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Faces of NPR: Bobby Carter

Bobby, Bert and Ernie on NPR's Tiny Desk
Bobby, Bert and Ernie on NPR's Tiny Desk

Faces Of NPR showcases the people behind NPR--from the voices you hear every day on the radio to the ones who work outside of the recording studio. You'll find out about what they do and what they're inspired by on the daily. This week, we feature Bobby Carter, Producer of Tiny Desk.

The Basics:

Name: Bobby Carter

Twitter Handle: @DJCuzzinb

Job Title: Producer, Tiny Desk

Where you're From: St. Louis, MO.

Q: How did you get into this position?

It kinda happened on accident. Following my internship, my career started in Digital Media. The goal has always been to work with music, so there was no NPR Music yet when I started. I had to dibble and dabble in what I could at the time. So once NPR Music was created, I would participate in year-end wrap-ups and contribute in other ways. I would stream all of the music events to learn the ins and outs of the team. Once Tiny Desk was rolling, I garnered the courage to pitch an act to play Tiny Desk. Once I started producing more Tiny Desks, it got to a point where I had one foot in Music and one foot in Digital Media. That's when I began to pursue a permanent role with the Music team with the help and encouragement of my then supervisor Malik Abdullah. Long story short, I started as an associate producer for Tiny Desk in 2018. I've been producing Tiny Desk concerts since 2014. Which gives you an indication of how long the process was.

Q: Greatest accomplishment at NPR?

My greatest accomplishment and this may sound a little cliche, but I found my voice at NPR. I could've easily stayed and probably retired from Digital Media. But Malik showed me that I hadn't tapped into my full potential yet. So my greatest accomplishment is first: learning who I am in this place and what I'm able to contribute to this organization. And then also helping to diversify the NPR audience through Tiny Desk and bringing young people of color into the fold here.

Q: Favorite Tiny Desk?

There are so many. Sesame Street is one just because of how happy it made everyone. The feeling of that couple of days of production. There was so much joy throughout the entire building. That Tiny Desk was a real company-wide effort. The whole process was fulfilling. It made lots of people young and old really, really happy. Another one of my favorite shows is Freddie Gibbs and Madlib. That is my favorite hip-hop Tiny Desk concert by far. It just was so well executed. Abby (O'Neill) brought in Freddie Gibbs, who was hitting his peak as an emcee. But the magic was the band⁠—El Michels Affair. They could recreate the sounds that Madlib created live in a space that I haven't heard in a long time. That was rapping and musicianship at the highest level.

Q: What Tiny Desk do you want to make happen?

Anita Baker. That's my dream. If I get Anita baker I'm done. Get me outta here, I'm retiring. I'm trying like hell. Then you have the ones that everybody wants. People want Kendrick Lamar, people want Radiohead, there's the ones that everybody wants.

Q: What do you wish you knew when you were growing up?

I wish I knew earlier on that my perspective was unique. I wish I spoke up more for myself when I was younger. I don't think the younger generation in our organization have this problem as much. I see such a go-getter mentality in the kids today. I come from the culture of going to school, getting a job, keeping a job. I had some stagnant years at NPR because I settled. I chose to do my thing and stay out of the way. It took a long time to grow out of that mentality. Being more assertive and you deserve more is what I would tell a young version of myself.

Q: Are you satisfied with NPRs progression?

We have a ways to go. Over the past couple of years, some of the optics may have changed, the needle is starting to move a little bit. The conversations are on the table. Big ups to Whitney for that. John too. I appreciate his transparency. That's a step in the right direction, but we're talking years upon years of discrepancies that we're trying to correct. This subject was only truly broached a couple of years ago. But what happens when the microscope is off the topic of inequity? That's what I think about, and only time will tell.

Q: What do you think NPR needs to do?

Take a good look at upper management. I take the climate surveys but there's still a lack of diversity in our leadership. And for me, it starts there.

Q: What was your dream job growing up?

When I was a young kid I wanted to be a comedian. I wanted to be Eddie Murphy. I was terrible in school early on because my only goal was to make people laugh. That was first, and then radio. I looked up to all of the DJs. Once I started to learn the business and learned that there was more to radio than just playing the music or the personality, I majored in broadcast production. I got lucky to still work in radio - the thing that I studied.

Q: Tell me about growing up in St. Louis.

St. Louis is an interesting place. It's influenced by so much around. St. Louis is all about hard work. That's where I initially got my work ethic. My style and my taste, it's still from my city. There's a lot of love there. It's small and country but the people are loud and proud. That place instilled a lot of pride in me. If you meet someone from St. Louis, they're gonna let you know where they're from right away. So much of what I love is still there, which is why I still call it home over 20 years since I've lived here.

Q: Do you have any other advice for young people trying to be in your position?

Bring your whole self. That's the magic. That sounds crazy, but it's true. When I talk to young people here now, I always encourage them to bring their whole self. After all, I was scared to do that for a long time because I was afraid that I would be a threat to somebody or I was intimidated by somebody, you know what I mean? Don't be afraid of that. That's what's gonna set you apart from everybody else. I felt like I made an impact once I decided to be me unapologetically. Obviously, as a young professional, you want to fit in, and you don't want to ruffle feathers from the jump and that's understandable. But find a way and use your voice. Now is the best time to do that. When you asked me earlier, do I see anything changing, that's the part that I think is changing. Diversity and inclusion are in the business model now, so speak up!

Q: How was dealing with your mother with cancer?

Very tough. My mother raised us as a single woman. That's my lady. So to hear the first person that you looked to, your protector so vulnerable and scared, it shakes you to the core. My mother is a faithful person but cancer runs in my family. The diagnosis feels like a death sentence at first. She handled it with so much grace and strength. I was back and forth between Maryland and St. Louis all summer to try to help her through it. I'm thankful that she is cancer-free right now. It's a blessing, I'm so just grateful.

Q: How is it as a Black man at NPR protecting your peace in moments of adversity?

Early in my career, I struggled through adversity I faced as a young Black man at NPR. Especially as one of the only Black faces in the room. My thought was "Now that I'm here, I gotta help create an opportunity for someone like me but not at the risk of intimidating people and disrupting the status quo." It was a real dilemma. The paths for growth were limited for a long time. Management made me aware of that on a few occasions. I forged through, let go, and I've grown. I find my peace in understanding what I can control and helping other people of color navigate their way. Also focusing on the things that I still love about NPR.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.