“I speak. Pause. We go straight to six. There’s a little bridge. I pause it.”
That’s Bonnie Swift giving Micah Cratty a quick rundown of cues for the upcoming show. The two senior producers of the Stanford Storytelling Project are crammed into Studio A at KZSU, headphones on, as Cratty prepares to adjust the levels on the antiquated soundboard in front of him. It’s 5:45 on a Monday evening, with 15 minutes to go before their weekly radio program launches.
Swift and Cratty say that the popularity of National Public Radio (NPR) shows like This American Life and StoryCorps is driving a revived interest in storytelling on campuses nationwide.
“Performed storytelling is still the basic vehicle of wisdom and knowledge in most cultures, literate or otherwise,” says Jonah Willihnganz, a lecturer in the program in writing and rhetoric who teaches a course that helps students produce oral versions of written, research-based essays. Willihnganz, who spent last year at the Humanities Center doing research on radio dramas of the 1930s and 1940s, has assembled an archive of his students’ essays that Cratty and Swift can tap for their show. Past themes of the program, which debuted in November, include getting schooled, the animal kingdom and Africa.
For the Valentine’s Day show this year, Swift set up a red satin booth in White Plaza and extended a microphone to passersby. “I asked people if they had a love story,” she recalls. Swift edited the three hours of tape she recorded down to a 20-minute segment. By prerecording 34 additional minutes of poems and stories, she had to fill just six remaining minutes with a script.
Swift and Cratty say they’ve been attentive listeners for years—especially of shows on NPR. “Morning Edition was the first thing I heard in the morning when I woke up,” Cratty adds. “And when my mom picked me up from soccer, it was Car Talk.”