This Is Your Ultimate Sundance Film Festival Survival Guide

Do Park City like a local.

Raffi Asdourian // Creative Commons / Via Flickr: zaffi

The Sundance Film Festival can be magical, or it can be a lot of standing around outside in the cold. I’ve had both experiences over the last 10 years of attending the festival as a local. In preparation for this year’s film festival, I talked to a few friends and compiled the tips we’ve learned through much trial and error below. (If you have some words of wisdom to add, please add them in the comments below.)

Jim Urquhart / Reuters

Jim Urquhart / Reuters


Actress Rachel McAdams attends the premiere of the film A Most Wanted Man at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, Jan. 19, 2014; people wait in line to get into a Sundance Film Festival screening at the Eccles Theatre in Park City.

For starters, here are some basic facts:

• This year’s Sundance Film Festival runs from Jan. 22 to Feb. 1.

• Film screenings, panel discussions, parties, and other events take place in venues scattered throughout Park City, which is about 45 minutes southeast of Salt Lake International Airport.

• Screenings and events also take place in Salt Lake City, Ogden, and the Sundance Mountain Resort in Utah County.

How to deal with the cold:

The short answer: layer.

The longer answer: With high temperatures during the festival in the 30s (though it may go up to the low 50s next week) and lows in the teens, it’s definitely going to be cold. The good news is that Utah is very dry, so 30 degrees in Park City isn’t nearly as bad as 30 degrees in, say, New York City.

But in any case, consider the environments you’ll be in: outdoors, on buses, in semi-heated tents, and sitting in movie theaters. You need outfits that can handle all of those situations. One monster jacket is not the answer!

Warner Bros.

Instead, try this:

Coat: Wear a good, warm coat, but one that’s not too big. Remember, you’ll probably have to hold it on your lap for two hours during film screenings.

Under the coat: Sweaters, hoodies, scarves. In California, scarves are for fashion. In Park City, they’re for covering your face (and also for fashion). I usually found that three or four layers of diminishing thickness were enough to stand around for a half an hour in the waitlist line.

Head: Don’t forget a hat or earmuffs. Cold ears are not fun.

Shoes: Lightweight canvas and rubber shoes are not great for walking a lot in the snow. They get wet, and then your feet are cold for the rest of the day.

Still cold? If you need a quick way to warm up at Sundance, hop on one of the free buses circling the city (more on the buses below).

Michael R Perry // Creative Commons / Via Flickr: michaelrperry

How to see movies when you don’t have tickets:

Jim Urquhart / Reuters

If you want to see a film but don’t have tickets, the waitlist is definitely worth trying. In fact, the waitlist is a classic part of Sundance and worth doing just for the experience.

Using the waitlist in past involved showing up very early and getting numbered slips of paper. It rewarded those who worked the hardest to see films. Last year, however, the festival debuted an electronic system that was buggy, frustratingly required electronic registration, and rewarded whoever had the fastest internet connection. Frankly, it wasn’t great.

This is what standby numbers looked like last year.

Still, using the waitlist means hanging out for a while with a bunch of independent film buffs who braved the cold to see a movie. So, potential friends. I’ve also attended plenty of Sundance films for free because someone with extra tickets happened to be hanging out around the waitlist line.

Using the waitlist now involves getting a number electronically on your phone, then arriving 30 minutes before show time and lining up in numerical order. Then just before the film starts, the empty seats are sold for $15 (cash only) to people in line. For full instructions, click here or watch this instructional video:

Where to eat and drink:

Here’s the thing with eating at Sundance: Park City has a tourist economy, which doesn’t necessarily lead to a lot of high-quality, good-value restaurants. In my experience, food in Park City tends to vary between generic mid-price options and what I think of as “Faux Rustic Beverly Hills.” So as a general rule, try to get as far away from the tourist crowds as possible.

That said, after talking with a few friends, this is the list we came up with for Park City:

• El Chubasco: Mexican food away from the crush of the festival crowds.

• Wasatch Brewpub: Wasatch Brewery operates two brewpubs, including one on Main Street in Park City. There’s a full menu, plus local beers with Utah-themed names like Polygamy Porter and Provo Girl.

• Java Cow: A coffee shop on Main Street that opens before the first film screenings and festival events in the mornings.

