The balance between silicon and carbon

This past month or so has been really busy.

The future of my workplace has been in flux

My parents’ health, a concern

And in the midst of it all, I witnessed an amazing confluence of things digital (silicon) and living (carbon).

About halfway through the May pledge drive for my station, WDUQ, Pittsburgh (a very important pledge drive), my father suffered a heart attack at his home in Ann Arbor. His neighbors leaped in to help and got him to the hospital, for which I am immensely grateful. Good neighbors are a wonderful thing.

Tuesday, May 26, I had put in a very long day at work and headed home for a hoped for 4 hours of sleep. Instead, it was off to Ann Arbor.

My Dad was not in immediate danger and resting. Wednesday was a day of tests and waiting. And waiting. And waiting. The news was that my father was going to need aortic valve replacement surgery and some heart bypass work. But as we were coming up on the Memorial Day weekend, probably not until the Tuesday of the next week.

Digital Guests

A couple of years ago, as my visits to my parents increased, I had installed wireless DSL at the house. Last year, I upgraded from my old Palm Treo to an iPhone 3GS.

Oh – and St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor has free Wifi.

All this plays into how I was able to be a part of the ongoing dynamic of a very important WDUQ pledge drive while 280 miles away tending to very important family business.

Almost Live

While I was with my father and often waiting, the outstanding staff and volunteers of WDUQ continued to do a great job in gaining listener support for this important one-week membership campaign.

Having wireless at my father’s house and the hospital and an iPhone in my pocket, I was able to listen in to the pledge drive from Ann Arbor when I had a moment. Remote computer viewing software allowed me to see the impressive progress toward (and past) on-air fundraising goals. But being 280 miles away, while I could observe and call and e-mail back to Pittsburgh, I couldn’t be in the drive.

If you ever listen to WDUQ pledge drives, you may notice that they are the one time you hear me, Scott Hanley, on the radio a lot. I used to be a journalist, a producer, am an occasionally a disc jockey. But my real job is mostly making sure that other broadcasters are given the resources, tools and time to do their work as journalists, producers and disc jockeys.

During a pledge drive, you might hear me make extemporaneous “pitches” about anything from the history of WDUQ and public radio, to my time as a member of the NPR board, the importance of independent journalism and more. Mostly, those little spoken “essays” happen as they happen. Occasionally, there are some that get recorded and played at times when I might not be there. But they are most often “in the moment,” suitable for a particular instant of the pledge drive or related to timely events of the day.

With me being in Ann Arbor, WDUQ staff could play my messages that were recorded earlier, but serendipitous statements couldn’t be. I wasn’t there.

There are things that only the General Manager can say – and the message changes over the drive.

And I was waiting. A lot.

Waiting Room

Wednesday, my first full night in Ann Arbor, I pondered what to do from my father’s quiet livingroom. With the newish iPhone, I had become impressed with the voice memo application and the microphone implementation with it.

So, in that quiet livingroom, with a decent digital recorder (the iPhone) from my pocket, I gave it a try.

The quality is not as good as the ElectroVoice RE20’s we rely on at WDUQ, but the timeliness of the message seemed to outweigh the loss of fidelity.

I used my laptop to send the file back to WDUQ and hoped they could make it work. WDUQ operates a high level digital audio system (ENCO DAD) which Helen Wigger and Chuck Leavens helped make sure the new almost live “spot” could be played on the air.

It worked (you can hear it, here). I was able to spend a lot of time with my Dad and still be a part of my Pittsburgh “family” of listeners and WDUQ staff and volunteers. When I could, I recorded a few messages (one aired within minutes of my recording it). Done on an iPhone and over the Internet.

Based on the surgeon’s advice, I headed back to Pittsburgh late Thursday night for a super-quick visit to take care of a few things – and participate in the last hours of the pledge drive – before heading back to Michigan with reinforcements for the weekend.

With my Dad’s condition evolving, I was leery of sharing this story. But even when he was in the hospital, he got a kick out of how I was able to be with him and also take care of important things with WDUQ.

Saturday morning of that Memorial Day weekend (not the next Tuesday), I was back in Ann Arbor as my Dad went in for his open heart surgery earlier than expected. Now, eight weeks later, he is home and recovering remarkably well.

My WDUQ family is waiting and looking toward the future – but the most successful May on-air campaign, ever, certainly makes for a better prognosis, too.

So, like I’ve written before, people matter more than technology. But technology can help with people and things you care about. And friends, neighbors, family and outstanding colleagues are really important.


About sehanley

Musician, journalist, teacher, technologist, consultant & former NPR station manager. A media and entertainment professional, journalist, entrepreneur, technology advocate, educator, student, mentor, manager, and media, musical and theatrical performer. Voice talent and coach for music and spoken word. I also act and sing (mostly jazz, but a lot of experience with choral, classical and musical theater, too). Brass instruments, too, but my AF ofM card lapsed years ago. Heard on the national jazz service, PubJazz, and in the Pittsburgh market on WZUM/Pittsburgh Jazz Channel. I also teach college level courses in media and journalism. I managed the leading NPR/public radio station in Pittsburgh, PA for 16 years, a few years later was GM of the NPR station WBHM in Birmingham, AL. I served for six very busy years on the NPR Board of Directors and have done much volunteer service for national and local organizations in the communities I have been privileged to live and work in. Former NPR Board Member, former President of the Pittsburgh Radio Organization, sometime musician, relentless technology advocate. Opinions expressed are not the viewpoints of any employer or affiliation past or present.
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2 Responses to The balance between silicon and carbon

  1. Jon Colburn says:

    Scott, I am very glad to know your dad is recovering well. Also, I am very glad that the WDUQ spring pledge drive was so successful (yes, we made and additional gift in addition to our sustaining membership). As I read this piece I think of the frequent trips I make between Pittsburgh and Muskegon (MI), my home town. There is that point on the Ohio Turnpike where I can no longer receive WDUQ and am not quite far enough west to get WUOM and vise versa on the return. It is great to hear the voices of “old friends” in Ann Arbor but I sure look forward to hearing the voices of my “new friends” in Pittsburgh. People do matter more than technology but it is through technology, through NPR that I am able to meet people that I could not meet any other way. Keep up the good work.

  2. sehanley says:

    Thanks, Jon, in so many ways. I still can’t get used to the speed limit being 70 in Michigan, now.

    Safe travels, good health and great listening for the both of us and ours!

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