Broadcasters love anniversaries, and tomorrow’s is a beauty … the 100th anniversary of—well, you know. You must know. It’s been everywhere, in every conceivable medium, with the possible exception of skywriting.
NPR has been wallowing in this anniversary with an entire series devoted to various aspects of the tragedy. Morning Edition did a profile of the bandleader, “leading the ship’s seven musicians in song as they sank into the North Atlantic.” Planet Money asked an economist to explain why many passengers reacted as calmly as they did. All Things Considered reviewed some of the gazillion tie-in books being published this month. And so on.
But tomorrow is the big day. And “first show up” is my old favorite, Weekend Edition Sunday. It’s the one NPR program with a track record of tackling big subjects (and big anniversaries) with intelligence, great journalism, superb radio craftsmanship and the proper amount of time. To cite just one example, former Senior Producer Bob Malesky’s 1993 story on the 25th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination was a masterpiece. Sadly the audio seems to have disappeared from NPR’s website.
Anniversaries are hard. You want to sound fresh without ignoring the obvious. You want to engage the listener without indulging in sentimentality. You want to pay tribute to history without crossing the line into pedantry. You want to flex your production muscles but avoid sounding over-produced.
Not everyone can do it. Malesky could, with his fine sensibility for history and natural ear for radio. So can WESUN’s present Senior Producer, Ned Wharton. I’m eager to hear what he’s come up with.