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(Not) On The Radio

On May 1 of this year, I got an email from PRX asking me to please schedule time for a call the following afternoon for news on the Talent Quest. That was the call I’d been waiting for since submitting my pilot show to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) back in early December 2007. I freaked out for about 24 hours before I was informed that CPB was not interested in funding Curiosity Aroused. They asked that I not mention it publicly until the news was released the following week.

Nearly two months later, they finally have released the news, and so I can tell you all. From the Talent Quest side, CPB gave funding to my two fellow contestants, Al Letson and Glynn Washington. On the Launch side of things, CPB gave funding to Majora Carter instead of Julia Sweeney (and chef Mark Bitman), so it was a double loss for the skeptical community (though I’m really looking forward to seeing what Al, Glynn, and Majora produce).

John Barth of PRX and II’ll be honest, I was surprised. Thanks to you all, I won the popular vote in every round by a terrific landslide, and when the three PRX pilots were finished Curiosity Aroused was picked up by more radio stations than the other shows combined. Listeners to those stations wrote in to give praise and request more episodes, so all together I thought my chances were okay. But hey, most people have an okay chance of not getting mauled by bears, and that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen to them. I guess what I’m saying is that at least I didn’t get mauled by bears.

A lot of people have been asking me what I’m going to do now, a question that has always baffled me as it implies that I wasn’t already doing plenty of things that extend indefinitely into the future. I still love Skepchick, for starters, and that’s continuing to get more and more exciting. A is doing a fabulous job with the Skepchick and Skepdude calendars, which you can order here. She also organized some fantastic skeptical photo shoots at TAM6 for an upcoming project.

There’s also the other Skepchick project I alluded to earlier. I’m pleased to inform you that I have a few teenagers who are going to help me start up a teen version of Skepchick, completely run by the young-uns and focused on topics of interest to them. I’m still working out the logistics, but if there are any WordPress experts out there who would like to help, I could use some advice on multi-blog hacks. (I mean, expert experts, who know about symlinks and autoconfigs and stuff.) If there are any young female bloggers out there who think they might want to join in, you can contact me as well.

I’m still on The Skeptics’ Guide, which sees a larger audience every episode — I think we’re up to 40,000 listeners a week now — and which is now going on YouTube.

I’m also still going to host Boston Skeptics in the Pub, and work to promote and support smaller groups around the world. I love seeing you all step up and get organized — it’s fun and educational. It’s funducational! Wait, that didn’t work. Sorry. You get my point.

The point is, I’ve always had all this going on. Before the Talent Quest, I had no serious desire to be on public radio. I’m grateful for the experience it gave me and for the chance to work with such amazingly talented people, including my fellow contestants, the folks at PRX, my engineer Mike Wilkins, my sound editor John Huntington, and my producer Richard Paul. I’m equally grateful for getting a platform to introduce more people to Skepchick and the skeptical community as a whole.

When I first heard about CPB’s decision, I was down for a while and felt as though I was faced with a decision: whether to just give it up or to refocus and come back stronger. Eventually I accepted that getting rejected for public radio funding by one corporation doesn’t mean I couldn’t get funding from others. Hell, it doesn’t mean I couldn’t move beyond public radio to, say, commercial radio, or satellite radio, or to an official Skepchick podcast. At the beginning of this year, I promised you all I’d rock even harder this year than I did last year, and I intend to keep that promise. With that in mind, I’m going to be devoting my energy to all of the above . . .

. . . plus maybe a TV show.

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Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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44 Comments

  1. Perhaps, instead of rocking harder, you shuold rock *smarter*.

    (I don’t know what it means either.)

    Sorry to hear about the CPB thing. But I know you enough to know you’ll be doing something even cooler soon enough.

  2. Too bad. I liked listening to the show, I hoped it would get picked up.

    You do have a large audience right now, as you mentioned. With the PBS show canceled, you won’t have to take time away from your various outlets. So you can be popular on your own terms without having to worry about offending your corporate sponsors.

    Keep up the good work.

  3. Well, I was a big fan of the pilot and would definitely have loved to see it get off of the ground. That said, perhaps the CPB’s decision prevents you from spreading yourself too thin.

    As long as I’m in Boston I’ll be more than happy to help out (or at least show up) for whatever things you decide to do. And hey, since I got my own bad news today, putting the kibosh on my plan to return to the UK, I’ll likely be in Boston for the foreseeable future.

    Keep up the good work, Rebecca. Rock harder, smarter, and (dare I say?) AWESOMER!

  4. I plan to get around the decision not to air Curiosity Aroused by broadcasting it on my own.

    I will stand outside in the rain holding a boombox playing the pilot episode over my head.

