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  Sierra Magazine
  November/December 2008
Table of Contents
Ice Manliness Cometh
A Six-Dog-Power Engine
I (Heart) Snowshoeing
Skiing Yellowstone
Welcome Back to the World
Rotten Fish Tales
Big Fun in the Green Zone
Hey Mr. Green
Comfort Zone
Mixed Media
Last Words
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Mixed Media

Radio | Books


Watershed Moments

Need a break from monotonous traffic updates during your morning commute? If you’re in the Chesapeake Bay region, you can tune in to learn all about the 64,000-square-mile watershed instead. Since early 2000, four of us from the Sierra Club’s Maryland Chapter have produced Watershed Radio, a daily one-minute program that is provided free to ten stations in New York, Virginia, and Maryland. "Watershed is like National Public Radio’s popular StarDate series," says Janis Oppelt, a writer-producer, "only a little more down-to-earth." Each program focuses on a specific aspect of Chesapeake Bay: plants and animals, ecologically sensitive places, environmental threats, reflections on how the watershed has changed with urbanization, or advice to listeners on preserving and restoring the ecosystem.

By the end of 2001, we had produced more than 350 Watershed programs, with titles like "Invasion of the Horseshoe Crabs," "UV and the Bay," and "Neighborhood Nest Watch." Most stations broadcast the programs during morning and afternoon "drive time." "With our area’s gridlock problems," says Oppelt, "people spend a lot of time in their cars listening to the radio. It’s a good opportunity to remind them of the natural world."

Watershed Radio began with a simple ad in the Maryland Chapter’s newsletter in 1999. Struck by how little I heard or saw about Chesapeake Bay in the mainstream media, I placed the ad to see who was out there with the energy, interest, and skills to develop a radio series.

The first to respond was Dr. Robin Jung, a herpetologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Maryland, who is also a talented singer and musician. With a little training from veteran television and radio narrator (and Sierra Club member) Lary Lewman, Jung became the voice of the new series.

Two more volunteers followed: science writer Oppelt and Andy Roberts, a writer, musician, and recording engineer. We called our series Watershed Radio because of the Chesapeake Bay focus and our belief that the struggle to save the region’s environment–now home to 15 million people–was approaching a critical moment.

Another Sierra Club volunteer, artist Tom Chalkley, created the series logo, a duck quacking into an old-time microphone in the middle of a rain shower. The volunteers quickly became known as "the Ducks," and set to work producing a monthly CD with 19 to 23 programs for delivery to radio stations.

Each one-minute program contains just 42 seconds of new material–and fewer than 100 words–presenting a serious editing challenge. "Once we mastered the haiku of radio," says Jung, "I was surprised how much we could communicate in a minute." Watershed Radio begins with the screech of a red-tailed hawk, an opening sound montage, and Jung’s words, "From the Blue Ridge to the Bay . . . It’s Watershed."

Last year, radio stations began asking for more material. We experimented with doing a two-minute program, but that more than doubled our workload. So with the help of a longtime ally, the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, we created a companion Web site that is integrated with each radio program:

The program’s reach is expanding in other ways, too. Eddy Yinkey, a high school biology teacher in Gaithersburg, Maryland, has used it to set the tone at the beginning of her classes. "It helps my students focus their attention and their thinking," Yinkey says. "We do research and follow-up activities based on the program."

The potential for a series like Watershed is limited only by our imaginations and our resources. People always want to know about nature in the place they live. --Chris Bedford

For more information, contact Watershed Radio, Maryland Chapter/Sierra Club, 7338 Baltimore Ave., Suite 101A, College Park, MD 20740.

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