Soundprint on the World

November 25, 1993

Over the past two decades or so, National Public Radio and its daily signature productions -- "All Things Considered" and "Morning Edition" -- have done much to alter America's listening habits. Instead of mere headlines and sound bites, millions of Americans have been able to get intelligent and penetrating analyses of their own country and the world on radio.

Six years ago, a new weekly public radio documentary series hit the airwaves. Called "Soundprint," it is produced by WJHU-FM (88.1), the public radio station of Baltimore's Johns Hopkins University, and carried by 205 other stations throughout the nation.

Last winter, "Soundprint" organized a collaboration among English-speaking documentary producers. It resulted in a 15-part series examining cultural similarities and differences co-produced by the BBC, Canadian Broadcasting Corp., the Australian Broadcasting Corp., and Ireland's Radio Telefis Eireann.

Recently, "Soundprint" took a further step toward widening its reach. It brought 40 participants from 15 countries -- ranging from Argentina to Zimbabwe -- to Baltimore for an unprecedented four-day workshop to develop links in international programming and co-production.

The keynote speaker was William Siemering, who was NPR's first program director. He later moved to Baltimore and created "Soundprint."

The recipient of a $345,000 MacArthur grant, he is now crisscrossing the world to bring public radio, U.S.-style, to emerging democracies from South Africa to Slovakia. He hailed radio's crucial influence in changing societies but lamented that so many foreign stations were willing to become merely local copies of American pop outlets.

"Soundprint" is a small operation. Its annual budget is just over $500,000. But it is a big concept in creative broadcasting which has global distribution potential. Baltimoreans ought to be proud of "Soundprint" -- and WJHU.

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