Blog: "This I Believe" Turns Off the Mic

When NPR revived Edward R. Murrow's 1950's tribute to the personal philosophies of every day people, it was expected to be a one year project. Four years and 60,000 essay submissions later, NPR is ending its weekly This I Believe broadcasts.

According to an internal memo from NPR's Ellen Weiss, the final episode of This I Believe will air in April. But don't lose sight of the This I Believe website. New essays will be published there, along with curricula aids for teachers who want to inspire students to document their own personal beliefs.

This I Believe's four year run is a testament to the passion and determination of average Americans. Most importantly, it documented the moments in people's lives when they were forced to reconsider what really matters. We have so much to gain when we take the time to formulate our own beliefs and truly listen to each other's stories.

Blog: Algae Disco Party

Michael Weaver is an algae rancher with an eye towards biofuel. His company usually keeps its vat of bubbling green algae away from prying media eyes, but The Takeaway convinced Weaver to let John Hockenberry have the first peak.

Between the flashing lights that "feed" the algae and the techno beat pulsing in the background, this video feels a bit like a '90s rave. Don't worry, the biofuel technology is definitely 21st century.

If you haven't been following The Takeaway's Power Trip, this video gives you plenty of reasons to get on board their multimedia road trip to uncover green energy innovations across the country.

Other highlights include a gadget that helps you curb your household energy usage and a sit-down interview with Google's Green Energy Czar. Tomorrow they'll stop by the TED conference to find out what's next on the energy horizon.

Redux: Pluto: Demoted Planet or King of the Kuiper Belt?

(skip to 23:30)

Oh, Pluto. No more styrofoam ball science fair dioramas for you. And you won't be gracing solar system placemats either. It's true: Pluto was reduced to a mere "dwarf planet" by the International Astronomical Union in 2006.

Neil deGrasse Tyson sparked the debate over "America's favorite planet" back in 2000 when he decided not to include Pluto in a Hayden Planetarium exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History. Outcries of support for this icy ball of mass have followed Tyson every since.

Now he's written a book about the life and times of this demoted planet. But don't shed a tear for poor Pluto. As Tyson tells NPR's Melissa Block during their lively interview, "Pluto is happier." Let's hope so... planets have feelings too.

(photo by Beopenguin)

Redux: The Ghosts of Japan

Back in November Kurt Andrersen and a handful of Studio 360 producers traveled to Japan to uncover the ancient and modern mysteries of this beguiling country. Stories and photos of their adventures appeared on the Studio 360 blog almost instantly and we've been anxiously waiting for the audio ever since.

Banzai! Last week's broadcast ended with Pejk Malinovski's macabre journey into a Japanese forest where hundreds of people have committed suicide. A chilling interview with the owner of a cafe at the edge of this "sea of trees" is mixed with a dramatic reading of the novel that inspired countless people to end their lives there. Though Malinovski finds little more than a crushed mix tape, his breathless narration makes you feel like you're scurrying through this dark forest along side him.

Studio 360 promises an entire hour of sound-rich reporting from Japan next week. Who wants to come over for a sushi and saki listening party?

(photo by Okinawa Soba)

Redux: Life After Weekend America

Time capsules, urban cowboys, tin can art - plus dozens of honest conversations about race, war, and the economy. Weekend America was one of those rare shows that truly bridged the gab between disparate people and places. By dropping us into the living rooms, butcher shops, and sidewalk gardens of Americans we might not otherwise meet, Weekend America helped us connect with one another.

While many shows attempt to build these kind of cultural and racial connections, Weekend America had a secret weapon: a love of sound. From the whoops of Chicago's African American Jews to an entire series on the "one thing" immigrants from all over the world brought with them to the United States, Weekend America gave listeners a rare opportunity to hear American diversity.

During this final episode, John Moe reflects on how these sounds of joy and hardships have given him a new understanding of patriotism. I'm holding out hope that average Americans will be inspired to knock on each other's doors, seek out people unlike themselves, and truly listen to the sounds and stories of our country. Perhaps this will be Weekend America's legacy.