• Chimayo: This place isn’t cheap, but it’s well-regarded, creative, and located right on Main Street.

And here are a few places to eat in Salt Lake City:

• Eva: A cozy, small plates restaurant just a few blocks from several Sundance venues. I recommend asking to be seated in the back section of the restaurant. Also try Eva’s Bakery, just up the street, which is a French-style bakery and delicious.

• Copper Onion: A perennial contender for the best restaurant in Salt Lake City, the Copper Onion is both a local favorite and immediately adjacent to the Broadway Theater, Salt Lake City’s biggest Sundance venue.

• Juniors: A tiny little bar in Salt Lake City frequented by local newspaper reporters, among others.

• Bruges Waffles and Frites: The most delicious Belgian waffles anywhere. Bruges has expanded to become a small local chain in the last few years, but the downtown Salt Lake City shop is both the original and most charming location.

• The Rose Establishment: Just around the corner from Bruges, this coffee shop is delicious and occupies a warm space carved out of an old warehouse.

Also note: Wine and liquor are only sold in Utah at state liquor stores (grocery stores sell beer). In Park City, the state liquor stores are located at 460 Swede Alley and 1550 Snow Creek Drive.

And a second note: The Park Record has put together a list of restaurants that are closed during the Sundance Film Festival.

Barnaby Dorfman // Creative Commons / Via Flickr: bdorfman

Where to pee:

UPDATE: Readers have alerted us that some of the restrooms that were available in the past may no longer be accessible. However, Allison Butz of the Historic Park City Alliance told BuzzFeed News there will be four public restrooms available during this year’s festival. They are located at the Old Town Transit Center, next door to the Park City Museum at 528 Main Street, at Miners Park on Main Street across from the post office, and in the parking lot of the Wasatch Brewpub.

How to stay healthy:

Park City sits about 7,000 feet above sea level and it’s often bone dry. If you’re coming from a coastal city, give yourself time to adjust by going easy on the alcohol for the first day or two and drinking plenty of water. Continue drinking more water than usual throughout the festival.

How to get around:

Don’t bring a car to Sundance unless you absolutely need it. Instead, avoid snowy, slippery streets and use Park City’s excellent free bus system. (The Sundance Institute describes the buses as “free shuttles,” but Park City’s buses are always free.)

During the festival, the stops are clearly marked and are located at every Park City venue. Bus drivers are generally kind and helpful. Sundance has information about the buses on its website, as does Park City, though it may be easiest to just to show up and give it a try. Keep in mind that Park City is very small and you don’t need to be a public transit pro to master the bus system.

Leaving Park City without a car is a little bit trickier, but doable. There’s more info on how to do that at the end of this post.

Michael R Perry // Creative Commons / Via Flickr: michaelrperry

How to park for free and without stress in Park City:

If you are driving to Park City — or from your hotel into the heart of town — use the Monitor Drive parking lot.

Located at 2300 Monitor Drive, this park and ride is actually a Mormon church parking lot — so it’s closed on Sundays. But the rest of the time, it’s free and typically has spaces. It’s not within walking distance of most venues, but the free bus picks up right by the entrance (there will be signs). The alternative is fighting traffic over narrow, frozen streets to get to a comparatively expensive lot. Trust me, park on Monitor Drive.

The Park Record also has a comprehensive list of where parking is available and how much it costs.

Where to see Banksy art in Park City:

InSapphoWeTrust // Creative Commons / Via Flickr: skinnylawyer

Banksy came through Park City in 2010 when Exit Through the Gift Shop was screening and left behind at least four pieces of street art. Not all of them survived, but the best-known piece is protected under glass on the side of Java Cow, at 402 Main Street.

Another surviving Bansky, depicting a kneeling angel boy, is located on the side of a parking garage at 537 Main Street. That piece was damaged in late 2013, but “painstakingly restored” last year.

How to avoid crowds:

Jim Urquhart / Reuters

Jim Urquhart / Reuters


Sundance is absolutely packed, but only at certain times and on certain days. If you’ve had enough of the crowds, try these tips:

1. Get up early. Even during the first weekend of the festival, Park City is vastly quieter in the mornings than it is at night.

