How ‘Live Wire’ Reinvented Itself

by Admin PRX

Dear Colleagues,

We're in an incredibly disruptive time. Everything is different now, and the changes just keep coming.

Today I'd like to share a conversation with a show I think has absolutely risen to the occasion. The team at Live Wire has done more than simply modify, they've fully leaned in. Rather than tweaking, they looked at the disruption as a moment to reconsider everything, beginning with a simple question: If we were to create the show today, what would it sound like?

I'll turn it over to the Live Wire team tell the story of how they're enthusiastically embracing a hard moment, and in doing so, they're making better radio than ever. Enjoy!

-Shona Koester
Chief Strategy Officer, PRX


Laura Hadden, Executive Producer: Live Wire has been recorded in front of a live audience for 16 years. The energy and presence of a few hundred slightly buzzed Portlanders have been central to our identity as a show, our business model, and even our name. But when COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the remainder of our season of live shows, we realized we had two options: we could release reruns as if nothing had happened OR we could entirely reimagine the show.

Within days, Host Luke Burbank and myself were on the phone talking about what a new show could sound like. We recognized that our time slot on stations is a privilege and agreed that we had a responsibility to deliver the most responsive content during these wild and terrifying times. Out of this crisis, we found permission to experiment with what a brand new show could sound like and rebuilt the show from the ground up. And so the Live Wire House Party, a weekly series of episodes recorded from home (including announcer Elena Passarello’s actual closet), was born! 

So with our previous format rendered impossible, how did we decide what to do?

LH: We decided to replicate what we were all doing in our personal lives: trying to maintain friendships, intimacy, and joy through virtual platforms. Luke and Elena’s dynamic is electric on stage, but equally so in real life (getting them to redirect their banter during meetings is one of the most delightful and difficult parts of my job). I think their rapport, natural curiosity, and ability to make guests feel comfortable is truly the heart of the show, so we decided to lean into that. 

We were also able to repurpose some of our audience engagement by asking our followers on social media to respond to a weekly prompt that we would then discuss on the show, so we still maintain the spontaneity and connection that comes with audience involvement.

Luke Burbank, Host: Even though we’re at our homes now, I really wanted to keep the energy that we get from being on stage, the sense that we kind of don’t know what might happen next, and we’ve been able to do that, while also booking guests who are relevant to the moment we’re all in, whether it’s the pandemic, or Black Lives Matter, we’ve been having conversations that sound like the conversations the listeners are having in real life, and I’m proud of that. 

Of the episodes recorded so far, what were some memorable moments?

LH: In terms of booking guests, we wanted to hear deeply empathetic people responding to the unprecedented times we were living in, processing it alongside us, responding to it creatively, and maybe adding some levity and laughs along the way. I wanted to make some radio comfort food and bring it to the potluck that is public radio, if you will. 

With this in mind, we asked Cheryl Strayed for advice, were serenaded by Jeff Tweedy and his sons, and escaped into the legacy of Mr. Rogers with François Clemmons. Many of the segments were also sourced from troubleshooting issues from our real lives. Luke genuinely needed a haircut, so we had my personal hairstylist call-in and coach him on how to do it over Zoom. I was struggling with balancing working from home full-time and providing childcare, so we talked to podcast host Nora McInerny who was (humorously) finding her way through the same challenge and offered some much-needed perspective...



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