Dispatches From the Field
AAAS 2000 Annual Meeting

Behind the Scenes
Inside NPR's "Science Friday" - Feb. 18, 2000

By John Keefe

Every year Ira Flatow takes his show on the road, broadcasting "Talk of the Nation, Science Friday" live on National Public Radio from the AAAS Annual Meeting.

This year was no different -- except that he had an Exploratorium observer lurking nearby. Here's a look at how the show is put together. To hear the actual show itself, jump over to the Science Friday website.

Before the show, Ira reviews prepared questions with senior producer Karin Vergoth (left) and producer Annette Heist. (Click images to enlarge them.)
The show introduction at the top of the hour is actually on tape (which drew snickers from the audience who heard Ira's voice and could see he wasn't talking.) After the hourly news, director Charles Bergquist cues Ira to start talking.
Ira's voice, and those of his guests, are sent to National Public Radio from the hotel on an ISDN link. This allows transmission of high-quality audio over souped-up phone lines. If the first ISDN system fails, there's another line into the room, too. If that fails, the engineers use a plain-old phone line -- which is avoided whenever possible, since it sounds like everyone's on the phone.
In front of Ira is a computer connected to the NPR studios across town, where people are screening incoming telephone calls and transmitting summaries of each caller into boxes on this computer screen. When Ira sees a call he wants to take, he simply hits a button on his laptop and the person is automatically put on the air.
Each of the guests, sitting at a table across the stage from Ira, hears Ira and the callers over headphones -- not over the room speakers set up for the audience. This ensures everyone can hear the show clearly, and allows the show director to speak each guest individually, in case he needs to remind them to stay close to the microphone, for example.

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