Faces Of NPR is a weekly feature that showcases the people behind NPR, from the voices you hear every day on the radio to the ones who work outside of the recording studio. You'll find out about what they do and what they're inspired by on the daily. This week's post features NPR's Assistant Producer in Programming, Alex Curley.
Name: Alex Curley
Twitter Handle: @AlexCurley
Job Title: Assistant Producer in Programming
Where You're From: North Wilkesboro, North Carolina: Home of Lowe's, Doc Watson, and that front page New York Times article that one time.
An Inside Look:
You're an Assistant Producer in Programming. What does that mean?
Like the other producers at NPR, my job is pretty much to be whatever the Programming Department needs me to be. Roughly half of my daily work involves supporting the NPR Now channel on Sirius/XM (Channel 122) and the two international channels we run from Washington, DC, which are NPR Worldwide and our channel on the Armed Forces Network. For these three channels, I do anything from scheduling programming, maintaining the automation systems, copy-editing and producing stories for air, scheduling promos, and anything else that comes with running radio stations.
Otherwise, I work in a special team within the Programming Department called Team Atlas that helps NPR's weekend shows and podcasts with production odds and ends. One day, I might be helping a show prepare one of their episodes to be posted as a podcast; another day, I might be helping another producer record and engineer an interview; and another day, I might be recording and producing custom promos for a local station with NPR hosts and journalists. To say that there's never a dull moment would probably be an understatement.
How did you get started here?
I took the long way around. A few weeks before I graduated college, I was still debating and agonizing over what I wanted to do with my life when it finally dawned on me that I could work in an industry that I listened to every day and deeply admired: Public radio. Since I had almost zero experience with radio production, the only place that would hire me as an intern was a small commercial radio station in Chapel Hill, NC, who eventually hired me as a part-time producer. For the next two years, I would send out internship applications to any public radio station that was hiring and finally was hired as an intern on a daily show at WUNC. Soon after my internship at WUNC, I landed a job at the network headquarters in DC.
What advice do you have for someone who wants a job like yours?
For anyone who wants a job like mine, I would stress that there's no substitute for production experience. Start your own podcast, take that radio production class, record your family members with the StoryCorps app, do anything to start producing stories on your own. There are so many great resources out there to help you get started, like the excellent guides that Transom.org and NPR's Training Team have available online for free. Also, one of the most helpful things I ever did when I was trying to break into public radio was to identify local public radio producers that I admired and reached out to them with a simple email asking for advice. I didn't always hear back, but the ones who replied gave me invaluable advice.
What's your favorite #nprlife moment?
Last February Wilco, one of my favorite bands of all time, came to do a second Tiny Desk Concert and I got to stand near the front. I was terrified when the video came out because nobody told me that they were going to shoot a 360 degree video and I had a really dumb look on my face the entire concert. Luckily you can't see me!
What is an interesting project you've worked on?
A few months ago, I got to observe and record an afternoon with Jack Speer and the newscast unit as they pulled the next hour's newscast together for a project I was working on for Team Atlas. We produced "micro-documentaries" from the recordings to show what the newscast unit has to do every hour, twenty-four hours a day to produce a successful live newscast. It's really impressive to listen back on, and it often reminds me how special NPR is.
What's on your desk?
A Lego mug, a banana stand, a sad disco ball that won't stay taped to the underside of my cubicle, enough cookware to almost outfit a coffee shop, a poster for NPR's production of The Empire Strikes Back (yes, that happened, and yes, it's amazing), and an assembly of things taped to my wall that may or may not hold any value to me. I like having a busy desk!
As far as NPR podcasts go, I am a big fan of Embedded. Kelly McEvers and the team of producers working on that show are just killing it. Apart from NPR, I am very into Love + Radio by Nick van der Kolk at the moment.
Favorite Tiny Desk?
Other than Wilco, my favorite Tiny Desk Concerts are any that feature Chris Thile. Probably the only person in the world who can tour with multiple bluegrass groups, record classical albums, and take over iconic public radio shows.
Favorite places in Washington D.C.?
The Hirshhorn Museum is absolutely the best gallery in DC. The building is a huge concrete brutalist cylinder that frankly, doesn't really make any sense. It puts you slightly off-balance and I love it.
What are you inspired by right now?
Sometimes, I think we get so used to the way that films and TV shows are usually produced that we come to expect the same style with everything we watch, so it's been refreshing to see the newest season of "Twin Peaks." Whatever it is that we've come to expect with television shows — like predictable pacing or linear storytelling — David Lynch has examined in his usual way and deemed it not weird enough, and I think it's important in producing radio to recognize what people have come to expect and improve on it.
What do you love about public radio?
I grew up listening to public radio in the back seat of my parents' car like a lot of NPR employees my age, but I never really appreciated it until I started listening to it again in college. One of things I love most about public radio (other than the excellent, nuanced reporting) is that the voices you hear — whether they're hosts or reporters — are not pitch-perfect, super-human newscaster voices, but real voices from ordinary people.