If you want to be in the know about what’s happening at Wesleyan and in Middletown, but you’ve read a little too much today, there’s no shame in putting down this newspaper. Go online (or tune into 88.1 FM right now if you happen to be reading this on a Friday at 2 p.m.) to stream the latest installation of Argus News Radio. If you want to know what that actually is, read on.
Argus News Radio, which started airing on WESU in 2009, seeks to provide a wide range of interesting news and feature stories to Wesleyan, Middletown, and the surrounding areas. Each episode offers a summary of local news headlines followed by a central feature story on an issue, event, or theme that’s relevant to the local community. The show also features more condensed feature stories, as well as “vox pops”—derived from the Latin phrase “vox populi,” meaning “voice of the people”—in which reporters go out, ask several people a single question, and then air some of the responses.
Argus News Radio started up in order to offer a more local spin on WESU’s public affairs programming.
“They [stream] Pacifica, and they [stream] BBC, and they [stream] Al Jazeera, which give really fabulous international news, but there wasn’t anything on the radio at that point that was doing local news,” said Eli Meixler ’13, who, along with Laignee Barron ’13, is one of the main editors and producers of the show.
Barron added that the program aims to balance its coverage in order to serve Wesleyan students and Middletown residents alike.
“We try to keep it 50/50,” she said, “Obviously it’s a lot easier to do Wesleyan news, considering that that’s what we’re inundated with here and that’s our experience, but since a lot of the listenership for WESU is Middletown-based, I think that in our field, it’s really important that we also cover local Middletown news.”
Though the program does spotlight Wesleyan programs and events, Argus News Radio’s coverage is by no means limited to a local scope. In the past, the show has aired discussions on the current gun control debate, as well as a segment on women in the workplace in honor of International Women’s Day in March. That being said, Argus News Radio does seek to add a local spin to all of its coverage. That’s where the vox pops come in.
“Frequently, if we’re doing a larger-themed issue story…we’ll ask one or two short questions to a broad range of people,” Meixler said. “We’ll ask Wesleyan students, we’ll try to ask Wesleyan faculty and staff, and then we’ll go into Middletown and post ourselves up in front of a business and ask people walking on the street just to get a random assortment of opinions.”
In addition to capturing the local Middletown atmosphere through these interviews, Argus News Radio deliberately tries to use audio footage that will capture the sonic atmosphere surrounding the subject.
“You need to create a whole listening experience,” Meixler said. “The ideal is not just to have a series of questions and answers with an interviewee but to include music or soundscapes of what’s going on.”
He explained how this would work for an upcoming piece about Middletown’s food trucks.
“We want sound recordings of things going into the fryer, and of people calling out orders, and that sort of thing, that you weave together into a story, so that the listener feels like they’re involved in the process,” he said.
News Director Michelle Agresti ’14 explained that in addition to all of these background sounds, each episode gains a distinct identity through the voices of those being interviewed.
“On the radio, when you have an interview with someone, you can actually get their inflections and begin to understand what kind of a person this is—much better than in a question-and-answer format on a page,” she said. “That’s what I like about radio. You can get a much better insight not only into what the person is doing, but who the person is.”
Nicholas Selden ’16 agreed that for this reason, the radio is distinct as a medium of communication.
“What you lose in print is the voice of the subject, which is problematic because so much of a message is conveyed in vocal inflections and mannerisms,” he said. “Plato wanted to do away with writing completely, because he thought that you couldn’t capture truth with it—that there was no voice.”
Contrary to what its name suggests, Argus News Radio is not actually affiliated with The Argus—anymore. When it first started airing on WESU, Argus News Radio was intended to be an extension of The Argus’ print coverage.
“That’s one way that it would be cool to see development in the show—having more collaboration between The Argus and Argus News Radio,” Barron said. “That was the original idea behind it. I mean, their offices are right beside each other.”
Meixler and Barron commented on the process of creating each segment.
“We usually have a lot of content that needs to be distilled down into a tight half hour of material, and so we have people working on different things in different areas,” Meixler said.
Barron added that the production process is a collaborative one.
“Throughout the week, everyone’s working on their own story, but you’re working on your own piece as part of a greater group effort,” he said.
Every episode is produced and recorded entirely before it goes on air. Students in charge of Argus News Radio agreed that it’s a time-consuming process, but that it pays off in the final product.
“We have meetings on Saturdays, where everyone comes in and pitches ideas,” Barron said. “We get [our stories] from a range of personal experiences, to local news sources, to everything from The Argus and The Hartford Courant to the Middletown Patch and the Middletown Eye.”
Selden explained the timeline behind the process.
“The rule is that by Wednesday night, 7 p.m. everyone’s stories are in, with quotes that basically show how the interview breaks down, so that it’s easier to produce and cut down the interview,” he said.
Editors then stay in the studio on Wednesday and Thursday nights for six to eight hours editing the show.
“It’s three people working on three computers, for an average of seven hours—that’s 21 hours for 30 minutes of news,” Selden said. “That’s not even including meetings and brainstorming and doing the interviews themselves. So it takes a lot.”
To weave everything together, the show’s host—usually Aaron Veerasuntharam ’14—reads off the show’s selection of Wesleyan- and Middletown-related headlines and introduces the episode’s feature stories.
With Meixler and Barron on their way out the door as seniors, Argus News Radio is transitioning into the hands of Selden and Agresti.
“I’m trying to take it [in] a more thematic direction, so that we’re focusing more on these abstract themes and producing these really audio-rich pieces that are less news-y,” Selden said. “How I describe my vision for the show is an ‘All Things Considered Meets: Radiolab.’ We’re starting to work a lot more with sounds and soundscapes and really what it’s like to capture the sound of a place.”