You had a number of different careers before you arrived in public radio. Including -- circus manager?
Yep. I did all sorts of stuff before working at TTBOOK. I studied and made pottery in Costa Rica. I worked on a fishing boat in Alaska. I edited an international environmental magazine in a small town in Holland. I started and ran a record label in Amsterdam. I was a professional anti-nuclear activist in Belgium for awhile. I helped start an Internet Café in Prague. And yes, I even ran a circus.
Tell us about The Terminal Bar, your internet café in Prague.
I moved to Prague in 1993. It was the Wild Wild West for both the internet and Czech young people. We worked hard and we partied even harder. Back in the States, my friends were drowning in postmodern irony and cynicism, but in Eastern Europe everything was new and up for grabs, from music to ideas. I remember having a meeting with a group that was planning a protest at a nearby nuclear power plant under construction. I told them not to get their hopes up, that activists had never stopped a plant that far along in construction before. They looked at me, bewildered, and said, “but this is only one nuclear power plant – we overthrew the Soviet Union a few years ago!” It was a great time to be young and alive.
Have you produced any shows for TTBOOK based on your experiences living in Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall?
I arranged an interview with Vaclav Havel, former President of the Czech Republic. A poet and playwright, Havel is regarded as the hero of the Velvet Revolution which ended Communist rule in Czechoslovakia. When I lived in Prague, I used to have have “pinch me” moments, on a tram or something, when I would realize, “Vaclav Havel is the president here!” It amazes me still to this day. We interviewed Havel just months before he retired as president. Hearing his voice on the other end of the mic was certainly one of my greatest moments as a TTBOOK producer.
What got you interested in public radio?
I can still remember the day I fell in love with public radio's deep, content-rich storytelling. I was sitting in the Terminal Bar, when someone handed me a cassette tape from an American public radio show called This American Life. It was a story set in Colorado Springs, where the organizers of a massive Christian prayer project were attempting to pray for every person, business and school in town. The reporter was a skeptic who arrived in town expecting to meet a group of narrow-minded, judgmental people. Instead she found love and friendship – and nearly got converted. It was a conversion moment for me, too – to public radio.
This American Life once did a story about you. What was that experience like?
Ira Glass interviewed me about the most embarrassing day in my life. So it wasn’t the greatest experience, to be honest. The story is best heard. But in a nutshell, it was me against President George Bush (Senior). I lost.
You're interested in film, too -- you host Director's Cut a weekly public television show about young filmmakers. What have you learned and where can I see the show?
I’ve learned to be nicer to Jim Fleming! Hosting is hard. But mostly, I have reaffirmed my belief that in the end, what matters isn’t the medium, it’s the story. A film, a radio interview, a good bar story… they all need narratives that suck you in. They need strong characters. They need to have a head and a heart. And when they really work, they need to take you to higher ground. A couple of personal favorites from my TV show are the interview I did with the director of Westbound a film about 96-year-old Adolph Vandertie, the grand duke of the hobos; and a funny interview with director Steve Burrows on his film Chump Change.
You produced TTBOOK's Iraq War series, Boots on the Ground. Is there a back story? What inspired you?
We did an interview with Deborah Scranton, director of the documentary The War Tapes, and she told a story that really stuck with me. After she screened her film at Sundance, a number of Iraq veterans present agreed to answer questions from the audience. One woman rose, very emotional, and asked what Americans could do for the troops --job programs for veterans, scholarship funds, better PTSD therapy? A Marine interrupted her and said, "Listen. Just listen." I decided to use his comment as a guide, and I organized the series around the personal stories of soldiers who were on the ground in Iraq.
You juggle a lot of projects at work -- what do you do in your off hours?
I have a 4 year-old daughter and a 6 year-old son. They’re cute and stunning and difficult and awe-inspiring… and they fill my off hours (except for when I am having a cocktail on the porch with my lovely wife).