Put Your Headphones On
After working several years as a print reporter and editor, Brad Turner (Jour, Mus’02) moved to Colorado Public Radio (CPR) where he is now executive producer of the Audio Innovations Studio, overseeing podcasts and other creative audio projects. In his eight years at CPR, he has explored his interests in journalism and music while producing podcasts with the newsroom, composing theme songs and scores, hosting a podcast on modern composers, and reporting stories for the radio. Here, he talks about his time at CU, his recent projects and the power of podcasting.
What was the best part of your CU experience?
Well, I met my wife Kim in one of my reporting classes. So that's hard to beat. And there were many places in Boulder I loved. I spent a lot of time on the Boulder Creek Path, in Chautauqua Park and shopping for music at Second Spin, which is long gone but always had something great in the new arrivals section.
What skills did you learn at CU that help you today in your career?
I earned degrees in journalism and music, which was fantastic. Podcasting didn't really exist at that point, but there were still moments where I got a glimpse of what I might like to do for a living. I wrote a couple of features about the Conference on World Affairs for a reporting class, and my instructor Sandra Fish helped get them published in the Boulder Daily Camera. Those first bylines in the newspaper are a thrill for a journalism student, and I loved interviewing people about the ideas that went into their work. On the music side, I remember really pouring myself into chopping up sounds on a computer for my electronic composition classes with John Drumheller and Michael Theodore. I got so into playing with sound on a computer screen that I'd be in the lab well past midnight.
More than anything, I learned at CU that I love the kind of work that lets you sink into a flow state and lose yourself for a few hours. I feel that when I write a script for an audio story, mix a podcast episode or write music.
What is special about podcasts versus other forms of media?
It's a really intimate medium. Great podcasts can have similarities to radio news, documentary film or talk shows, but it feels a little different to have the voice of a host or storyteller in your ear. That's powerful. I think it helps us connect on an emotional level with stories and ideas. I find it very easy to empathize with other people's stories that I hear in podcasts.
I've also come to appreciate that podcasts are a break from screen time. I like that both as a listener and as a parent.
You’ve helped produce many podcasts at CPR. Is there one that you are particularly proud of?
I am really proud of Systemic, which we released earlier this year. I hired a brilliant producer named Jo Erickson last fall, and in her first week or two on the job she came to me and pitched this great idea for a documentary series. She wanted to follow Black police officers who were working to make changes to law enforcement from the inside. This seemed like such an important story to tell. So Jo and the rest of our team collected audio over the next few months, and we released the show around the anniversary of George Floyd's murder. Apple Podcasts placed Systemic in its featured podcast queue that week, and it was amazing to have so many listeners discover the show during that national moment of reflection.
You've launched a new podcast, Music Blocks. Tell us about it.
Music Blocks grew out of a research project with CPR Classical, the classical music station at Colorado Public Radio. We wanted to create a show for younger listeners. We had conversations with teachers and curriculum experts in Colorado schools and heard they could use something to help students think more deeply about music. We’ve released eight episodes so far, using listening examples from both current pop music and classical music. The common thread in each episode is an emotion, like happiness or fear.
You helped create Back From Broken, an interview podcast about recovery and comeback stories. What inspired this series’ creation?
It began as a passion project. Our host, Vic Vela, is a journalist who's in recovery himself. A small team worked with Vic to find a format, and we settled on an intimate series of one-on-one interviews about substance abuse and other challenges people struggle to overcome. We hear about how the person's life got off track, what the worst moments were like, how they found a path back and what they've learned from it all. It touches on incredibly raw subjects at times, but it always ends in a hopeful place. I think it's important that we interview some big names like members of Colorado folk-rock band The Lumineers or professional wrestler Jake the Snake Roberts along with everyday people, because addiction and mental health affect people in so many different ways.
Why is telling these stories important?
Back From Broken changes lives. We've had other podcasts that racked up more downloads, but the volume of messages we get from Back From Broken listeners is incredible. We've had listeners say that hearing the show led them to re-examine their lives or decide to seek treatment. Or we hear from family members who have a newfound sense of empathy for a loved one who's struggling. It's a great feeling to work on a show that means so much to listeners who need it. We saw the listenership grow quite a bit during the pandemic, probably because people wanted to hear stories about overcoming difficult times and finding hope.
What is your go-to podcast?
I listen to so many podcasts because I need to stay on top of what kinds of new shows people are making and talking about. I end up listening to a little of everything, but rarely make it through a whole season of anything because there's just so much to hear. But the exception to that is probably Heavyweight, a show that helps people find closure for unresolved moments from their past. That podcast is so beautifully written, and I'm pretty sure I've laughed out loud at some point in every episode.
What are your favorite things to do when you’re not working?
I like to spend my weekends with my family, usually riding bikes or hanging out in the mountains. We also love to visit national parks. I'm really happy that concert venues and movie theaters are opening back up. I've been at Red Rocks and the Alamo Drafthouse lately, making up for a lot of music and films that I didn't see over the past year and a half. And I still like to play bass and make music on the computer, just like when I was at CU.
Condensed and edited by Alexx McMillan.
Photo courtesy of Brad Turner