Rotten news for public-radio lovers: On Wednesday, listeners will hear the last of reporter Jon Christensen’s Nevada Variations series on KUNR-FM.
The show, which features a visit to each county in Nevada, has run for 17 months during the Morning Edition news program. But, even though the last episode—a visit to the “wild and weird wide-open spaces” of Lincoln County—already aired, the documentary series lives on. It has found new homes online. You can listen to the short radio segments at www.greatbasinnews.com and at the Las Vegas public-radio site, www.knpr.org/nevadavariations/list.cfm.
“If not for the Web, it would have vanished into the ether,” Christensen says. “Radio is even more ephemeral than print. You put your heart and soul into it, and it’s gone as soon as it’s broadcast. If you missed it, too bad.”
Christensen spent two years and racked up 6,081 miles trekking to each of Nevada’s 17 counties with a microphone and digital mini-disc recorder. The documentary, Nevada Variations, has 17 episodes of less than 10 minutes each.
Christensen says that KUNR News Director Brian Bahouth was a great resource during the taping of the segments.
“I learned everything I now know about producing sound-rich pieces for radio from him—including stuff I once knew and forgot that he helped me relearn,” Christensen says.
The idea for the series was serendipitous, says Florence Rogers, program director for KNPR-FM in Las Vegas.
“Jon came up with the concept exactly as I was looking for a documentary that would reflect the entirety of the state,” Rogers says. “Jon is such a superb writer. What [the series] shows to me is that, while we’re not the most popular state in the union, the diversity of landscape and people and issues is quite substantial.”
The recent piece, “Basques in Nevada,” which aired on Feb. 3, is a good example of the rich sounds that Christensen captured with his microphone.
“It’s easy to get linguistic whiplash at one of the many Basque festivals held throughout the year in northern Nevada,” the show begins. The recorded material captures a chaotic mess of multi-lingual dialogue, the sounds of chopping wood (by an axe-wielding female, no less) and the noisy interior of J.T. Bar & Restaurant, a Basque bar in Gardnerville.
Other episodes look at historic preservation in Carson City, wilderness on the edge of the nation’s fastest-growing metropolis, and the Burning Man festival in the Black Rock Desert. An episode taped in Nye County, “Yucca Mountain,” aired on Dec. 3, 2001, coinciding with President Bush’s recommendation that Yucca Mountain be named the nation’s first high-level radioactive waste dump. The show aired around the time the feds were holding hearings, and it was picked up by National Public Radio’s Living on Earth, a show that airs on about 300 stations nationwide.
“Half a million people listen to that show,” Rogers says. “[And they heard] the people who are going to be living close to Yucca Mountain talking about their own mixed feelings. They weren’t all against it. It reminds us how different we all are, even though we live in the same state.”