#CoveringCOVID is a virtual series of one-on-one interviews with our reporters, where we pull back the curtain to better understand how they do their jobs and how the pandemic has changed it all.
This week WBUR CitySpace events and programming manager Alex Schneps interviews Radio Boston producer Chris Citorik.
Chris: My name is Chris Citorik. I'm a producer for Radio Boston. I'm also our go-to sports expert and have done some reporting on politics as well.
Alex: What is Radio Boston, and what do you do as a producer?
Chris: Radio Boston is an interesting cross-section between news and conversation. So we try to bring some of the most interesting newsmakers, decision makers, issues to the forefront and then also provide a platform for the community to talk about them and to ask questions and to tell us what's resonating with them and what they want to know more about. So, as a producer, that means, on a logistical level, I might get one of three segments on that day's show. And I'm in charge of making sure we have the right guests, making sure we have all the background research, any sound clips that we want to use. Basically structuring that conversation to make sure that it's as informative and entertaining.
Alex: It's inherent in the title, but you guys are strictly local?
Chris: That's right. That's right. And we see ourselves as kind of the flagship local show of the station where we have so much great national content. Radio Boston really is a place where the focus can be on what's happening in our backyard.
Alex: Can you break down a little bit how the show operated pre-pandemic?
Chris: There was no usual day, basically. Often once or twice a week, we would have an entire show planned and a breaking news story that afternoon would mean we have to scrap that show and start a new one at about 1:30 in the afternoon and be ready to go for 3:00. A lot of times we would have some sort of hard news in the top of the show. We might have something that's more of a deep dive in the B segment, as we call it. And then in the C segment, we would usually feature something maybe arts related or culture. That has changed drastically in the last six weeks for sure. This is a moment where we really have been able to provide a service for listeners. We did two or three weeks straight of every day having a large chunk of the show carved out with two medical experts for folks to call in and just ask questions. That was incredible. I mean, we would start the show and the phones would light up like that.
Alex: I am particularly curious to know about your time in the station. You were part of what WBUR has called the "at bat" team, meaning that you were there from the time that everybody else at the station went home through until very recently. So what was that like?
Chris: Really, it changed in about 24 hours. I think the digital team went home first and then the next day a huge portion of the station shifted to work from home. There were maybe twenty five or thirty of us left total in the building throughout the entire cycle. It was those same folks every day coming in and making sure we're staying on the air and that all the folks who are now working remotely are able to connect and get all the sound in and function in an efficient way. It really drove home kind of the seriousness of the moment, I think, but also just how unprecedented the situation is. I mean, I've never seen anything like this, obviously.
Alex: Can you talk a little bit more about the flow of how a show is operating now? Because I think people might be underestimating just how difficult it is.
Chris: There are a ton of moving pieces. And the first thing is obviously your host is connected remotely so you don't have line of sight, which is a huge deal if you've ever been into a radio station. Most control rooms have a glass window, so whoever the on air talent is has a line of sight to the director. We don't have that any more. You're kind of feel like you're flying in the dark, feeling your way. The next piece is guests. You have to shuffle your guests on and off. We'll have 60 second breaks where we have to say goodbye to another guest, bring another guest on, make sure they're there, make sure their sound is good, try to get a level and then, "OK, now you're on. Go live." But right now, Walter Wuthmann, one of the other producers on the show, is our call screener. And so he'll talk to folks at the station. That's where the physical phone line is. So that's where they have to call. He picks up the phone, talks to them, gets kind of a sense of what they want to talk about on air. He'll put them on hold, communicate with Hitesh [Hathi], who is directing and Glenn [Alexander], who is our technical director. And then they show up on a screen in Tiziana [Dearing]'s house where she sees the name and the town they're calling from and kind of a general sense of what they want to talk about and she'll bring the caller on. But again, it's all kind of done in the dark, because when she wants to transition from a caller back to a guest, we kind of just have to hear that in her voice and and know when the right time to pop the caller down is or to bring the volume on the caller down and to make sure that the guests volumes are up. And so it it almost seems like those, you know, the halftime show, you've got the guy with like 12 different plates spinning in the air. That's that's kind of what it feels like, I'd say, on a daily basis.
Alex: Do you think that there is a near future in which that's going to start to change? Are you getting a sense from your listeners that people want something else?
Chris: Realistically, it's going to be a big part of our lives for the next few months at least, if not longer. Those conversations will change a little bit. But it will still be the primary focus. It might be, how do we reopen certain sectors of the economy, or what does the entertainment industry start to look like, or the sports world? Does that come back? There'll be schools and daycare facilities and the choices parents are making. They're going to be so many different areas where this is impacting our life.
Alex: Well, speaking of parenting, you yourself are a parent. How has this experience been for you?
Chris: I have a four and a half year-old son and a 1 year-old son. And I'm grateful, honestly, that they're not older. I feel so much for parents who have to talk about this in a real, deep, meaningful way with their kids. My four and a half year-old, Evan, he knows there's a, he calls it "the cough cold". He knows it's a bad "cough cold" going around. It doesn't go deeper than that. And I'm really grateful for that because it's a lot to put on adults never minds kids to have to think about this as they're going about their lives.
Alex: What advice do you have for people who still don't know how to navigate this?
Chris: You have to unplug sometimes. I think whatever that means for you. I'm not saying ignore that this is happening and live your life recklessly, but I think you have to find your escape and you can you can tune back in when when you're ready or when you need more information or when something important is happening, but you can't live in it 24/7 or you'll just drive yourself insane.
Alex: Well, I think that's great advice. And we should unplug from this Zoom call now.
Chris: [laughs] Alright. Sounds good. It's great to hear from you, Alex.
Alex: Good to hear from you, Chris. For anybody who is watching, you can check out all of WBUR's coronavirus coverage at wbur.org/coronavirus and tune in to Radio Boston every day during the week and all the other programs we've got on 90.9 F.M. Thanks so much, Chris.
Chris: Thanks for having me.
Producer - Alex Schneps
Assistant Producer - Candice Springer
Technical Advisor - Niall Foley
Music and Audio Mixing - Adam Straus
Animation - Michael Diffin