Trials and thrills of serving YAs on radio
EXCEPT FOR THEIR MUSICALentertainment, young adults are poorly served by radio. Some stations have children's programs, but few broadcasts are aimed at the 12-to-18 age group. "Airplay,' a three-hour Saturday afternoon program for teenagers on Chicago's public radio station, is an attempt to fill that gap.
Since June 1986 we have been regularguests on "Airplay''s fortnightly 15-minute segment, "Hitting the Books,' in which we feature good books and talk with young adult authors. Now Booklist's YA editor, Sally Estes, has joined us as a critic specializing in science fiction and fantasy.
"Airplay' is station WBEZ's magazinefor teens, with various segments covering such subjects as how to find a summer job, Joe Namath talking about football, and reviews of contemporary popular music. When assistant producer Gwen Macsai asked us for some help in setting up the new segment on books, we discussed a variety of formats, possible topics, dates, times, and timing--the most intimidating aspect of live radio for the novice. Initially we settled on a four-way conversation among Shel Lustig (the program's young, knowledgeable host), one of us as critic, sometimes a teenager, and a writer who would interest young adults. The first three were in the studio, the writer usually on the telephone.
At first the telephone hook-up was temperamentaland hearing our own echoing voices through earphones was unnerving, but the technical hitches have since been smoothed out. Our face-to-face conversations in the studio with YA author Phyllis Reynolds Naylor and adult writer Barbara Michaels were more relaxed, though the logistics of scheduling an interview to be squeezed in between their autographings, publicity luncheons, and a 5 p.m. airport departure created their own kind of stress.
Each "Hitting the Books' segment beginswith one of us giving a very brief introduction or booktalk about the featured title. Then host Shel guides the conversation to more general issues: e.g., characterizing the genre, the author's other books, and what young people are reading. The talk with author Lowry Pei about Family Resemblances, his adult novel about a 15-year-old girl, led into general questions about the writer's imagination. How does a middle-aged man write about a teenage girl's intimate experience? Shel asked white author Bruce Brooks a similar question about the black protagonist in his basketball story, The Moves Make the Man, and that book also led to discussion about the meaning of innocence, and whether you need masks to survive, with basketball and with people.
A live-format is scary--the nervousnessbites at you all day--but that edge of uncertainty adds excitement. With experience we now find ourselves relaxed enough to listen to the discussion and enjoy it. The aim is informal conversation. Shel encourages us to interrupt, to talk rather than to give set speeches; though we're always aware of the fine line between informality and banal small talk.
Suitable teen hard to find
Only one of us appears each time, buteven so we've found that four is usually too many speakers for our short segment. It's hard to find a variety of articulate, lively, well-prepared young people to appear every fortnight. A
Yale-bound lad was candid and thoughtful in conversation with Norma Klein, but he's too busy to appear regularly. He was no more typical than the girl who didn't read the book, or the boy who could say little more than "I really liked it,' or the student who didn't show up at all. Even with the most interested, bookwise teens, we accept that they need support in preparing for the show--from encouragement in expressing their ideas to help in clearly focusing them.
One of our most successful programscombined book discussion and a follow up with teens in a local public high school. …