Returning to campus after two years working in New York City, Lawrence alumnus Jon Hanrahan ’16 led a listening session in WLFM house last Friday. At Lawrence, Hanrahan was a piano performance major and former Trivia headmaster. Since then, he has moved on to the offices of New York Public Radio in Lower Manhattan, working on shows such as “Meet the Composer” and “On the Media.”
Hanrahan’s listening group met in WLFM house’s living room and had an intimate feeling. From the outset, Hanrahan clarified that he wasn’t there to teach the attendants. Rather, they would be listening to the art of radio and auditory media together. Hanrahan had arranged a selection of five clips from a variety of podcasts and programs for the audience to experience.
The first clip was from a program by podcast personality Julie Shapiro, called “Is This an Exercise?” The program, which contemplated the power of memory, discussed the infamous showing of the made-for-TV movie “The Day After,” in 1983. The movie, which was set in Lawrence, Kansas, chillingly speculated on what would happen in the event of Russian-U.S. nuclear conflict. Deeply entrenched in the bitter Cold War, this possibility was more than just an intriguing possibility for many Americans: it was a very real possibility. Overlapping voices, sound effects, and music relayed the horror that people felt as stark images of the end of days danced across the country’s 13-inch screens.
This clip demonstrated that it is often the auditory arts that offer the most startling visuals. With the tools of advanced computer programs, these artists can create an oral tapestry of sound and emotion, dragging you by the ears into a scene. At their hands, you can almost see the bombs, the green tint of radiation, the children crouching at the top of the stairs far past their bedtimes, watching the movie over their parents’ shoulders with wide-eyed fear.
Hanrahan also explained that similarly to the show he has worked on – “On the Media” – Shapiro successfully manages to “talk about the news without talking about the news.” Anyone who has had access to Twitter or Google in the last couple of years has felt at least some terror resembling that of the Cold War, due to the conflict between the U.S. and North Korea.
Another piece on memory was a program created by the late Joe Frank, who Hanrahan described as “problematic, but a terrific writer and storyteller.” A giant in the world of radio, Frank battled with cancer several distinct times in his life before finally passing away on January 15th of this year. During his long and acclaimed career, Frank experimented with “freeform radio,” which often sounds simultaneously bizarre and poetic.
Along with his other selections for the listening group, Hanrahan provided some advice to those who aspire to work in radio. According to Hanrahan, radio is a “visual medium” that is “good at putting images in your head.” In his line of work as a person behind the booth, Hanrahan has been like a sculptor, turning the raw material of sound itself into stories and scenes.
When asked why he thought auditory media was resurging into American pop culture, through the explosion of apps and online podcasts, Hanrahan suggested several reasons. These included the ideas that radio is intimate, an old school throwback, and a break from our chaotic lives.