Blog: Kids Record the Darndest Things

Hand a kid a microphone and you never know what you'll hear. Generation PRX's Jones Franzel has put together a list of the best youth radio pieces of 2008. Some are heartbreaking, others are simply cute, but every story in this playlist shines a light on the challenges and triumphs of an emerging generation.

My personal favorites include:

- Jordan Teklay's reflections on becoming legally emancipated at age 15. Thoughtful, funny, and utterly compelling with an outstanding audio mix by the Radio Rookies team.

- Day-in-the-life of Wisconsin's youngest super delegate, reported by 13 and 18 year old Y-Press journalists. Strong writing, interesting interviews, and the young reporter's comfort and poise behind the mic make this piece shine.

Check out the list and weigh in on your favorite youth radio pieces of '08.

(photo by sugar pond)

Redux: The Sound of a Perfect Cup of Joe

Everybody knows a wine connoisseur and a cheese snob or two, but have you ever met a serious coffee aficionado? High end coffee shops are encouraging patrons to develop more sophisticated coffee palates through in-store "cupping" events. New Hampshire Public Radio's Word of Mouth lets us Folgers drinkers in on the trend by interviewing Seattle Weekly food editor Jonathan Kauffman and barista Ian McCarthy who recently returned from the Mountain Regional Barista Competition in Denver.

After some good natured back-and-forth over just how subtle these flavors really are, independent producer Dale Short holds his microphone up to his new cappuccino machine to show us what perfect froth really sounds like - delicious.

(photo by JcOlivera)

Redux: Music for a Winter Morning

Cold, gray January days require their own kind of music - simple and haunting with a distinct sense of yearning. Music that tells us to stop, sit down with a cup of tea, and dream of warmer weather. Bon Iver kept us company through the last year's long, cold winter and Peasant's new album On The Ground is in the running for this year's melancholy album of the season.

Peasant (aka Damien DeRose)'s WOXY Lounge Act has a bit too much insider label/promotion talk and not enough music for my taste, but later in the conversation Damien raises some interesting questions about how much control a musician truly has over his or her image. So don't call Peasant a "blossoming troubadour." Just appreciate him for a "guy with a guitar" who will sit by your side as the snow falls.

(photo by Jan Wittkopp)

Blog: Cooking up 8,000 Cookies

Inauguration day has been hectic for DC Central Kitchen founder Robert Egger ever since he started delivering inauguration leftovers to homeless shelters twenty years ago. There may not be many extra steaks or shrimp cocktails to cart away this year, but Egger still has plenty to be proud of.

Hundreds of DC Central Kitchen's culinary students are trading in lives of crime and instability for flour and rolling pins. NPR's Pam Fessler follows students into the kitchen as they place the final pistachios on 8,000 of Michelle Obama's favorite shortbread cookies.

(photo by the scott)

Blog: Behind the Scenes of Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me

If you've always wondered what Peter Sagal is really like, you're in luck. Chicago Public Radio finally revealed the wacky backstage antics of its weekly quiz show Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me on its blog today. Events Coordinator/Celebrity Food Fetcher Don Hall divulged salacious behind-the-scenes details including:

- Who ate a chocolate popsicle shaped like Barack Obama's head (creepy)

- Why Peter Sagal thinks Carl Kasell's name is Charlie (senility)

- Which staff member dreams of Drew Carey (creepiest. thing. ever.)

Chances are, your favorite bar will ask you these very questions at trivia night, so start taking notes.

Blog: Warriors of Optimism

Staying positive is no easy task in this economy. Looking for work in a world that needs far fewer auto workers and print journalists than ever before can be frustrating. Throw in a few hungry children and a mortgage, and finding a new career can feel nearly impossible.

It's encouraging to know that not everyone feels this way. Every day, people go back to school to embark on new careers. Minnesota Public Radio's News Cut blog is tracking down dozens of Minnesota students to find out how they see their future careers working out. News Cut's Bob Collins sat down with future nurses, IT workers, veterinarians, and even a future priest at Century College, a community and technical college in White Bear Lake, Minnesota.

Many are older students and most work part or full-time jobs. Some are raising kids too. In spite of their hectic schedules, these students are surprisingly optimistic. Their interviews and photographs reveal a calculated determination to become professionals in fields that will grow instead of shrink in the 21st century. They are on the front lines of optimism and hard work, and I for one, salute them.

Redux: Buying the Farm Without a Credit Score

In Lancaster County, Pennsylvania you can buy a buggy with a cup holder carved out of maple. You can also drive that buggy right up to a bank's specially sized drive-thru window. And if you're Amish and looking to buy a farm, you'll likely get to know Bill O'Brien.

O'Brien spends much of his time lending money to people who don't have credit scores. His Amish customers don't have electricity or driver's licenses either. What they do have is pride. In O'Brien's 20 years at Hometowne Heritage Bank, he says he's never lost money on an Amish deal. It's simply too shameful to fall behind on your payments.

NPR's Adam Davidson follows O'Brien to a buggy auction, a slew of family farms, and even gets him to tell a dirty Amish joke. Davidson's keen observations and clever writing make you feel like you're riding through Amish country right beside him. Now if only I had a buggy...

photo by cindy47452

Blog: The Happiness Project Makes Me Happy

Sometimes you hear something that stops you in your tracks. It's that moving, that different, that inspiring. Charles Spearin's The Happiness Project is all three. (Thanks, Sue Schardt, for discovering this in the WMBR music library and sharing it with me.)

Charles takes interviews with his neighbors about happiness and brings out the natural cadence of their speech with music. It's too hard to explain in a way that captures how great this stuff is. Just have a listen.

Redux: Savoring the Last Few Episodes

Wake up. Make coffee. Listen to Weekend America and dream about a country where Texan cattle ranchers, Nebraskan poets, and U.S. soldiers from Seattle have more in common than they think. As its final episode draws near, Weekend America continues to bring listeners into the lives and homes of people we might never otherwise meet:

- Cynta de Narvaez is on a mission: to reconnect with her Mexican friends and neighbors who live just across the Rio Grande. Every month, Cynta brings quilts, fabric, and other supplies to once thriving border towns. Cynta can canoe across the river in an hour, but it takes 16 hours to get back to Texas, now that the U.S. government has shut down informal border crossings. Producer Michael May paddles across the river with Cynta to show us how life along the Mexican border has changed since September 11th.

- Puget Sound is full of cinnamon and it's all our fault. Remember that giant pile of holiday cookies? All of that vanilla, chocolate, and cinnamon has to go somewhere and researchers say it ultimately ends up in our waterways. Producer Joshua McNichols collects samples and tours a sewage treatment plant to find out why.

Blog: One in 8 Million

It's hard to meet a stranger in New York City. Ask a question on the subway or chat with your dry cleaner and you'll likely receive little more than a raised eyebrow and a terse reply. And yet, nearly every person in all five boroughs has a story to tell.

Each week, The New York Times presents one of these stories in their new multimedia series One in 8 Million. By combining black and white photographs with non-narrated audio, the series allows average New Yorkers to tell their story in their own words.

The results are striking. From the life and times of a Lower East Side pharmacist to a woman living with a rare blood disease, each of these pieces offer a glimpse into someone else's world.

While it isn't public radio, this series is a shining example of what public radio does best: connect us with the people we might otherwise walk right past every day.

Photo by tedbassman