Rest Stop Radio: The Newest J-School Podcast

rest-stop-radio-logoThe Advanced Audio class at the J-school just launched a podcast called Rest Stop Radio, telling the stories of human beings on the road. The stories come from people driving along Montana’s section of I-90, which covers the most miles of the longest interstate in the US.


Students talked with travelers at I-90 rest stops and recorded the conversations to get each story. In case of a lull, students carried playing cards with questions written on them that their traveler could choose to answer too. The class voted on a set of questions prior to reporting that helped set them up for success. Asking anything from ‘what do you miss the most?’ to ‘what’s the deal with those pants?’ the cards led to more genuine and intimate reactions and opened the door to some reporting fun.

Cole Grant, a junior in the class, came up with the premise for the podcast at the beginning of the semester. “I’m used to traveling. I’m used to going up to random people and talking to them when I’m out and about, so it’s pretty normal, you just have the recorder.”

“The rejection they get out at the rest stop is really true to life as a journalist,” professor Jule Banville said. “It’s a great thing to interview strangers and get them to tell you intimate things about their lives.”

The recorder chased away a few potential travelers who were only willing to talk off-the-record. However, making a compelling radio piece out of a 15-minute conversation proved to be the most challenging aspect.

“It’s all kind of flying by the seat of your pants,” Grant said. “The roughest part is trying to bounce off what they’re saying and figure out if that’s the story. Usually you have the story and then you find the quotes, but here you’re finding the quotes and then digging in from there.”

The same week Rest Stop Radio premiered, NPR correspondent Susan Stamberg was in Missoula to deliver the annual J-school Dean Stone Lecture, and she stopped by Banville’s class.

“She was absolutely curious about what the students were up to. She listened to parts of the first and second episodes of Rest Stop Radio and was truly complimentary and supportive, but still told them what they could do to improve it,” Banville said. “She also loved the same thing I love about what the students are doing—how they’re doing these quick interviews that are actually meaningful because they’re getting people to talk about their lives.”

Grant hopes to continue the podcast over the summer when he’s not busy with his internship at MTPR. “It’s fun. I see no reason to stop, you could just do it yourself,” he said.

“It’s such a flexible idea. I think this project has tremendous potential,” Banville said. “Even Susan Stamberg said the students’ work sounds professional and fancy, and she would know!”

Rest Stop Radio’s first episode features a motorcyclist who used to run drugs on I-90, but turned his life around after an arrest. The pilot also includes a moving interview with a traveling IT professional who’s no longer able to spend much time with his kids. According to Banville, “The show ends on a funnier note—you’ll have to hear it for yourself.”

Tune in to Rest Stop Radio via their website, iTunes or SoundCloud, and be sure to check out Jule Banville’s podcast series Last Best Stories.

By Jana Wiegand

Staying Curious: NPR Host Susan Stamberg on Becoming a Veteran Journalist

On a Sunday afternoon in Paris, while walking through the Luxembourg Gardens, Susan Stamberg came across a woman holding a sign that said “Hello! Let’s Talk.” Stamberg sat down with her, and when 81-year-old Miss Lily discovered she worked as a radio correspondent for NPR, she asked, “Well, don’t you want to interview me?”


“Do lobsters want to fly? Of course,” Stamberg said, relating the tale to the audience at UM, gathered for the School of Journalism’s annual Dean Stone Lecture. Each spring the UM School of Journalism honors its founder, Dean Arthur Stone, and current journalism students with a two-night celebration featuring a guest lecturer followed by an awards banquet.

Miss Lily told Stamberg about a certain loneliness that she saw in people that she hoped to ease by getting more strangers to talk to each other. As a journalist, Stamberg related to Miss Lilly’s mission because she always tried to take her interviews with people to a more intimate level and advised students to do the same.

“Don’t accept ‘fine’ as an answer. Tell me what’s really happening. Go deeper,” Stamberg said. “After talking with Miss Lily I felt like I was walking on joy. It was such a serendipitous experience. I look for her every time I’m back in Paris.”