2. Stay through the second weekend. The biggest celebrities, parties, and crowds converge during the first weekend of Sundance. That bustle can be fun, but for a more laid-back experience stick around for the last few days. The festival has an entirely different atmosphere toward the end, and events and screening are much, much easier to get into.

3. Be friendly. Almost everyone you see “working” at Sundance is actually a volunteer. They are regular people with whom niceness opens doors. Literally. Like, doors to warmer places where there isn’t a big crowd.

4. Leave Park City. More on this below.

Jim Dalrymple II

How to experience Sundance like a local:

When I asked my Utah friends how to have the best Sundance experience, they almost uniformly said the same thing: Get out of Park City. The consensus is that Park City is crowded, expensive, and generally the least Utah-like place in Utah.

To get out of Park City without a car, take the 902 bus. The bus picks up at the Old Town Transit Center, at 558 Swede Alley, near Main Street. It drops off a little more than an hour later at 200 South and Main Street in Salt Lake City, which is within walking distance of several Sundance venues. Or take the bus to its final stop at the Salt Lake Central Station, where trains depart regularly for Ogden and Provo.

Note that this bus is not free and, because it’s designed for commuters, only runs in the morning and late afternoon. Check the schedule here. If you run into trouble, ask the driver for help, or try tweeting the Utah Transit Authority’s generally responsive and helpful Twitter profile.

Getting out of Park City definitely requires some effort, but the reward is a more low-key and authentic Utah experience.

Helpful links:

Read more:

MSM serves up BS about former Navy SEAL who shot Osama bin Laden

Esquire got the ball rolling with its story claiming that the Navy told the former Navy SEAL who shot Osama bin Laden, “Your coverage is over … Go fuck yourself”:

“I left SEALs on Friday,” he said the next time I saw him. It was a little more than thirty-six months before the official retirement requirement of twenty years of service. “My health care for me and my family stopped at midnight Friday night. I asked if there was some transition from my Tricare to Blue Cross Blue Shield. They said no. You’re out of the service, your coverage is over. Thanks for your sixteen years. Go fuck yourself.”

The government does provide 180 days of transitional health-care benefits, but the Shooter is eligible only if he agrees to remain on active duty “in a support role,” or become a reservist. Either way, his life would not be his own. Instead, he’ll buy private insurance for $486 a month, but some treatments that relieve his wartime pains, like $120 for weekly chiropractic care, are out-of-pocket. Like many vets, he will have to wait at least eight months to have his disability claims adjudicated. Or even longer. The average wait time nationally is more than nine months, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting.

The story spread like wildfire on the Internet thanks in part to “real journalists” like Ezra Klein and Sarah Kliff of the Washington Post.

It’s not just the SEAL who killed bin Laden who’s uninsured. As @sarahkliff notes, 1.3 million vets are uninsured:…

— Ezra Klein (@ezraklein) February 11, 2013

The Navy SEAL who killed Osama bin Laden now lacks health insurance coverage, after leaving the military.

— Sarah Kliff (@sarahkliff) February 11, 2013

The Navy SEAL who killed Osama bin Laden is now uninsured. Via @sarahkliff

— Karen Tumulty(@ktumulty) February 11, 2013

The Navy SEAL who killed bin Laden is reportedly uninsured

— Huffington Post (@HuffingtonPost) February 12, 2013

Navy SEAL who killed Osama bin Laden tells Esquire he is uninsured

— Huntsville (@ALcomHuntsville) February 11, 2013

Navy SEAL who killed #OsamaBinLaden has left military &has no health insurance. Our veterans deserve better, no?…

— Stacey Sager (@staceysager7) February 11, 2013

A national tragedy and inexcusable disgrace The Navy SEAL who killed Osama bin Laden is now uninsured

— Frances Townsend (@FranTownsend) February 11, 2013

We send soldiers to war to protect us then don’t protect them at home RT @ezraklein: SEAL who killed Osama is uninsured

— Natalie Kitroeff (@NatalieNYT) February 11, 2013

“Here is what he gets from his employer and a grateful nation:Nothing.” The man who shot bin Laden:

— Steve Inskeep (@NPRinskeep) February 11, 2013

Navy Seal who killed Osama bin Laden is leaving. He gets no pension, no health care and has no job lined up.

— Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) February 11, 2013

Navy SEAL who shot bin Laden enters civilian life with no job, no health insurance and no pension:

— azcentral (@azcentral) February 12, 2013

Just two problems.