    …wait…I’m not John Cusack…

  5. People are stupid. A show like that might have helped make more of them less stupid, but stupid people were being stupid and blocking it. Well, to Hell with them, go for the TV show. I’d watch it.

    P.S. I’d be on it, too. I’m pretty enough for TV. ;)

  6. Sorry to hear the bad news, but your show was amazing, and one thing I’ve learned is that when someone has talent, they eventually get their chance. You’re still young, and no doubt your talent is improving all the time.

    The whole skeptical community is extremely proud of what you have accomplished. I don’t think the show could have been skipped over for any fault on your part.

    Keep at it, ya never know when you’ll hit the big times.

  7. Really sorry to hear that Rebecca, but also very happy to hear that you didn’t get mauled by bears. I think that more than balances the bad news! You rock and you will continue to rock, harder AND smarter.

  8. Whattabummer. On the selfish side, not much of a loss since I hardly listen to NPR now – mostly podcasts. I’m still trying to catch up to all the SGU episodes, so that’s keeping me busy enough.

    However on the advocacy side, this is a huge loss since it was a great way to educate people on skeptical thinking.

    BTW I applaud your initiative to start teen skepchick (or whatever its name will be). I’d love to put you in touch with another Rebecca, who is looking into ways of helping teens with cancer connect and at the same time find useful (read: non-woo) information.

  9. Here’s a sympathy Jack & Coke being raised in your honor!

    *splash*

    Crap, hang on, keyboard issues … ;)

    I am sorry this didn’t pan out for you, but I am very glad you got the huge wave of popular support to encourage you during the process. Thanks for mentioning The Skeptic’s Guide, too — I wasn’t aware of it until this post.

  10. I demand a royalty on “instead of rocking harder, you shuold rock *smarter*”! (Those of you who saw my presentation at TAM6 last weekend will understand why).

    Sorry to hear the news, Rebecca, but this is just a small pebble on a huge highway. Keep the pedal to the metal and soon it will be forgotten.

  11. That sucks. I’ve listened to Curiosity Aroused and Julia’s show several times each, and I thought they were both excellent.

    Leroy says, “Aw, keep on rockin’ girl. Keep on rockin’.”

  12. Hmmm … a show about the honest evaluation of the world based on the scientific method yet colored with fun and playfulness fails, but the hypocritical Dr Phil has a TV forum, the agenda driven Rush Limbaugh has a freakin’ radio show, and our bizarre Supreme Court interprets the word MILITIA as they “didn’t REALLY mean militia.” Ya didn’t have a chance in 2008 Rebecca. BLOG ON, PODCAST ON – and perhaps in the near future you’ll get another chance to expand – just like the Universe – or did the supreme court reverse that as well?

  13. Bad on CPB and anyone else connected with this decision! Curiosity Aroused is a great concept and deserves to be produced sometime, somewhere. You’ve got lots to offer the science & reason-driven community, Rebecca, so hang in there. Enjoyed seeing you, the other Skepchicks & SGU rogues at TAM.

  14. Well, I can’t say you *should* be on TV as I’ve only seen pictures of you and, as good as they look, there’s still a maid in Vegas I’d have to talk to for the first-hand (eye?) opinion.

    And who says you can’t rock both hard and smart? I’m all about having cake and eating it as well.

  15. Why would anyone have cake and not eat it? I hate that phrase. (Lemon meringue pie is better, anyway.)

    Bummer about the show, but I like the idea of going bigger. I love this site, and after I found it through badastronomy.com, I’ve followed it pretty regularly. Few sites make me think as much as yours, and that’s a valuable thing to spread into as many venues as possible.

    Rock on, hard and smart!

  16. Sorry to hear the bum-tastic news. But here’s a thought (which maybe, in all your revered brilliance, you thought of long before me) – I know that many of the local NPR affiliates produce their own shows (WFIU at Indiana University being one example I’m very familiar with) that end up later getting syndicated for national distribution. Is there any chance of doing something like that through a university affiliate (there must be one, right) in the Boston area? Apologies if this was covered elsewhere…

  17. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck,

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  18. “…I am amazed that made it through the spam filter.”

    I know, what the hell do I pay that thing for! Ha ha…

    Elyse, I’m really trying to hold back from a sexy play on “squeeze in a shower,” but I’m failing.

  19. That is PATHETIC, but oh so typical and “case in point” of Public Radio. Popular? Informative? Then by all means, don’t fund it. Sheesh. This is why, if NPR didn’t have public funding, they would barely survive (if at all) if left to compete in the marketplace.

  20. Like NPR and PRI, CPB are not interested in what we actually want. They know what’s good for us, and they’re going to see that we get it, whether we like it or not.

    Just cooperate, and you won’t get hurt.

  21. I’m really sorry you didn’t get the nod…

    That sucks. Your show was much better than the rest and TOTALLY new.