Stamberg started working at NPR in 1971 as a tape editor, but started hosting All Things Considered the following year. In the US, she became the first woman to anchor a nightly news broadcast fulltime. “It was a time when anything was possible at NPR,” Stamberg said. “We were still inventing ourselves, so we got to do everything.”

Susan Stamberg took questions from the audience after her talk.
Susan Stamberg took questions from the audience after her talk. Photo by Alyssa Rabil.

Dean of the UM School of Journalism, Larry Abramson, worked with Stamberg at NPR for many years, often sharing a ride to the office together. “Susan, for me, and for her followers, led the pathway out of a stiffer kind of journalism,” he said. “She showed that you can be a good journalist and be passionate, without sacrificing your objectivity.”

Stamberg also shared stories about her work with professor Jule Banville’s Advanced Audio class earlier that day. Her favorite pieces covered individuals’ personal achievement, “especially in the face of vigorous challenges.”

“Students asked her about her curiosity, how she keeps it sharp after all these years of reporting and interviewing,” Banville said. “She told them, ‘it’s not so much about style as it is about curiosity.’ I wrote it on the board because I thought it was so insightful.”

Later, Stamberg joked, “I am getting worse at remembering things, but I guess that’s why God invented Google.”

Yet having now worked at NPR for 45 years, she credited her genuine curiosity to the fact that she’s a life-long learner. After growing up as an only child, Stamberg also maintained her desire to reach out to new people, understand and befriend them.

“Susan’s an extremely diligent listener,” Larry Abramson said. “She can show the students how important it is in broadcast, and in journalism in general, to be a good listener.”

Stamberg took the time to listen to parts of Banville’s class’s brand new podcast series, Rest Stop Radio, offering feedback and sharing in their excitement.

“I’d always heard about how lovely and gracious she was, and now I know that’s the truth,” Banville said. “She made a huge impression on my students and on me, too. We were so lucky to get to know her.”

By Jana Wiegand

NPR producer, award-winning science writer to mentor 2016 Crown fellows

Two science journalists with a national reputation and a knack for working with young reporters will mentor this year’s recipients of the Crown Reporting Fellowship.

npr crown

NPR Senior Health and Science Producer Jane Greenhalgh will work with Nicky Ouellet, a second-year graduate student at the UM J-School, while Hillary Rosner, an independent science and environment writer, will mentor first-year graduate student Katy Spence.

“Both mentors are stellar journalists who know the region and have ample experience in covering science and the environment,” said Henriette Lowisch, director of the Master’s Program in Environmental Science and Natural Resource Journalism at The University of Montana. “Their guidance and example will be invaluable to our student fellows as they report, produce and pitch their stories from the Crown of the Continent.”

Ouellet’s radio feature will look at how decisions made by forest supervisors affect individuals and communities that depend on the Crown’s forest products for their livelihoods, while

Spence will report on how citizens on both sides of the US-Canadian border perceive the link between beavers and climate change.

While the students will report their stories in the field, their mentors will recommend sources, edit drafts and help place the final product in a regional or national publication.

Greenhalgh, a Portland-based producer and editor for National Public Radio who specializes in science and health coverage, said mentoring younger reporters was one of her favorite things at NPR. “I loved Nicky’s pitch so I’m excited at the prospect of working with her,” she said.

Rosner, an award-winning journalist who covers science and the environment for National Geographic, Wired, Scientific American and other publications, said she was excited about the chance to work on an important story with a young writer one-on-one. “Katy seems like a sharp and talented reporter, and I’m looking forward to seeing her project unfold,” the Colorado-based writer said.

Now in its second year, the Crown Reporting Project aims to advance quality storytelling on landscape-level conservation, conflicting demands for natural resources and community efforts to build climate resilience. It was inspired by Ted Smith, a pioneer of large-landscape conservation who recognized a need for journalists trained to engage communities by explaining the science behind the policies that affect our backyards.

In 2015, graduate students Ken Rand and Celia Talbot Tobin worked with Chris Joyce, of National Public Radio, and Ted Alvarez, of Grist and Backpacker Magazine, to report stories on aquatic invasive species and mining waste.

By Henriette Lowisch