First, contrary to what Klein and others initially wrote, the former Navy SEAL has health insurance:

Correction: The Seal who shot bin Laden lost his Tricare, but he is now buying insurance on the individual market:…

— Ezra Klein (@ezraklein) February 11, 2013


Second, it turns out that the former SEAL is eligible for at least five years of free health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs — a rather important fact that somehow was omitted in both the original Esquire article and the MSM’s follow-up coverage.

Brandon Friedman, who used to be a public affairs officer for the VA, was among the first to call BS:

The @esquiremag story about the SEAL who shot bin Laden is an interesting read, but full vet health care inaccuracies.…

— Brandon Friedman (@BFriedmanDC) February 11, 2013

.@philbronstein rattles off list of injuries sustained by SEAL who shot bin Laden. Then says he’s not entitled to gov health care. Not true.

— Brandon Friedman (@BFriedmanDC) February 11, 2013

All OEF/OIF combat veterans are eligible for at least five years of free health care after separation.… @philbronstein

— Brandon Friedman (@BFriedmanDC) February 11, 2013

.@philbronstein Please pass on the link. Either he paid no attention during his separation briefings or the folks outprocessing him failed.

— Brandon Friedman (@BFriedmanDC) February 11, 2013

@ktumulty @sarahkliff After five years, it depends on disability rating and income. Bottom line, he’s covered. He just may not know it.

— Brandon Friedman (@BFriedmanDC) February 11, 2013

@13stoploss @philbronstein It’s “for conditions possibly related to military service AND enrollment in Priority Group 6.” No questions asked

— Brandon Friedman (@BFriedmanDC) February 11, 2013

@nprinskeep Here are the facts (which were omitted from the story):… @megmccloskey

— Brandon Friedman (@BFriedmanDC) February 11, 2013

@_orwell @ktumulty @sarahkliff Combat veterans of OEF/OIF do not have to wait. They are entitled to five years of free care regardless.

— Brandon Friedman (@BFriedmanDC) February 11, 2013

@mattdpearce All OEF/OIF vets are entitled to 5 yrs of free VA health care. After 5 yrs, it depends on their disability rating and/or income

— Brandon Friedman (@BFriedmanDC) February 11, 2013

@mattdpearce They fall under Priority Group 6:…. Here’s another link with details:…

— Brandon Friedman (@BFriedmanDC) February 11, 2013

@mattdpearce Either he didn’t pay attention during his outprocessing or those who briefed him failed. But he’s absolutely covered.

— Brandon Friedman (@BFriedmanDC) February 11, 2013

The author of the Esquire article, Phil Bronstein, responded to Friedman that the “5-year provision is in the story.”

@bfriedmandc Brandon thanks for this. The 5 year care provision is in the story but you’re right: outplacement didn’t tell him.

— PhilBronstein (@PhilBronstein) February 11, 2013

More BS. Bronstein’s article makes no mention of the 5-year provision.

@rmazetns @esquiremag That’s exactly what I mean. He says it’s in the story, but I couldn’t find it:…

— Brandon Friedman (@BFriedmanDC) February 11, 2013

And get this: Rather than issue a correction and apology for smearing the military, Bronstein is standing by his bogus story. According to Stars and Stripes reporter Megan McCloskey, Bronstein said “the assertion that the government gave the SEAL ‘nothing’ in terms of health care is both fair and accurate, because the SEAL didn’t know the VA benefits existed.”


Even more absurd: Bronstein stated that there wasn’t room in his 15,000-word article to include any information about the former SEAL’s eligibility for VA health benefits.

Bronstein’s explanation of why he made the healthcare error is pretty dubious…

— jasoncherkis (@jasoncherkis) February 12, 2013

You can say that again.

Was the longtime Navy SEAL really ignorant of his VA health benefits, as Bronstein asserts? Some Twitter users find that claim really hard to believe:

@intelwire @young_98_98 I find it hard to believe a SEAL with 16 years in was completely ignorant of his VA benefits…

— Will McPherson (@WilliamMcTweets) February 12, 2013

@speechboy71 he wants you to believe that a 16 year SEAL NCO vet didn’t know they were available.Riiiight.But that is “another story”

— D Duffy (@WarfareCenter) February 12, 2013

@bfriedmandc @starsandstripes @megmccloskey Hard to fathom claim SEAL was ignorant of VA health benefits. Big briefing at outprocessing.