    I like the idea of a Skepchick Podcast. Just don’t leave SGU, you are carrying those dudes!

    With out you… well we’d be listening to bird talk and Star Trek stuff…

    not that there’s anything wrong with it.

  22. This sucks, I loved the pilot and even with my hate of NPR I would have listened to it, but your other plans sound great, the teenage blog thing sounds most interesting to me since I’m already doing it, at skepkid.blogspot.com, although my fellow bloggers and I are mostly guys.

  23. I listen to a lot of radio and podcasts. Curiosity, Aroused was better than 99% of what’s out there. For real.

    Please, take it to other potential broadcasters. You’re in Boston, take it to WGBH radio. Take it to WNYC, of which I’m a member–I’ll be glad to vouch for you. Take it to Pacifica.

    No kidding, it deserves to be more than a single episode.

  24. >Please, take it to other potential broadcasters. You’re in Boston, take it to WGBH radio. Take it to
    >WNYC, of which I’m a member–I’ll be glad to vouch for you.

    Thank you all for your kind words about the show not getting picked up. We’re all bummed. A little bit about how public radio works; you don’t “take it to another station” after a rejection like this. What you do is, you go out and raise $500,000 and THEN you take it to a station. See, CPB is not a station. It’s a federal agency that funds public broadcasting (they fund shows mostly and they give a tiny amount of money to stations). CPB turning down the show cannot be solved by taking the show to “another station” because that station will say, “Yes we’d love to work with you to do the show. Do you have $500,000? ‘Cause if so, let’s talk.”

    Public radio stations don’t pay to create their own shows, for the most part. They find someone(s) to come up with the money and the *funders* pay to create the show (that’s what all those names at the end of the show mean; they’re the people who paid to make it possible). That’s because public radio, as a noncommercial entity, can’t generate enough money to produce a show the way commercial TV and radio can. They sell space (time) to advertisers and that’s what pays the bills. The way public radio is set up, stations aren’t allowed to do that. So they have to find alternative means of funding programming.

    The way CPB funding works is; you take the money they give you and “leverage” it. That means you go to other potential funders and say, “Hey, CPB liked it enough to fund it. Won’t you do that too?”

    The solution to “Curiosity Aroused” not getting funded by CPB is to get it funded by someone else. If anyone has any suggestions about how to raise $500,000 (really big bake sale, maybe?) I’m sure Rebecca would love to hear them.

    Richard Paul
    Producer of “Curiosity Aroused”

  25. I’d hate to argue with an expert–okay, that’s a lie. One of my favorite things about the ‘net is being able to argue with experts.

    Anyway, my local NPR station, WNYC, does in fact get something like 2/3 of its production budget from memberships–as they say, from “members like me.” And if a grant is required to get a station’s attention, well, I’m on the board of 501 (c) (3) myself, and applying for grants just isn’t that scary.

    Pardon my tone, please, but it seems a miscarriage of justice to not see the show go forward.

  26. Not to start a long side-discussion about this but … As you said, they get something like 2/3 of their production budget from members. That pays for the news reporters, it pays to keep the lights on, it pays for the announcer who does the local “inserts” on “Morning Edition.” However, it does not pay for the production of “Studio 360.” It does not pay for the production of “RadioLab.” It does not even pay for Radio Rookies, which airs as part of WNYC news. It didn’t pay for “The Next Big Thing” when that was on. Those programs receive outside funding from corporations and foundations (including, in some cases, CPB). In fact, the reason that “The Next Big Thing” went off the air was because their largest funder dropped out and they couldn’t make up the money.

    I agree with you that applying for grants is “isn’t that scary.” Being turned down for grants, however while not scary is certainly debilitating emotionally. While you are on the board of a 501 (c) (3) and understand the benefits and (perhaps) the implications of fundraising, I — as an independent public radio producer — spend 1/4 of my time fundraising. It’s exhausting, it’s time consuming and 99% of the time you are told “No.”

    Is this a reason to give up? Well, if there were someone out there would research the potential funders, figure out their funding criteria, figure out their application processes and then write all of the grant proposals; I’m sure no one would complain. If CPB had given $200,000 to “Curiosity Aroused,” I dare say either Rebecca or someone else would have jumped on-board to do that. But starting from zero, it’s a hurdle that’s too high to overcome for people who have lives and other interests.

  27. Here’s a quote from the announcement posted at http://current.org/radio/radio0812talentquest.shtml that shows what the “public” in Public Radio means to CPB:
    “CPB didn’t put additional money into the projects of the three other Talent Quest finalists: . . . and “Skepchick” Rebecca Watson, a blogger and podcaster who consistently won the biggest votes in the “People’s Choice” part of its online contest.” Anyway . . . tell us about the TV show, Rebecca!

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