(photo by Weekend America)

Redux: All I Really Need to Know I Learned from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Okay, okay, we get it! The economy sucks. Our favorite public radio shows can't stop talking about it and it is driving us into a dark money-hording depression. It has even led our friends at Radio Sweethearts to take a sabbatical from the dial.

While fast-forwarding through Marketplace last weekend, I heard a segment that gave me some hope. Hope that didn't just come from the President chastising Wall Street bankers for giving themselves $20 billion in bonuses, but hells yeah Obama: "That is the height of irresponsibility...It is shameful."

This hope came from author Ryan D'Agostino and his new book Rich Like Them. Ryan decided to find out how people in all those mansions made all that money. He simply walked up their cobblestone paths and knocked on their big front doors. Ryan found in general that they were humble, hard-working folks who weren't like the evil Gordon Gekko characters we envision.

As for their advice for weathering the economic storm, a San Francisco art gallery owner had this advice:

"...don't panic. There are certain things that we cannot control, but when you're running your business, don't start doing stupid things because of a headline. Forget about that and control the things you can control."

Oh, and don't forget your towel.

Blog: Maybe StoryCorps Will Save the Economy

If only we could fill our bank accounts with tears. Then listening to StoryCorps would make us all millionaires.

Yep, this conversation between father and son made me bawl. With lip quivering statements like, "You're what I think of as a good man," and simple, honest advice like, "be gentle," I'm sure I'm not the only one who lost it while listening to this.

Sometimes I think about what a better place the world would be if everyone had a father who truly loved his wife and kids. Then I daydream about driving up to the ATM with a giant bag of tears. And then I smile.

(photo by guano)

Redux: Killer Whales are Like Sexy Buses

Last summer, marine biologist-turned-radio producer Ari Daniel Shapiro traveled to the Shetland Islands to do a story on killer whales. He spent nearly five days days staring off into the distance, microphone in hand, hoping to catch just a glimpse of a killer whale.

The whales never showed up. Shapiro had hours of ocean sounds, dozens of interviews, and not much else. Some reporters might have flown home with a shrug and a sigh and forgotten about the piece altogether. Instead, Shapiro decided to explore the reasons we search for mythical creatures in the first place.

One local man gleefully compared the crew's quest to his boyhood hobby of tracking down every bus that barreled through his Northern Scottish town. Another man tipped his hat (although he wore no hat) to these mysterious beasts. One researcher even described the whale's movements as downright sexy.

These whimsical interviews would have likely ended up on the cutting room floor if Shapiro had actually seen a whale. Instead, through a series of surprising and joyful moments, Shapiro gently reminds us that it's the journey that matters.

(photo by Tom Barber)

Redux: Life After Biosphere 2

The year was 1991. The Soviet Union was on the verge of collapse, neon sunglasses were all the rage, and some scientists in Arizona thought it would be a great idea to lock eight researchers in a giant biosphere for two years. This closed ecosystem was supposed to be a test run for future space colonies. Just one problem: there wasn't enough food... or oxygen.

B-Side's Rene Gutel caught up with two of these "biospherians" to find out what happened when a handful of scientists spent two long years trying to complete a series of experiments - all while battling oxygen deprivation. Sure, team building exercises fell by the wayside once they couldn't breathe, but was anything accomplished? More than a decade later, eve the scientists themselves aren't sure.

(photo by: Ryan Thomas)

Redux: Speak It, Tarak

When Tarak McLain was six years old, his kindergarten group celebrated their 100th day of class by bringing 100 items to share. What Tarak brought was, he admits, a bit different from his classmates. Instead of things, he came with a list of 100 beliefs. From "love is everywhere" to "we are all equal" to "I should not whine," Tarak shares 30 of them with Jay Allison in his essay for "This I Believe."

Have a listen to Tarak and let what he says soak in. It's easy to feel cynical and skeptical, living in the world that we do. But Tarak exemplifies the hope I think most of us feel at the end of one historic and uplifting week.

Photo credit: flickr member alykat