Thursday, March 17, 2011

Liane Hansen, up close and professionally . . .

Martha note: WMRA is giving about 300 WMRA-ers a chance to get to know Weekend Edition Sunday's retiring host, Liane Hansen, by bringing her to Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton next Tuesday evening. 
Liane's been at NPR for 35 years. I don't know about you, but I, personally, wanted a sense of what it's been like to work with her. So naturally, I thought of Becky . . .

Becky Martinez's alter-ego, Talula Bankrobber, ready to rumble with the Rocktown Rollers 
Long ago before Rebecca Martinez became a reporter for the Staunton News Leader, she interned at WMRA. From there she went up to NPR as a summer intern. After that she spent a couple of years at NPR, working in what's fondly called "Temp Hell," working for whatever NPR News show needed temporary help. 
One of her most frequent (and, as you will read below, rewarding) stops was working with Liane Hansen on Weekend Edition Sunday. 
To celebrate next week's visit and to address my own curiosity about what Liane Hansen's like as a colleague, I asked Becky to jot down some reminiscences about what it was like to work alongside The Woman! Here's what Becky had to say . . .
It was bizarre, at first, actually working with Liane Hansen at Weekend Edition Sunday. Well, at WESUN, as everybody in “the building” calls it. But it was also my most rewarding time there.

I had interned at WESAT — yes, Weekend Edition Saturday — the summer after graduating from JMU, but the large intern pool dissipates at the end of each season. Most of my peers went on to grad school or other jobs, but a few of us held on for dear life as temps. Temps at NPR are at the mercy of the shows, filling in for editors and producers who are gone on vacation, maternity leave, etc. A week here, a month there. Once a contract ended, we’d scramble around the shows looking for new work.

WESUN was my first temp gig, and I worked there for six blessed months. I was a bit star struck meeting Liane, who was gracious and welcoming to me. I’d been introduced to the people belonging to famous voices around the building including Robert Siegel, Nina Totenberg and Scott Simon, but it was working under Liane's example that I learned the ropes of public radio production.

The first thing I noticed was how incredibly versatile she was in her work. She could jump around among arts and culture and war and politics, becoming equally engrossed in each and springing back to her feet. In a given day, she could pre-record the week’s Puzzle segment with Will Shortz and a guest, joking and playing along, and move into another studio to conduct interviews — presidential candidates, pundits —in a far more sober tone.

Benazir Bhuto
After a week of trying to book former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, I received confirmation at 4 a.m. on a Sunday that she was ready to talk. By the time I got to the office, Liane was in the studio, chatting with one of the most famous and controversial female leaders in the world. Bhutto was assassinated the following month.
Behind every great radio host is a team of people with varying skills working to make her look good, to write the scripts in her voice, to accommodate her feedback. Liane was a team player, who was open to suggestion, and could make an inspired idea into an engaging reality. She also worked her way up from the bottom and treated me as a professional from the first day, even as I was unsure of my skills.

She jumped on my idea of exploring Maryland’s program to let people live in historic buildings if they pay for the upkeep. We were driving to a farm house by the end of the week.

Hazelwood in Upper Marlboro MD is a Resident Curator property of the Maryland National Park and Planning Commission
Liane is a woman of faith and progressive values. It’s because of her that I’ve grown to admire Benedictine nun and activist Sister Joan Chittister. After work one day, Liane took me to see C.S. Lewis’s “The Screwtape Letters” at the Lansburgh Theater.

Liane loves life. I had so much fun working on stories about food and music with her. She loves her children. She loves tap dancing. She loves stories and people. And I loved getting to know her during my formative time at WESUN.

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