The Radio Reporter: Zoe Chace

January 10, 1993

I’ve always been fascinated by reporters. We see and hear them daily, we go to them for answers, we trust them to tell us the truth, we know exactly where to find them, yet, we don’t really know them at all.

 

I like to look-up reporters, after hearing a captivating story, to see if their real image is the same as the one I imagined. I’m usually way off, but for some reason, I was pretty close with Zoe. Something else I knew about Zoe after hearing her on the radio; she’s a woman who loves her job. And that only makes me want to know more…

 

where are you from?
Manhattan

what did you want to be when you were a kid?
A writer. My parents were writers; every single adult around me was a writer. Never occurred to me to be anything else. Kind of house where if something awkward happened, someone would invariably say, put it in the memoir. My godmother collected disability for her writers block.

what were you doing 5 years ago?
Five years ago I was teaching Special Ed students at a high school in Philly’s strawberry mansion neighborhood. I was not good at it, but I loved my students very much.

why did you get into radio?
I lived in a studio in Philly that was a lot like that attic that the Sara Crewe is consigned to in The Little Princess. A garret. No TV. Nothing but the radio and the Internet. Teaching was hard and lonely. I discovered This American Life, and my life turned into Ira Glass every night, NPR every morning. Finally, I was more invested in listening to the radio than I was in teaching. I figured, maybe I can get in there and hang out with those people.

what kind of stories do you like to tell?
Stories that explain some fundamental truth about how we operate. Those are probably the best stories in general. Stories that are funny, with people getting hype about something, hopefully something random like Pat Benetar or an all-you-can eat Chinese buffet. Here’s some audio, some of my stories I like:

The Making of a Hit Song: Jerry Wonda’s Platinum Sound
France and Germany: A Love Story

Here’s some simple-sounding radio stories that are really good that i love– but they are not simple at all, in their craft:

NYC Take The A Train To Honor Duke Ellington by Robert Smith
Is There Gold In Them There ‘Grillz’? by Mark Anthony Waters
Amanda’s Diary: Girlfriend on Radio Diaries
Once Naked For Nirvana, Now A Teen Spirit by Chana Joffe-Walt
Steroids Hearing Turns to Discussion of Linguistics by Mike Pesca
The Island Of Stone Money by Jacob Goldstein and David Kestenbaum

where do you find inspiration for your stories?
Other radio reporters. Brilliant editors. Also music. I listen to a lot of music, and I like music with details. Like for instance Usher and R Kelly’s “Same Girl.” You can’t beat the details in that song. Even Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok” is a good example of this: perfect production, great topline, sticks in your head. My colleague Robert Smith and I just went to Elko, Nevada. He’s taught me a great deal about radio reporting. The radio in Elko is amazing, and we listened to a lot of it, driving all over the Ruby Mountains. He said the following re: country music: you know it’s a good country song when you can sing along by the end. Go check out, “Do You Want Fries With That” by Tim McGraw. It’s a perfect radio story. Surprising, unusual scenario, choice, telling details, a universally human-type situation, and you can sing along by the end. My editor, Sara Sarasohn, says radio is a movie in your head. This is exactly right. As for finding stories– you have to read everything that’s published, but then, it always turns out, that going to the bar with my brilliant friends- or random ass people-leaves me with some of my best story ideas.

what are some tips for someone who wants to get into radio journalism?
Listen to the radio. The entire radio. I live in New York right now, and grew up here, so for me, it would be 1010 wins all the way through Hot 97, to a lot of NPR– if you want to get into public radio. You have to get the rhythm of telling stories on the radio in your head. And while you’re applying for internships at member stations, or at commercial radio stations, or to the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies, or to Rob Rosenthal’s workshops with Transom.org, you have to start doing stories. Speaking of Transom, go there for a million resources in how to tell radio stories. Find some place that will take your stories for free until you get good. Momentum is critical– until you have the momentum of an actual deadline or job, you have to provide the momentum yourself.

who are your role models?
Other radio reporters and editors. My journalist parents. But a constant throughout my short radio career is Kanye West.  A producer who went on to drop his own album full of hits, someone who can’t resist putting his insecurities out front and center, I relate to Kanye, I want to be like Kanye. I love his signature production style and the funny weird details he puts in his own songs. Kanye loves narrative. I love the narrative of Kanye.

what is your other dream job?
Truancy officer/9th grade guidance counselor

how do you let out steam?
Wish I could say weightlifting. Making mixes while cooking.

what do you collect?
Sweatshirts.  Not on purpose though.

I listen to a lot of music, and I like music with details. Like for instance Usher and R Kelly’s “Same Girl.” You can’t beat the details in that song. Even Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok” is a good example of this: perfect production, great topline, sticks in your head…

photos provided by Zoe Chace.