Nfld. & Labrador

From Battery Radio to Radiolab, Annie McEwen is a radio star

Annie McEwen, a producer at the acclaimed American radio series and podcast Radiolab, credits mentorship from Chris Brookes and Battery Radio for shaping her career.

'If I hadn't moved to Newfoundland, I never would have gotten into radio'

Annie McEwen, a producer at Radiolab in New York City, discovered radio and audio storytelling during the six years she lived in St. John's. (wnycstudios.org)

"If I hadn't gone to Newfoundland, I never would have gotten into radio," says Annie McEwen,  a producer at Radiolab, the popular American radio series and podcast.

McEwen, originally from Dunrobin, Ontario, moved to St. John's in 2009 for the folklore master's program at Memorial University, and stayed for six years.  

As part of her studies at Memorial, she took a course in radio documentary, taught by internationally acclaimed local radio producer Chris Brookes of Battery Radio.

It was then that McEwen got hooked on audio storytelling.

'I'm in love!'

"Oh my God, this is amazing! This is it — I'm in love!" said McEwen of her exposure to radio documentary.

McEwen completed her degree at Memorial, working with and learning from Chris Brookes at Battery Radio as much as she could.  

"Chris was so good at being gently encouraging to me," said McEwen.

"He would apply for grants to make these amazing audio projects, and he would invite me to work with him on them," she continued.    

I was so lucky to have Chris Brookes as a mentor.- Annie McEwen , Producer, Radiolab  

"I was just so lucky to have him as a mentor."

A surprise break

McEwen went on to hone her skills in radio documentaries and sound art at the Transom Story Workshop in Massachusetts. She continued to build her resume through freelance audio projects.

Then, about three years ago, McEwen got a surprise offer.

"I was actually up in Cochrane, Ontario with a theatre group, on a lunch break and I was eating an egg sandwich on the side of the road," recalled McEwen.

"I decided to check Twitter on my phone, and I saw that the manager at Radiolab had sort of out-of-the-blue asked me, 'Hey, do you want to come down and try out working [with us]?"  

Prestige audio

Radiolab is a program run by WNYC Public Radio in New York City. It has about 10 million monthly listeners worldwide on public radio, including CBC Radio, and through its podcast.

The program has received many accolades, including multiple Peabody Awards, and its co-creator, Jad Abumrad, received a prestigious 2011 MacArthur Genius grant.

Jad Abumrad, left, and Robert Krulwich co-host Radiolab from NPR and WNYC. (Radiolab/Facebook)

On its website, Radiolab describes itself as a show that is "investigating a strange world," and makes science accessible to large audiences. 

"We look into anything that we're curious about," said McEwen.

Distinctive sound

McEwen has been working at Radiolab's office in downtown Manhattan for about three years.

McEwen said that the production sound of Radiolab is distinctive, with a unique rhythm to its storytelling style.  

"When we're making the story, we start with the music in the first draft," said McEwen.  

McEwen said she works on a wide variety of stories, including one exploring the question of what Neanderthals sounded like, and another on an unusual polar bear shot by an Inuk hunter in northern Canada.

Listen to Heather Barrett's report from Weekend AM

Annie McEwan tells us how learning about radio in St. John's led her to a job with public radio in New York City, and Heather checks out the Wild Mother Provisions Porridge Bar 23:56

St. John's, the ideal launchpad

McEwen said she highly recommends St. John's as a place for young people trying to figure out what to do with their lives.

"It's not expensive to live there. It is so supportive of the arts," said McEwen.

"So if you're someone who's finished school, and you're wandering around and you're feeling that you may be a bit of an artist ... It's a community that supports people with these dreams," she said.

"Without that, I would never, ever have gotten to where I am."  

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About the Author

Heather Barrett is the host and producer of Weekend AM on CBC Radio One in Newfoundland and Labrador.

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