Scene on Radio is a unique and diverse documentary/storytelling show from the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. It is hosted by John Biewen, who has been involved in audio projects for over 30 years and is an instructor at Duke. The show is self-billed as exploring the question “how’s it going out there?” – which lends itself to a wide variety of current events and cultural discussions. Episodes feature content both from Biewen and his students in the CDS.
I’ve been listening since the show debuted in 2015 – the first episode I heard was Hijabis, which was an undergrad student production of two separate segments. I still remember this episode, almost a year and a half later. Hearing two very young women talk about being Muslim in America, I felt so strongly that other people should listen to it. It wasn’t overly emotional or at all manipulative, but it was one of those heart- and eye-opening pieces of audio that I wish people would hear, because it might pull back a layer of intolerance if the right person heard it. They talk about how people make so many assumptions about them, yet they’re expected to explain themselves just because they wear a hijab. They’re constantly asked “where are you from?” or “where are your parents from?” These women are more than their expected stories. The first segment in particular is a really sweet piece.
I also loved the episode Prince and Philando and Futures Untold, which was an essay by Stacia Brown, of Baltimore: The Rise of Charm City, a terrific project that was part of the Localore: Finding America project. I love when podcasts I listen to collide in an unexpected way and I haven’t heard the story before – Stacia Brown is fabulous and I’d listen to anything she creates (by the way, she has a new independent podcast out – Hope Chest – and the second season of The Rise of Charm City has just started). This was a lovely, poetic essay full of anger and grief and sadness … here’s a beautiful excerpt:
“I’ve wondered too about how Prince would’ve responded to the news of Philando’s death. Having seen him sing to Baltimore for hours, weeks after Freddie Gray lost consciousness and the use of his limbs alone in the back of a police van, I know Prince would’ve made his displeasure over Philando’s death in Falcon Heights known.
That this happened near his own hometown would’ve only heightened his response to it.
I think Prince would’ve reached out to Diamond, would’ve asked if there was anything her daughter needed, would’ve given to them in abundance and in silence.” (link)
In episodes produced by instructor Biewen, I find his narration to be overwhelmingly honest. This is somehow highlighted by his phenomenal radio voice. (I’m also definitely a sucker for his midwest voice, as I too hail from Minnesota.)
Biewen is in the middle of an excellent series right now on what it means to be “white,” which of course includes many viewpoints from non-whites and academics. I use quotes deliberately because one of the episodes in the series, How Race Was Made, explains the history of why this color was applied to people. I wrote a few weeks ago about how I wish this series would become required listening for high-schoolers so we can send better educated young people out into the world. If we as parents and educators can explain the true origin of race and how it is a social construct created for white people to have power, we can teach our children to be unafraid of people who aren’t like them, to celebrate our differences and join together to create a diverse and integrated world. Look – I know not everyone is as liberal as I am, so if this series of Scene on Radio isn’t your cup of tea, I understand and I’ll get off my soapbox about teaching kids about race – but this is a really great investigation into the concept of race from a white person’s view.
If you like This American Life, which is a gateway podcast for many, you’ll enjoy Scene on Radio. Give it a listen if you’re into documentaries, sound-rich personal narratives, and great storytelling – you won’t be disappointed, and hopefully you’ll learn something about the people living around you.
What do you think of this podcast? Leave a comment below and let’s discuss! Also subscribe to my twice-monthly newsletter!
Audible Feast Ratings
Educational Value (4 / 5)
Pop Culture Value (3 / 5)
Host Listen-ability (5 / 5)
Flow & Production Value (5 / 5)
I love knowing that some of the episode producers are students (even adults in continuing ed) – I love being a participant in someone’s education.
Humor (2 / 5)
I’d actually be interested to hear a story/documentary told with some humor, or at least something lighter. Most of the content has focused on serious issues (though not all) and I don’t think a documentary always has to be grave. I’d love to hear something in the tone of Sour Grapes or Magnus – each had a fair amount of lightness and moved fast which was enjoyable for me.
Investigation (3 / 5)
Storytelling (5 / 5)
Makes Me a Better Person (5 / 5)
Overall Audible Feast Rating: (4 / 5)
Start with These Episodes:
You May Also Like …
Baltimore: The Rise of Charm City, The Junction, APM Documentary, The Doc Project from CBC Radio, Q’ed Up, The Inquiry, Nocturne, Campus, This American Life, Radiolab
Scene on Radio Website