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Weighty Waves, An Impression (After William F. Woo)

By Geo Beach

Snow like light; white, crystallized rain dragging up the Eastern seashore. A short song, the Boston Herald truck spins out in front of the small store, still closed, early morning, that sells beer and lottery tickets later in the day. The sky falls down and the newsprint is wet and the weather collates the sections, news into sport -- an acrostic that deconstructs hard copy.

There’s a story still flying, created on earth and launched into the heavens above this fractured firmament. Radio tells the story. And indie Jay Allison has been telling public radio how to tell it since a friend loaned him a tape recorder one day in 1977 and he began collecting the voices of regular folks. Jay’s audacious vision -- or, audition -- helped launch transom.org, a place to learn to make radio, and prx.org, an online audio distribution system, tools that are transforming the methods and content of broadcast journalism.

Jay Allison is introduced, once, twice. Then the microphone is his.


He whispers. “We’ll start with a human voice.” There is a room full of journalists, and many eyes are closed. A 15-year old boy is talking to himself. A morbidly obese 15-year old boy in his “mood time”, 1:15 a.m., talks to himself. He wants to be skinny, he wants to eat the ice cream in the fridge.

“Radio likes the first person,” Allison can give a wry smile with his vocal chords. “It’s a voice in your ear.” He is irresistible. “We don’t have earlids.”

Jay’s First Laws of First Persons: Self-indulgent; no, too easy. Self-absorbed; no, too much. Self-aware; yes, that resonates.

Then like a bio-digital jukebox, Jay rocks through his countdown of Firsts: The Witness, The Guide, The Natural, The Forced Confession, The Buddy, The Explorer, The Diarist, The Reluctant Allison. This last by Jay, calling classified ads in Chicago, looking for a dog, maybe looking for friendship on a big planet, looking. Heads are cocked, listening -- “His Master’s Voice”.

There is a room full of journalists, and there is an odd air in the room -- a wonder, a marvel, a nonplussedness -- as if Allison might have come from outer space, or at least another place. More eyes are closed or askance, and pens laid down.

To Jay, “Do you ever miss the visual?”

“I miss eyes.”


“What you get with all the pieces is: you hear the hearts.”

The newspapers are wet. Somewhere a radio is playing.

Independent journalist Geo Beach contributes commentaries to NPR, columns to the Anchorage Daily News, and essays to TomPaine.com.

Posted in film & radio, memoir & personal essay, sessions.What About Me?, speakers.Jay Allison on December 12, 2003 at 05:14 PM | Permalink