— Dave Opsecname (@ftngleprechaun) February 12, 2013

Meanwhile, hours after the story was debunked, the MSM plowed ahead with its false narrative:

Navy SEAL who killed bin Laden left uninsured after leaving service

— HuffPostWorld (@HuffPostWorld) February 12, 2013

“The man who killed bin Laden… is screwed.”… cc: @laurenashburn, @buzzfeedandrew, @jacquereid, @jawnmurray

— Brooke Baldwin (@BrookeBCNN) February 12, 2013

Layers and layers of fact-checkers score again:

The spread of the “Navy-abandons-SEAL-who-shot-bin-Laden” story has reflected incredibly poorly on the media today.

— Brandon Friedman (@BFriedmanDC) February 11, 2013


Esquire article wrongly claims SEAL who killed bin Laden is denied healthcare

Ezra Klein: Romney canceled an ABBA gig because the band’s music is so angry

Desperate journo-tool Ezra Klein manufactures another Romney smear

Ezra Klein’s lie: Now you see it, now you don’t!

‘Fact checker’ Ezra Klein doubles down on Janesville GM auto plant lie


Lying liars at Esquire double down, falsely claim they disclosed former Navy SEAL’s eligibility for VA benefits

Read more:

He Was Homeless for 30 Years, But This Man Still Has Some Serious Talent.

Ryan is a homeless man. He has called the streets of Edmonton, Canada, his home for over 30 years. One day, he came across a public piano in Churchill Square and started playing the most beautiful music.

People were shocked by what he could do.

(Source: VVRoz P)

Ryan later said that he was raised in a foster home before being adopted by a loving Christian family. He later married and had a daughter, but when his daughter was 9 years old, she and her mother died in a car crash. After feeling like he didn’t have anyone left in life, he chose to live on the streets.

Ryan says that his love for Jesus and music keeps him going, and that he is completely self-taught. He learned to play piano by going into music stores.

Hopefully his passions keep him strong throughout the rest of his life.

Read more:

The Whiteness Of “Public Radio Voice”

As a black man, do I need to code-switch to be heard? A slightly different version of this piece originally appeared on

Chenjerai Kumanyika Linda Tindal

Last summer, I produced my first public radio piece as part of a week-long intensive radio workshop run by Transom. While writing my script, I was suddenly gripped with a deep fear about my ability to narrate my piece. As I read the script back to myself while editing, I realized that as I was speaking aloud I was also imagining someone else’s voice saying my piece. The voice I was hearing and gradually beginning to imitate was something in between the voice of 99% Invisible host Roman Mars and Serial host Sarah Koenig.

Those two very different voices have many complex and wonderful qualities and I’m a fan of those shows. They also sound like white people. My natural voice — the voice that I use when I am most comfortable — doesn’t sound like that. Thinking about this, I suddenly became self-conscious about the way that I instinctively alter my voice and way of speaking in certain conversational contexts, and I realized that I didn’t want to do that for my first public radio-style piece.

Of course, I’m not alone in facing this challenge. Journalists of various ethnicities, genders and other identity categories intentionally or unintentionally internalize and “code-switch” to be consistent with culturally dominant “white” styles of speech and narration. As I wrote my script for the Transom workshop piece, I was struggling to imagine how my own voice would sound speaking those words. This is partially because I am an African-American male, a professor, and hip-hop artist whose voice has been shaped by black, cultural patterns of speech and oratory. I could easily imagine my more natural voice as an interviewee or as the host of a news-style podcast about “African-American issues,” or even a sports or hip-hop podcast. Despite the sad and inexplicable disappearance of NPR shows like Tell Me More, I can find many examples of African-American hosts — like Tavis Smiley, John Hanson, Roland Martin, Bomani Jones, Freddie Coleman and Reggie Osse (Combat Jack) — of both of those kinds of media. But in my mind’s ear, it was harder to hear my voice, that is to say my type of voice, as the narrator of the specific kind of narrative, non-fiction radio piece that I was making.

