How KCRW’s 24-Hour Radio Race convinced me to quit my day job

Catherine and her laptop during the 2017 Radio Race

My laptop glows red behind the dimmest setting of my headlamp. I’m taking a short break to eat a small ration of my cousin’s rhubarb pie. It’s 2:37 a.m., I’m sitting on the floor of a ranger’s cabin in Grand Teton National Park, and I’m in the middle of KCRW’s 24-hour KCRW Radio Race.

Technically it’s Sunday morning, and every 40 minutes or so the Internet works for a few minutes and a flurry of messages from my teammates come pouring in over Skype, Gchat, text and Facebook.

Cut this section.
Change the levels.
Here’s more tape.

Then back to Adobe Audition to edit the tracks in front of me. Plus a few bites of pie.

***

The ranger’s cabin in Grand Teton National Park, where radio was made

About a month prior to the 2017 KCRW Race, I had decided that I wanted to shift into radio. I was working remotely for a nonprofit, and not loving it. Radio production was a career idea I’d been playing with, but I wasn’t exactly sure how to start my dream podcast project or pitch that radio story idea — or even more daunting — open the radio space of my dreams. Like many of you I’m guessing, I’ve listened to what feels like a billion hours of radio. But when it comes to actually making the thing — finding a good character, following a real story, writing and recording something with a start, middle and an end — that can be very daunting.

As I hemmed and hawed on how to start my career in radio like a 10-year-old kid tip-toeing around an icy lake, eager to jump-in but not ready for the shocking plunge, I discovered the KCRW 24-hour Radio Race. It was only $10 to register. And what’s more, it offered this trial opportunity. I could test out radio for just 24 hours, dip my toes in it, walk away with a four-minute piece, and if I didn’t like the experience, I never had to do it again. No jumping required. If nothing else, spending 24 hours immersed in this other non-work thing would be a good break, I thought.

I registered with a team of friends I’d met at a Transom Traveling workshop the previous month. We were all situated in campsites across the American west, anticipating the approaching eclipse event.

Eventually the Saturday of the Race rolled around, and at 10 a.m. that morning, we received the 2017 theme: Down For Whatever. My team and I planned a call, but our cell service didn’t work. My cousins are park rangers in Grand Teton, and they drove me back to Wilson for a call. On the drive, we thought through potential ideas. “The national park toilet system.” “The park service helicopter rescue crew.” Everything was too big to take a bite out of. By the afternoon, I finally synced with my team, and we decided to do a compilation across the campsites of folks talking about their favorite down items. And when I say down, I mean anything stuffed with feathers. It was a fun idea, and off we went to interviewing eight-year-olds and 80-year-olds about sleeping bags and feather booties. (Listen to it here.)

Then came the editing part. While my team patched in and out all night, some taking rest, some disappearing into a void of camping disconnection, I started feeding on the glow of my computer screen. The cabin where I was staying was essentially one large room with dividers, and I could hear my cousins tossing and turning, murmuring inquiries to each other about whether I was still awake, or if the sounds of my fingers hammering the keyboard were actually mice.

There in the deadlines, the adrenaline, the David Bowie 10 p.m. bonus, the zigzags and zippers of levels and sound, I fell into a trance. It was mesmerizing and magnetic; pieces of the world cut and stitched together. And as we finished our piece around 5:30 a.m. I watched the sun rise over grazing deer outside of the cabin window. I was awash with this realization that my team and I had done it. We had made a thing!

We submitted promptly at 10 a.m. and I went to sleep. The Race was officially over. But something had happened to me. I realized I wasn’t ready for the end. That’s the thing about focusing on one thing nonstop for 24 hours. If you don’t like what you’re doing, it’s just a day. A day that you can hopefully forget about. But what happens if you fall in love with what you’re doing over those 24 hours? What happens when that’s it, that’s all you get?

Radio Race gear

***

As I prepared for work the next day, I knew what I had to do.

During the following 24 hours, I drafted and submitted my official letter of resignation from my job. I started blasting my networks that I was now an independent radio producer, and on September 1, 2017, I booked my first freelance client for a half-day recording. I informed my client that I worked for a company that I was founding called House of Pod, a podcasting incubation and co-working space in the heart of Denver, Colorado. And thus a whole new race began.

Now, a year later, my team at House of Pod and I have opened a community podcasting studio, and we produce two shows for great paying clients. I have a team of four other people and together, we produce radio every single day. We have over 15 regular members actively recording shows out of our space. And guess what? We’ll be hosting an all-night support event for folks interested in competing in the KCRW Race this year. It’s only fair that I help facilitate this radio love affair for someone else.

And as this year’s event kicks off, I’m issuing this warning to all who dare compete. Proceed with caution, 24 hours is short enough to try out anything, but it’s also long enough to get irreparably hooked.

Good luck out there.

Register for KCRW’s 24-Hour Radio Race here.