The New Yorker Radio Hour, Now on Cleveland Airwaves

by

David Remnick, Editor of the New Yorker - BRIGITTE LACOMBE
  • Brigitte Lacombe
  • David Remnick, Editor of the New Yorker
"The most famous thing ever to come out of Harold Ross' mouth was that The New Yorker was not a magazine for 'the little old lady in Dubuque,'" says current editor David Remnick, of the magazine's founder and first editor.

"I know that Dubuque is not very close to Cleveland, but I think we know what he was trying to say," he says. "And I find it utterly obnoxious. I am delighted if anyone in Dubuque or Cleveland or anywhere reads The New Yorker with interest."

Remnick is also pleased that Clevelanders now have the recurring chance to listen to The New Yorker Radio Hour, the magazine's new podcast hosted by Remnick, on terrestrial radio. Though the show's first 12 episodes are available online, it debuted in Cleveland on 90.3/WCPN Saturday afternoon. 

The Radio Hour, co-produced by New York's premiere public radio station's WNYC Studios, should not be seen as a reproduction of the print product or even an audio version of the website, Remnick says. In the Radio Hour's first episode back in October, he said he wanted it to be "alive to the possibilities of the medium" and expects that over time, it will grow and evolve. 

Dean Cappello, WNYC's Chief Content Officer, says that those possibilities — when you've got the crackpot minds at The New Yorker and WNYC working in concert — are vast.  

"It’s pretty clear when you start working with The New Yorker team that they see the brand as something that gets remade every issue even as it resonates with what’s come before," he says by email. "And WNYC, with a long history as a broadcaster, is very comfortable in a moment to moment, day by day, week by week environment. We’ve got complementary skills." 

Cappello says that, unlike in print, where you can look ahead and skip material that doesn't interest you, audio is a linear experience. 

"You have to listen to one moment to get to the next," he says. "So we have to understand the flow of a whole program and how to pace it in a way that keeps you listening. And probably most important, audio is naked and intimate in a way that other media are not. It is generally your ear and a human voice, and the quality of that relationship is more important than anything else."  

Good thing, then, that Remnick is a "radio nerd" who's been a lifelong devotee of the medium and slides into the host's chair with aplomb. Many of the show's segments are recorded at The New Yorker's World Trade Center offices. (Remnick's on the 38th floor and walks up to the 39th to record.)   

Remnick, who has been editor of the magazine since 1998, says in a phone interview that he's wary of using the podcast to oversatisfy subscribers. Though it features conversations with writers, editors and cartoonists at the magazine, it's not a "behind the scenes look at this great Hollywood studio." 

"It would be too self-regarding" says Remnick. "It would be a show about a show."

Rather, the radio hour tackles the same broad range of topics that the magazine does — politics, culture, humor — through interviews, reported audio stories and performance. WNYC, which also produces the popular podcasts Radiolab, On the Media, and Freakonomics, helps shape the pieces and parts into a seamless product.  

"On a given week, our focus might be what I like to call a Big Dumb Subject, in other words something staring you right in the face — ISIS or the Middle East or the presidential campaign," says Remnick. "But some weeks, it should be something delightful in the arts or off to the side or surprising. Every guest that comes on should not be famous." 

And yet, Remnick has interviewed a diverse roster of celebs: comedian Amy Schumer; writers Ta-Nahisi Coates and Claudia Rankine; musicians Robert Glasper and Patti Smith. 

On Saturday, Remnick interviewed Sarah Koenig, the host and producer of NPR's Serial podcast, a show that "blew up the form," in Remnick's view. He asked Koenig about Serial's access to the subject of its second season, Bowe Bergdhal, and about Koenig's approach to her role as journalist and host before, during and after the show's incredible success. It was not your typical celebrity interview. 

(Listen to Episode 12, which begins with the Koenig interview, here.)

"It’s a really strange thing to ask tough questions of someone you don’t know, much less someone you do," Remnick says. "It’s just not a natural thing. I’ve been doing it for a long time and I’ve learned how to do it, but it’s a weird thing to know how to do. Impertinence is something that should be expected in journalism, but it'll get you slugged at the dinner table."

Still, Remnick says, of journalism: "I can't get enough of it." 

Remnick's hope is that the podcast, which he readily acknowledges is a form younger audiences have embraced, might create new New Yorker readers, that they might "not only listen to the show, but think, 'hey, there's something going on there,' and come to the magazine — this crazy amalgam of politics and cartoons and culture and humor and art." 

From WCPN's perspective, The New Yorker Radio Hour is a perfect fit for Saturday afternoons. Station Manager Maxie Jackson III says by phone that in pilot broadcasts, it performed well nationwide.

"The indexing was wonderful," he says. "We know that this is a tremendous asset for people familiar with the publication and to listeners of public media in general. We also know, from the publication, that Cleveland is a very strong market for the magazine itself. There's a high number of subscriptions in the Cleveland area, so this is good market for the show. It's a great addition to our weekend lineup."

The New Yorker Radio Hour will air weekly at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday afternoons. Former episodes can be streamed and downloaded at newyorker.com. 

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