Ira Glass of This American Life Neilson Barnard / Getty Images

I love listening to podcasts and public radio. I listen to them in my car, while chopping vegetables, while I’m working out, and when I should be doing other things (writing, grading, or producing my own podcast pieces.) The voices on podcasts and public radio are informed, interesting, gentle friends. They keep me company as they share important, entertaining, and sometimes tragic stories. But the timbre, accent, inflections, rhythm, metaphors, and references of these voices reflect class, region, ethnicity, gender, and other components of identity. Meanwhile — though I don’t have the statistics handy to prove this — my impression is that few of the hosts of popular narrative non-fiction podcasts and public radio programs like This American Life, Invisibilia, RadioLab, Startup, and Strangers are non-white. In short, very few of these hosts speak the way that I speak. This is one reason that some of my black and brown friends refuse to listen to some of my favorite radio shows and podcast episodes despite my most impassioned evangelical efforts.

I spoke to hip-hop artist, poet, author, doctoral student, and podcast skeptic A.D. Carson about this. He and I have produced both scholarly and artistic works together, but we don’t share the love of public radio.

Now I’m not sure I agree that all podcast voices are “warm coffee voices” and A.D. is clearly not moved by, or not aware of, the many different kinds of podcast and vocal styles that do exist if you know where to look. The problem is that you do really have to know where to look and if you don’t, then you might only be exposed to a narrow range of voices. This is why whether we agree or not, we all know what A.D. is talking about.

To give you a sense of how this affects me, here’s what I sound like as a hip-hop artist. Although I don’t speak this way all the time, it reflects an important aspect of my personality. I wrote it after I heard there would be no indictment in the Eric Garner case.

How can I bring that voice into my efforts as a radio producer? 

On the other hand, here is what happened with the Transom piece. I hear more code-switch than Chenjerai on my first effort.

Let me say I’m proud of this piece. It would be arrogant and lazy to expect my first piece to be amazing. So my issue isn’t about that. Some of what bothers me is just problems with poor writing choices. At times, I wrote with in a voice that isn’t my own (“Fisherman with Capital F”? What does that even mean?). What bothers me most when I listen to this piece is that I’m acutely conscious of the way I’m adjusting my whole experience/method of inhabiting my personality. My voice sounds too high in pitch, all the rounded corners of my vernacular are awkwardly squared off. I’ve flattened the interesting aspects of my voice. On the suggestion of Samantha Broun and Jay Allison of Transom, I tried to re-record part of that piece to better understand and illustrate these subtle differences.

When I hear this rerecorded piece, I’m not sure how much more effective it is, but I feel better listening to it. My voice is calmer, but hopefully not boring. In place of “Fisherman with a Capital F,” I allowed myself to get passionate for a moment about my subject’s fishing credentials. Overall, I feel more centered and I sound like myself, rather than sounding like myself pretending to be a public radio host.

Protestors in Ferguson, Missouri in November Scott Olson / Getty Images

Different hosts with different voices tell different kinds of stories. I make this point because there are many public radio programs that go to significant lengths to include the voices of underrepresented groups. These voices most often appear as people who are interviewed, but this is not the same has having hosts with different perspective and styles of speech.

In August and then again in November 2014, my wife and I traveled to Ferguson, Missouri. When we first got there in August, I remember talking to some young African-American males who lived on the street where Michael Brown was killed. I asked one why he thought that there had been such an uprising in Ferguson. In response, he reminded me that Michael Brown’s body had lain in the street for four hours (he said eight) before being picked up. Of course I had heard this before, but he made me feel it. I sat quietly for over 40 minutes and let him tell his own story his own way. His voice smoldered with conviction as he spoke. The deep resentment and frustration in his steady low tones pushed through any detachment or emotional distance that I might try to maintain. I felt the weight of Michael Brown’s body, and the weight of so many other lives in this young man’s voice. I wasn’t hearing his voice thrown in as a sound bite garnish to another host’s main dish. Instead, he was the narrator, assembling memories, images, emotions, and even speculation into his own multi-modal account. I would like to hear people who speak with voices like this young man’s voice as hosts and narrators on public radio shows and podcasts.

I can offer many examples of other voices that we don’t often get to hear as hosts. I think about my colleague Marilyn, an African-American female lecturer who speaks powerfully in various voices. Marilyn is from Chicago and when she speaks to me the way that she speaks at home, I learn all kinds of things about her, her family, Chicago, and life in general that don’t come across the same way when she speaks “professionally.” There’s no way to transcribe the music of her voice and that’s the point. You can only enter that world by hearing it yourself.

