Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘National Public Radio

800-257-1257 after 40 Years of NPR

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As I read throught the pile of books written about public broadcasting, I saw a picture on pg. 11 of  “This is NPR: The First 40 Years” that fascinated me.  It is a 1980, black and white photo of Ellen McDonald, Michael Richards and Nina Totenberg.  But the phone number on the TV near the upper left corner of the photo is what drew my eye.  The number is 1-800-257-1257.  For some reason, I got stuck on wanting to know the history of that phone number.

1 – In July 1983, the Louisville Kentucky Courier Journal ran a classified ad for a subscription to Barron’s Magazine that featured that number (

2 – In 1991, the number was listed as a contact number in Starlog Magazine, December issue #173 in association with a Space Calendar sold by the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum (

3 – In 1992, it appreared in the Lifestyles section of the Adirondack Mountain Sun Newspaper, December 24, 1992 in a rant over corporatism on Christmans Eve and the number in TV commercials (

4 –, a free reverse phone number search engine with a Canadian address (96 Mowat Avenue, Toronto) that WHOIS Icann says has been in existence since 1998, associates the number with a 23rd Street address in Ragland, Alabama (

5 – Teletech Communications, Inc., that WHOIS Icann says has been in existence since 1999, associates the number with a fax line belonging to the telecommunications service provider, the Gary Larsen organization in Conifer, Colorado (

6 – I visited toll free directory assistance (, the toll free directory ( and toll free before posting and could find no listing or use of the number.  But Toll Free Numbers dot com says the number has been in use since 1999 to an AT&T customer.

7 –, another phone number search engine with the same Canadian address that WHOIS Icann says has been in existence since December 2000, says it was the phone number for Lakiesha Sicard (  I found nothing that associated the name with the address of #4.

8 – The now-defunct Infomercial Index website, which had copyright notice dates at the bottom of its webpage from 1996 to 2002, listed the number to call for a collection of Zamfir’s Songs of Romance (

9 – In 2003, the Astral Pulse message board asked if anyone had heard of a condition known as synesthesia and a commenter recalled late night commercials with the number in different colors (  According to Wikipedia, in this form of the condition, known as grapheme-color synesthesia or color-graphemic synesthesia, letters or numbers are perceived as inherently colored.

10 – In 2010, a blogger for the site “Liner Notes” mentioned how he remembered seeing a Canadian commercial for Zamfir, King of the Panflute (

11 – In April 2013, a post on the RetroJunk message board mentions the number connected with commercials run on CNN in the 80s (

9 – Facebook shows a conversation of lovers of WTBS Night Tracks (an competitor to VH1), between 2013 and 2015 about the ad which appeared in 2004.  The commenter on a mobile phone remembers seeing the number (  This comment shows up in the Google search of the number but does not appear in the post itself.

12 – Between November 2015 and May 2016, numerous complaintants received scam calls on everything from social social security, online dating, payday loans, credit cards and general harassment from the number (

13 – In May 2016, a commenter on said it was the number used by a phone scammer that was pretending to represent the IRS (

That number, in a strange way, is now a part of NPR’s history.  I wanted to know what that history has been since 1980. From Barron’s Magazine subscriptions to phone scams, how far it has fallen in fortunes.  The number hasn’t fared nearly as well at National Public Radio.

Written by Interviewer

October 23, 2016 at 07:31

Biting the Hand that Sort of Feeds You

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Biting the Hand

Kudos to Dave Miller, host of Oregon Public Broadcasting’s “Think Outloud” for the voicing fears and suspicions of KOPB staff. Mr. Miller was interviewing the new NPR President, Jarl Mohn.  Mr. Mohn had spent much of the conversation talking about the importance of fundraising for the future of NPR, mentioning that the mammoth Ray Kroc (founder of McDonalds) endowment to NPR of a quarter billion dollars in the early 2000s may necessarily be considered “small” in the face of NPR’s future financial needs and fundraising asks.

At one point, Mr. Mohn said he looks forward to “helping” NPR affiliates with their fundraising, to which Mr. Miller, God Bless Him, said that he knows a lot of dedicated people doing fundraising at public radio stations around the country who are already working hard to fundraise, and how do they know that Mr. Mohn’s offer to “help” isn’t just an excuse for NPR HQ to skim more money off the operating budgets of already struggling stations?


