New York City (November 14, 2003)–There’s an old theory that if you stand in the middle of New York City’s Grand Central Station long enough, sooner or later everyone that you’ve ever met will walk by. Combine that with the equally old adage that ‘everybody has a story,’ and you can see the wisdom behind StoryCorps’ 9-by-12-foot interview room–a StoryBooth–which debuted last month inside the famous train station.The StoryBooth, conceived to encourage Americans to tell their stories in their own words, and to capture these tales, has soundproof walls, comfortable seats and a pair of Neumann TLM 103 microphones.
People can bring friends or family members into the StoryBooth, set up by StoryCorps visionary David Isay, to conduct broadcast-quality oral history interviews with the guidance of a trained facilitator. The facilitator helps create a question list and handles the technical aspects of the recording. At the end of the forty-minute session, the participants walk away with a CD of their interview. With their permission, a second copy will become part of an archive housed in a high-quality digital format at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. This collection will eventually grow into an oral history of America. Each interview costs $10.
The experience has been a hit. David Streich, a commuter who passes by the booth every day, sat down for an interview with friend Michael Hunt soon after the booth opened. “I loved it; as soon as I saw it, I knew I had to be a part of it,” said Streich. “We went in and talked about the wacky adventures we’ve had in Grand Central Station over the years. We also talked about how the entrance to Track 11 used to be the entrance to a movie theater; commuters once watched newsreels in there while they waited for their trains. A lot of stories were told in that theater, so the StoryBooth seems to follow in that tradition. Next, I’m going to go back with my son and I also want to get my dad in there, too.”
Isay, a MacArthur “genius award” Fellow and award-winning radio documentary producer from New York City’s Sound Portraits Productions, came up with the idea as a way to bring the craft of oral history to everyday Americans while chronicling the life and times at the dawn of the 21st century. “The idea of StoryCorps is only a few months old, but it’s taking off in ways I’d never imagined,” Isay said. “It’s more like a movement than a project.”
Aside from the room’s warm and comfortable ambience and the presence of a skilled facilitator able to draw the stories out, Isay believes that the Neumann microphones will play a key role in the project’s flagship booth. Noted Isay, “In my 15 years of doing radio I’ve only used one type of microphone. In the field and in the studio, it’s Neumann. In my book, Neumann is the only brand of microphone that has quality and precision fine enough capture the voice of this nation.”
The project has been initially funded with a $50,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, with additional support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Carnegie Foundation and public radio’s WNYC. Isay expects the project to go nationwide by February 2004.
Sound Portraits Productions