I also think about Uncle Carlos. My uncle-in-law Carlos lived part of his life in Ecuador and part of it in the Bronx. I remember him reminiscing about his recently deceased dog. Many people have a version of this kind of story, but no one can tell it the way my Uncle Carlos told it. “Oh man!” He would say, almost yelling at me! “You don’t understand the times that we,” (he and his dog) “got each other through!” “After he couldn’t walk so good, I would pick that dog up in my arms and carry him anywhere we need to go! You don’t get it man.” His voice — a beautiful mixture of New York and Ecuadorian English accents would cut into you. Then he would pause for long periods letting it sink in. This silence — the kind that is likely to be cut out in the editing process — was as important as his words. They were part of the unique rhythm and pace of his speech. He spoke loudly and passionately, too loudly and passionately for most public radio, but that’s the way our family communicates. I wonder what my Uncle Carlos would share with us if he were the host of a show.

Before I started writing this piece, this problem seemed simpler to me than it does now. That is because I was focusing on what I heard, and what I heard were the voices of white people on most of the popular public radio shows and podcasts. I didn’t want to hear it, but it would jump out at me despite my efforts to ignore it. Often, but not always, when I hear non-white journalists they also seem to be adjusting their vocal style of narration and reporting to what has come to be understood as professional.

However, as I dug deeper into this problem, I realized how tied up this phenomenon is with the broader complexities of speech, region, identity and dominant culture.

Certainly, there are real problems with diversity that many organizations are working to address, but these problems don’t only have to do with race. In fact, as I look across the landscape of popular podcasts, problems of representation regarding gender, ableism, sexual orientation, age, and other parameters of ethnicity might be even worse. I’m focusing on the racial aspects of this problem because this is how I personally experience the imbalance. I’m not saying that voices and styles of speech map on to the ethnicity of the speaker in any simple way. There is no single “authentic” African-American, Latino, Asian, Native American, or white way of speaking. To say otherwise would be to participate in a reductive and inaccurate essentialism of which I want no part.

However, I do think that there is what the Brazilian philosopher Paulo Freire called a “dominant syntax” and flowing from that is a narrow range of public radio and podcast host voices and speech patterns that have become extremely common. Public radio has become a kind of speech community with its own norms and forms of aesthetic capital. Just as it is not very common for me to hear a radio host with a thick South Boston accent, there is a whole range of vocal styles that are common in the African American, Latino, Asian American, and Native American cultures but rarely heard from hosts.

Which all raises the question: What or who is the public in public radio? The demographics of race and ethnicity are changing in the United States. The percentage of non-Hispanic whites in the U.S. population dropped to roughly 63% in 2014. Middle growth series projections estimate that by 2043 the “minority population” will constitute a numerical majority in the total U.S. population. Latinos are already the largest demographic in California. With these changing demographics come new stories, new languages, and new ways of speaking American English. The sound of public radio and podcasts must reflect this diversity if we are serious about social justice and encouraging active, constructive participation.

So what do we do?

There are two important takeaways from all of this.

1. Depending on who you are, and how you speak, you may not find many examples of voices and styles of storytelling that sound like yours.

It is not just about the kind of stories that non-white journalists tell. It’s also about the ways that vocal styles communicate important dimensions of human experience. When the vocal patterns of a narrow range of ethnicities quietly becomes the standard sound of a genre, we’re missing out on essential cultural information. We’re missing out on the joyful, tragic, moments and unique dispositions that are encoded in different traditions of oratory. Fortunately, there are organizations fighting for diversity in many areas of media. I recommend becoming involved with these efforts.

2. If you’re a radio producer or podcast host and your way of speaking is different from what you generally hear in radio and podcasts, produce many, many, podcasts in which you are the narrator.

As boring and cliché as it is, there is no substitute for practice, and there is actually no other way to develop your voice. I’m still working on being a more consistently productive journalist in this regard. There’s just no way around it: The more you get used to your recorded voice, and writing in your voice, the more confidence you will build.

Republished and edited with permission from, the DIY workshop and showcase for new public radio.

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