The Cure & me on public radio

After reading that article about Braille in last week’s New York Times, a senior producer at Chicago Public radio asked if I’d be interested in writing an essay about Braille. I sent one their way, and while I was at it, I sent along another essay as well.

The second one was about that fifth grader I wrote about here, and the producer liked that one better. So did I. I recorded it last week, and it aired yesterday. If you listen to it online you’ll notice it sounds like I’m just talking, rather than reading. That’s because I am. Just talking, I mean.

I can read Braille. I’m just very slow at it. So when it comes time to record my radio essays, Joe DeCeault, one of my favorite producers at WBEZ, puts me in front of a microphone, asks what the first paragraph in my essay is about, then what the second paragraph is about, and I retell the story paragraph by paragraph in my own words.

Joe refers to my printed essay while we record, which was especially helpful for this particular piece. Juxtaposing the notion that blindness is a major drag with the fact that I am a happy, capable person who leads a pretty interesting life is not easy for me to do out loud. In the recording studio I felt like I was using Joe as a therapist, driveling on and on and on about my feelings. With my written piece in hand, though, Joe guided me through, kept the piece moving (rather than maudlin), and interrupted me when he found something I’d forgotten to mention.

Pictures of You, a haunting tune from The Cure’s Disintegration CD, weaves in and out of the finished piece. A perfect choice, if you ask me.

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7 Responses to “The Cure & me on public radio”


  1. 1 Marilee January 21, 2010 at 7:22 pm

    Joe is the greatest producer ever!! Does he also select the music? Great piece. I am thinking that “people listening” is more fun than “people watching”.

  2. 2 Beth January 21, 2010 at 8:31 pm

    Yes, Joe is fabulous. Funny you should ask about the music he chooses – in-between recording this essay I asked him where he ended up living, the last time I recorded an essay with him he was looking for a new apartment. He said he’d found a nice place, but it wasn’t until he moved in that he realized it was right above a music club! The music club is called, hmm, is it “Exhale”? I think that’s it, but it used to be “Manhole,” and if you asked our nephew Ed he could tell you all about Manhole in its heyday.
    ANYWAY, Joe needs to look for a new place now but he dreads moving again, he has literally THOUSANDS of CDs and they are a pain to move. He promised himself he’d transfer all those CDs to mp3 but hasn’t achieved that goal yet.
    All a long-winded way of saying, yes, Joe chooses the music he adds to each essay, and he has a lot of music to choose from!

  3. 3 Linda Miller January 22, 2010 at 9:38 am

    Great piece, and well explained–the desire to downplay the impact of blindness, to put on the best public face, and your genuine reality. And I love the natural way the “talked” essay sounds.

  4. 4 Benita January 22, 2010 at 9:58 am

    Thanks for the link. You sounded just like yourself! Thoughtful and serious, with humor. It’s a very nice piece.
    I hadn’t known that song by The Cure—it was a perfect choice. A parenthetical aside: I remember Joe DeCeault from my WBEZ volunteer days as an assistant to Kristina Stevens in the music department. Lovely and smart guy. Yet another thing to miss about Chicago!

  5. 5 Cam January 22, 2010 at 12:10 pm

    Great piece, Beth! And thanks for the behind-the-scenes peek. I’ve always wondered how people can sound so natural and calm on the radio while reading their essays.

    And I’m sad to hear the Manhole is no more. I used to live down the street from it, but was always too intimidated to go in. *sigh* I guess I’ll never get my chance.

  6. 6 bethfinke January 23, 2010 at 11:10 am

    Oh, Cam, Joe doesn’t use this method with all his commentators, he just came up with it when confronted with the fact I couldn’t read Braille very well. At least I *think* that is the case (I’ll ask him the next time I’m in the studio). My guess is the reason people can sound so natural and calm on the radio while reading their essays is that…they’re good readers! That, and I think there is a knack for writing a good radio essay – you don’t write it the same way you’d write something for print publication.
    That said, a lot of blog posts would work well on radio, as they tend to be written more off the cuff, as if you are talking to your blog readers. But do blogs count as “print publications”? Hmm.

  7. 7 Beth January 27, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    You know, that Kinks song would have worked well, especially since it’s about photos taken “long ago.” I’m pretty sure Joe is a bit younger than me and more of a “Cure” than “Kinks” fan. In fact, he was probably born long after the Kinks recorded! Still, he oughta have a Kinks album in his collection of 1,000+ CDs, doncha think?


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