NPR programs are not cheap. Consider what it costs for a local affiliate just to meet overhead; that’s lights, taxes, licenses, fees. Then, salaries and benefit packages, capital expenditures, lawyers. Then marketing and advertising, maintenance, insurance. And none of that includes the cost of the programs.  I’ve heard pitchers on OPB say that flagship offerings like Morning Edition and All Things Considered can cost a million dollars or more each year.  Then, there’s very popular programs like Science Friday, Here and Now and the relatively new TED Radio Hour.   All of that has to be covered by whatever grants and endowments a station can scrounge. But the center tent pole for any station is fundraising. As a former federal employee, I’m well familiar with the phrase “Hi, I’m from the Government and I’m here to help”. Consider this piece from the Columbia School of Journalism in 2010 that looks how how much it costs to run NPR.  It makes sense that affiliates who’ve got their own thing going don’t necessarily want HQ’s nose under their own tent flap.

And it also doesn’t help that NPR has cycled through five presidents since 1994.  No doubt, local folks look at the turmoil at a place that is supposed to be rock solid and wonder if their own management is a little more stable and locally focused.

Mr. Mohn’s charm offensive had the overtones of a PR campaign. And although he said that if stations didn’t want the help, they didn’t have to take it, you could tell by the occasional edge in his voice that he had heard those concerns before. And now, good journalism or not, KOPB in general and Dave Miller in particular have Mr. Mohn’s attention, if for no other reason, because the station dared to give voice to the question that so many dedicated staffs around the country mutter to each other in hallways and breakrooms.  And for folks who think HQs don’t ever seek recriminations against affiliates for personal slights, a review of Pacifica turmoil might give them more to consider.

George Orwell said journalism is telling something somebody doesn’t want you to tell and everything else is public relations.

OPB – Journalism Done Here.  Good job … and buckle up.

Giving People What They Want

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Transcript Image

I do interviews.  And recently, I thought it might be good to start providing transcripts of the interviews I do.  For those of you that don’t know what a transcript it, it’s a written verbatim copy of a recorded interview.  The advantage of transcripts is you can search them very fast with keywords and find something you’re looking for instead of having to listen to an entire interview because you have no idea where what you want is.

And I thought about charging a fee to read the transcripts.  I thought this because creating transcripts is labor intensive, as opposed to recording interviews, where the labor is hidden in the pleasure of doing the interview.  By contrast, transcribing is not pleasurable.  For someone who likes to cook, a good analogy is you love preparing recipes, but you hate doing the dishes.  Transcribing is doing the dishes.

To carry the analogy a little further, I just got a dishwasher, meaning, I just got a program that listens to my audio and transcribes it.  But, it’s trained for my voice as it learned it through my desk microphone, not other voices over terrible phone lines.  So, even though it can understand at least 1/2 of all of my interviews; my half, it might hear the other half and give me text that looks like this:

~it is one of the respect each other we make intelligent decisions that is together a demented in other crimes musical vision certainly in the latest presented week we just you have simpatico thing going on I just love everything does just the way it is within the work to the~

This is from the Air Supply interview that I did a couple months ago.  Did you get all of that?

So when this happens, I have to listen to it and fix it.  Even when the software hears everything right, touch ups can take 30% longer than the interview itself.  But for garble like this, well … I’ve logged probably 5 hours on this 30 minute interview and I’ve got at least another hour to go.

But I appreciate transcripts when I need them.  And it made me wonder though, if anybody uses them besides me.  My real question is, does anybody read anymore?  With a YouTube, Pinterest, Conversus rich environment of images and video and sound, why would anybody drag themselves by the face through pages of the written word?

So, I called National Public Radio (NPR).  They sit at the top of the transcript mountain.  They produce gobs of programming and transcripts for all of it.  So I asked them – transcripts; yes or no?

Until 2009, NPR was charging $3.95 per transcript.  They still use an independent company to create those transcripts.  This company gets weekday news show transcripts up in a few hours and weekend news show transcripts up by the next day.  But back then, NPR reached a point where they decided that listening to the audio was no different from reading the transcript since both were part of experiencing the interview.  I thought that was very interesting considering how the NYT and others are still struggling through the whole paywall thing.  NPR had a paywall of sorts years ago and abandoned it.

This very nice young lady on the phone told me that while some people read transcripts to better their English, the hearing impaired might read transcripts because the audio program is a problem for them.  People who hear something in a live program but aren’t sure of what they heard, they can always go to the transcript and read it to be sure of what they heard.  And of course, I thought of people who are doing research and need to find something fast without having to waste time listening to an entire interview.  And she said that although she didn’t know how many people click the transcript button, she could say that it does get clicked and clicked enough that the button is still there.

So, I’m left with two bottom lines.  If NPR isn’t charging for transcripts, economies of scale tell me that I probably shouldn’t either.  But why do I want to go through the work of creating them?  Because, if it will help people enjoy the interviews better, it’s probably worth it.

Written by Interviewer

April 13, 2013 at 09:53