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

Radio enthusiasts tune in to Missoula’s first podcast festival

While the crowd gathered for a sold out event at The Roxy Theater turned their eyes towards the big screen, it was their ears that did the work. This was the first Missoula Podcast Festival, and those in attendance were partaking in the unique experience of group listening as a full theater absorbed Montana centric radio stories.

Jule Banivlle stands on stage at the festival and sets up the next group of stories.
Jule Banville introduces the next set of stories to the audience. Photo by Evan Frost.

The podcasts, which ranged in length and subject matter, were independently produced by authors with connections to Missoula and curated by Jule Banville, an assistant professor at the School of Journalism.

“I’m excited that we’re podcasting, and about where this is going,” Banville said to open the show. Many of the stories were produced by past and present students of Banville, who teaches audio reporting and feature writing. Banville said she first conceived the idea of the podcast festival as a showcase for student work, but later expanded it to include other producers.

“It’s about the stories,” she said. “There are too few places for people who are doing cool radio stories.” Banville also hosts a podcast of her own online called Last Best Stories, where she posts both her own work and others.

The stories she chose ran from the heartbreaking, like the story of an avid outdoorsman who lost the use of his legs, to the lighthearted, like a piece about a small town 80s cover band with very big dreams. The voices of every day and unique Montanans were well represented, as were issues of race, sexuality, and environmental change.

Creative visuals danced across a large screen, changing color and design with each story.
Creative visuals danced across a large screen, changing color and design with each story. Photo by Evan Frost.

In the theater on Thursday, an audio visualizer played on the big screen in ever changing colors. Between the story blocks producers talked about the art of creating podcasts. That was it for visuals however. The crowd mostly listened in silence, except when they gasped, laughed or sighed.

By Andrew Graham