February 12, 2015

Taking The Show on the Road: Behind The Scenes Of #CapitolKojo

By Tayla Burney

Ready to record at the Folger Library.

Ready to record at the Folger Library.

We’re just back from a week spent on Capitol Hill, a new — though nearby — location for a remote broadcast of The Kojo Nnamdi Show.

And though you heard a lot if you tuned in, we thought we’d let you see how #CapitolKojo came together for yourselves.

Why Capitol Hill? For one, it allowed us to connect with members of Congress who usually can’t make it to our studio in the middle of the day. It also gave us the chance to partner with other shows and organizations for the first time, both internally — WAMU’s Metro Connection —  and outside the station (Roll Call and the Folger Shakespeare Library).

U.S. Rep Rob Wittman (R-Va)

Bringing the show to air from a remote location can be tricky. You need a space that works both technically (ideally with the option to run an ISDN line) and practically, large enough to accommodate a host, engineers, producers and guests. We looked at several spaces within the Folger before settling on Eric Weinmann Librarian Dan De Simone’s office, which he was gracious enough to hand over for broadcasts from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. daily.


Our ‘green room’ space for the week.

The room itself is beautiful, with elaborate molding surrounding a chandelier in the center of the ceiling, latticed windows that lead to a greenhouse and one wall devoted to bookshelves, as you’d expect in a library. But fitting Kojo, his laptop and up to three guests at a time around a beautiful antique table each day was a bit of a squeeze, especially for those as tall as Tom Sherwood.

Tight quarters in an interview with the Senate historian; some segments brought two or three additional guests around that table.

So what happened every day during those hours? Between 9 and 10 a.m. every morning, Kojo, myself and another Kojo Show producer would arrive to start work in the office adjacent to Dan’s. This became our smaller and less-stately base of operations, full of all of our equipment and extraneous “stuff.” We brought in a bust of William Shakespeare the Folger had loaned us to help keep the spirit of the Bard in mind as we worked.

Producers Tayla Burney and Michael Martinez in the not-as-stately operations room.

Each day at 10 a.m., the real setup would begin: placing microphones, running cables, connecting the host’s laptop and connecting to WAMU. Then around 11:30 a.m., Kojo would record his “billboard,” the one minute synopsis of each show, and teasers for the next day.

Ready to record.

Around that same time, guests would begin to arrive to the “green room” set up in the Founder’s Room at the Folger, which was certainly the most well appointed reception area we’ve ever used, prompting plenty of “Oh, wow!” reactions from guests. A portrait of Queen Elizabeth I kept watch over the space, prompting Sen. Mark Warner and his communications director, Kevin Hall, to reminisce about a similar portrait of the monarch in the Virginia Governor’s Mansion. And at least one guest took advantage of an early arrival, taking in the current exhibit on view at the Folger while he waited.

U.S. Sen Mark Warner (D-Va) and Kojo taking in the view.

Just before noon each day the Folger would shut down the restrooms and elevator adjacent to the space to mitigate noise, and the show staff on-site would remotely log-in to the computers back at the station so we could communicate with the call-screener and host. Guests were seen into the space, quickly familiarized with the setup and be off and running live at 12:06 p.m. With two segments in most hours, we had lawmakers like Sen. Barbara Mikulski and D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton exchanging collegial hellos as they swapped seats during breaks.

Once we were off the air at 1:58 p.m. we’d undo what we’d done that morning, rolling the ‘rack’ of broadcast equipment back into the adjacent office, unmounting the mics and setting Dan’s office back to the state in which we found it.

Engineer Andrew Chadwick with some of the equipment that made the show possible.

To pull all of this off we work with a great team from WAMU’s engineering department: Jonathan Charry, Andrew Chadwick and Tobey Schreiner, among others —the oft unsung heroes of radio, without whom you’d never hear Kojo.

We learned a lot in our week on the Hill, about non-partisan offices (like the Senate Historian and House Chaplain), how technology is changing communication from and within the Hill and what you can learn about elected Representatives from their office decor. We hope listeners learned a lot, too — and hope to see you out on the road again soon!