A Story about Robot Babies and Radio Luck


For your listening pleasure...

While driving across Texas recently during a three week road trip I listened to a radio story that captivated me. Actually, a radio story about the radio story grabbed me first.

I was listening to HowSound, a podcast about the backstory of great radio storytelling, hosted by Rob Rosenthal. The episode is called "Radio Luck and The Gift of Character Change." 

In it Rob discusses a story called "Real Teens, Fake Babies" by Hillary Frank about two high school girls who cared for robot babies for 48 hours during the parenting/sex education program Baby Think It Over.

Robot babies. Plastic dolls with that cry intermittently around the clock with real baby cry recordings. Very cool. One girl was Christian and conservative, the other bisexual and liberal. What Hillary captured on tape and structured into a story holds your attention until the end.

 Image from episode  #51 of The Longest Shortest Time .  

Image from episode #51 of The Longest Shortest Time.  

The story aired on This American Life and was produced for The Longest, Shortest Time, Hillary's podcast on parenting and childhood. She followed the girls while they had their "babies" and got storytelling gold— character change and a surprise ending.

Rob plays most of the piece, gives  commentary on how she did the story, and interviews Hillary. He said besides Hillary’s obvious skill, she got “radio lucky” in her reporting. Here are Rob’s four kinds of luck in story finding:

  • Unlucky. You find your story is cancelled, uninteresting, or not a story.
  • No luck. Things went smoothly, but you’re ready to produce the next story.
  • Lucky. It was a rich, interesting story with ear-catching sound. But sometimes, you get...
  • Radio luck. He said, “...it feels like Marconi and the other radio gods smiled down on you from the ether.” Unpredictable magic unfolds in front of your microphone. Better than you imagined. He said Hillary had radio luck. 

Even if you don’t make radio, there’s story creation intrigue in Rob’s Howsound episode.

Grab your headphones and listen to Rob's piece above, or Hillary’s "Real Teens, Fake Babies” on it’s own here:

P.S. A little meta thinking. This is a blogpost, about a podcast, that was about a radio story, that was about two girls. Fun leap-frog consuming, no? I’m here to connect your story dots. 

What have you listened to this week that you enjoyed?