Joe Richman

Stories in Sound

Radio as an Empathy Machine

“Every audio story is an opportunity for alchemy in which the raw material of the world—interviews, archival footage, music, field recordings—are woven together and carefully sculpted into a narrative for the ear.”

Joe Richman is a Peabody Award-winning audio producer and the founder of Radio Diaries, a radio series that has helped pioneer a new form of citizen journalism. For two decades, Richman has worked with people to document their own lives, seeking to tell “the extraordinary stories of ordinary life,” as the show’s motto reads. He’s interested in the fusion of journalism and art, and the power of radio to act as an empathy machine.

Richman is drawn to stories that turn statistics and stereotypes into actual people; stories that help us touch, smell, and feel; stories that reveal characters in three dimensions with all their contradictions, ambiguities, and flaws

Emily Thompson, from Teenage Diaries (Courtesy: Radio Diaries)
Emily Thompson, from Teenage Diaries.  Courtesy of Radio Diaries.

According to Richman, collecting stories is easy. That’s the fun part. The work, the craft, is turning all that material into something worth paying attention to. “Every audio story is an opportunity for alchemy in which the raw material of the world—interviews, archival footage, music, field recordings—are woven together and carefully sculpted into a narrative for the ear.”

Majd Abdulghani, from Majd’s Diary: Two Years in the life of a Saudi Girl, (Courtesy: Radio Diaries)
Majd Abdulghani, from Majd’s Diary: Two Years in the life of a Saudi Girl. Courtesy of Radio Diaries.

Richman sees collaboration with a mentee as an opportunity to push his own boundaries, assumptions, and preferences. He’s interested in experimenting with performance and live music to bring radio documentaries to new audiences. Richman would like to find a mentee with a spirit of experimentation, a passion for nonfiction storytelling and, most importantly, someone with a good story.

Listen to Joe Richman’s thoughts on
mentoring and Stories in Sound

Richman is based in New York City, where he runs Radio Diaries, a nonprofit organization. He also teaches journalism and audio documentary at Columbia University and Princeton University.

Note: The word “radio” is used here to describe all types of audio stories, not just the ones that come out of a radio.

Listen to Joe Richman’s podcast