewable energy festival. We all agreed that the event was positive change with renewable energy, solar energy, healthier lifestyle and a cleaner environment. Boyle Heights was Down for positive change.

Alex: We decided what we wanted to focus on with our story. Upon accomplishing that task, we began to decide which of our pieces of audio was most powerful and fit well with the story we wanted to convey. Once this was complete, we began our difficult but fun journey of editing our audio to become a radio story.

The Boyle Heights Beat team hard at work. Photo: Jackie Ramírez

And how’d the day go from there? You were a team of five, how’d you split up the work, and how much material did you gather in the field?

Liberty: We paired up with one person doing the interview and someone interviewing since Jackie was in charge of all the social media posts. Rosario and Alex worked together recording the Ambi sound like music and interviewing the organizers of the event. Adelmi and I recorded the street sound and setting up and interviewing some of the booth people. We got there early enough to gather sound from before the event and got really good interviews with organizers since we were the first media there at the event.

How did the production part of the Race go for you? When did you feel like you were done?

Alex: We worked hard on bringing our audio together. From ambient sound at the event to the voices of our interviewees, we made sure to incorporate all aspects of our audio segments together. Though it took a long time and a lot of cold, hard work, it was worth it. We were overjoyed when we made our audio submission on SoundCloud.

Liberty: We finished our work at around 2:30 in the morning. At that point we were kind of scared because of technical difficulties but were able to get everything together.

Adelmi: We felt very tired, and drained. After so many hours of running around the neighborhood and then piecing it all together and then the scare of the technology malfunction, we felt a sense of accomplishment at having put together a radio piece.

Did you incorporate the Bonus Challenge into your story? Tell us what it was, and how you made it connect to the work you were already in the process of doing.

Adelmi: The David Bowie song made a connection to us history and I remembered a lot from my AP US history class, allowing us to interpret the literal from the song. From there, we connected the line “and the earth was really dying” to the pollution in our community.

What advice would you give other first-time radio producers about doing the Radio Race? What would you do differently if you did the Radio Race again?

Adelmi: Don’t feel pressured by the theme, it’s your own interpretation and no one else’s. Teamwork is key, it sounds like a cliche but in reality, the team works together, triumphs and fails together.

Liberty: I would make sure that the volume levels are all equal no matter how tired I feel.

Rosario: I would also tell them to double check the audio on the final piece

Alex: We’d probably work on preparing more for the race and be more analytical of BONUS

You all are from Boyle Heights in East Los Angeles, what are the sounds that represent your community?

Liberty: Radio music playing in the streets like Mariachi Plaza, Taco Trucks, Food vendors and street noise

Adelmi: The laughter from children in playgrounds and to and from school, the elderly reminiscing about old times in local restaurants like Jim’s, the sound of coffee brewing in modern cafes

Rosario: Street vendors shouting out the name of their products

What’s next for you with your new radio skills? Any cool projects in the works?

Alex: We’re working radio pieces about gentrification

Rosario: We’re all addressing different aspects of gentrification

Sounds great…we can’t wait to hear them. Thanks for chatting about radio, Radio Races, and the sounds of Boyle Heights!

Alex: We couldn’t have done it without you!