In the summer of 2014, I was awarded a position as a research intern with CBC radio through a program sponsored by Alberta Innovates Health solutions-the same folks that fund my PhD. I was stationed with The Calgary Eyeopener, CBC Calgary's flagship program, and Calgary's most popular radio program.
Immediately I was enveloped into the daily routine involved in producing and directing the show; discussing the quality of the previously aired show, assessing what stories needed to be followed, and pitching story ideas for the next day’s program. There was no probation period. Two things struck me: how relaxed the atmosphere was, and how impeccably stylish the women of Calgary CBC radio are.
Within the week I was trained on the Dalet Media Program, learned how to operate the portable Marantz recorder, and was familiarized with the protocols for conducting pre-interviews, confirming guests, and writing scripts. From conducting ‘streeters’ to get local Calgarian’s opinions on controversial topics in the news, to preparing ‘packs’ (mini documentaries) on a variety of topics, and recording the ‘downtimes’ that promote musical acts coming through Calgary, I had the opportunity to try my hand at a variety of different elements that make up the radio programming at CBC.
It’s difficult to pinpoint the most rewarding part of my internship experience. Listener feedback via twitter and voicemail from stories I’d pitched was always validating. My first successful story pitch, in which a bee ecologist voiced his concerns over how urban honeybee keeping could have unforeseen costs on native pollinators, prompted an industrious 13 year-old listener to send our host, David Gray, one of the beautiful houses he designs and builds for native mason bees.
It was also gratifying to witness how beloved the Calgary Eyeopener is within the community, a testament to the relationship that can exist between media and the audience. The CBC’s Annual Stampede Breakfast brought in hundreds of revelers, who were not shy about voicing their support for their beloved CBC radio.
On Neighbour day, devoted to recognizing the community spirit that Calgary demonstrated when the floods ravaged through dozens of communities in 2013, many Calgarians stopped by to take in some doughnuts and coffee, and chat with the staff like old friends.
The infectious enthusiasm of many guests was similarly a highlight. It was difficult to not be inspired by Chris Koch’s quest to get a drivers license at age 35, despite his lacking arms and legs since birth. The members of the Masonic Lodge that hosted an open house on Calgary’s inaugural ‘Mason’s Day’ were exceptionally welcoming to my questions. And the mussel-sniffing conservation dogs (pictured below) working to keep invasive zebra and quagga mussels out of Alberta’s lakes and rivers stole my heart.
I was assigned to the summertime “Big Ideas” series, which showcased some incredible, often unusual innovations developed to address a variety of problems. This led to a hunt for the perfect idea and guest to match. The weekly series brought to light some fascinating projects, from the intriguing collaboration between the ketchup connoisseurs at Heinz and Ford automobiles, to the technology that converts your old bike into an efficient electric hybrid. We heard from the engineers piloting flying wind turbine projects, learned how cell phones can save the Amazon rainforest, and discovered the latest trend in dating: sniffing out pheromones on unwashed t-shirts. These guests were consistently engaging, enthusiastic, and always grateful to share their stories with me.
The AIHS Media Fellowship provides an incomparable opportunity to develop the skills necessary for effective media communication first-hand. The Calgary Eyeopener team was welcoming, patient, skilled and very accessible team to work with. As friendly off-air as they sound on-air. The hands-on approach and length of the internship gave me the opportunity to identify the skills I needed, and the time I needed to develop them. Radio is a unique medium, and I came to understand that the narrative for radio has a pace and style unique from other forms of media, with a strong focus on voices and soundscapes
The societal benefits of a scientifically literate and well-informed public are immeasurable. Understanding the scientific process, herd immunity, and disease risk factors, for example, are just some of the ways in which effective communication can impact the health of communities and individuals. The need for effective science communicators is well evident, given the misinformation that is so easily spread via the internet. Ultimately I hope to embed science communication and writing within my career as a medical science researcher. I will always be grateful to AIHS and the Calgary Eyeopener team for the once in a lifetime opportunity to participate in this internship!