Short Wave Team Q&A

3 hours ago

Short Wave says goodbye to host Maddie Sofia and answers questions about the future of the podcast.

Caption: Co-Hosts Emily Kwong and Maddie Sofia, who taped at NPR's headquarters before the pandemic. Now, they record from their home closets!
NPR

Listeners have gotten used to hearing Maddie and Emily together on the show. Maddie is leaving Short Wave in September. Emily will co-host with someone new. How do you feel about this change?

Maddie Sofia, Co-Host: I feel a lot of ways! Mostly, I will miss working with the incredible Short Wave team. What we've created is extremely special. And we did it in a way that supported, challenged, and lifted each other up. I'll miss being a part of a show that made so many feel seen and fall in love with science for the first time.

Emily Kwong, Co-Host: Not gonna lie — I sobbed when Maddie told me she was leaving. The joy, the friendship, and the respect that you hear between us is real--built over two years of hilarious — and intense — tapings, co-creating the show's unique approach to science journalism. This is the house that Short Wave built. Maddie's spirit and approach is mixed into the concrete of the foundation. I'm so proud of her for doing what's best for her. And we're all determined to create a space where our next host can thrive and bring a whole different energy to the podcast.

Maddie, what are you looking forward to these next two months? And what will you be doing after departing Short Wave?

Sofia: I'm looking forward to so much! Mostly just cherishing the time I have left with this team. Making beautiful art and general chaos with Rebecca Ramirez. Trying to keep Thomas Lu from putting ridiculous puns into every single episode. Grossing out Emily Kwong and making her laugh in the studio. I can't wait for the episodes Brit Hanson and I are working on centering our queer community. Our intern Indi Khera just joined the team, and so I'm excited to spend some time with her and nerd out over fact-checking. All of this, of course, under the watchful eyes of our thoughtful and irrationally patient editors Gisèle Grayson and Viet Le. As for what's next, I'm not completely sure yet. I'm definitely hoping to make some guest appearances on Short Wave! For now, I am taking some time to rest and move my family out west.

Maddie Sofia
Wanyu Zhang / Wanyu Zhang

What should listeners expect from the show going forward?

Sofia: Well, I think it's important to remember that Short Wave is made by a team of 7+ people. And I'm the only one leaving. So it's going to sound like it always has. Except there will be a new host with a fresh perspective. And I'm really excited to see how they come together and continue making something beautiful.

Kwong: I would love for Short Wave to evolve into a multi-vocal show. In many respects, it's already growing in this direction: by shifting from one host (in October 2019, when we launched) to TWO hosts and a rotating cast of reporters. I want to increase the reporting of our producers – to hear their voices in the mix – and to continue elevating the reporting of our colleagues on the science desk. Gisèle Grayson, who joined the team in the fall, has done a phenomenal job of showcasing their work on the show.

What do you wish listeners knew about making Short Wave?

Sofia: I want our listeners to know how much we appreciate them. We work extremely hard to make this show feel like it is for everyone. Personally, I hope they know how much we care about them and what a profound impact they have had on me.

Kwong: Each script has 25 to 95 footnotes worth of fact-checking, diligently authored by intern Indi Khera. Past interns Rasha Aridi, Ariela Zebede, and Emily Vaughn carried this torch. We try so hard to get it right. We deeply appreciate every email that tells us when we've gotten it wrong – or to consider another perspective.

Gisele Grayson, Supervising Senior Editor: Every single person on the team and who appears on the show really, really cares about the topics and works really hard.The producers, editors, outside guests and NPR reporters all spend hours behind the scenes to bring the audience a wonderful podcast, infused with their passion for science and story.

Brit Hanson, Producer: From fact-checkers to producers, editors and hosts, every single Short Wave episode is made by a team. If you listen to the end of each episode, you'll hear our names. Like so many of the other really important aspects of our lives, none of us could make this show alone. And, I don't think we'd want to. There's a special kind of magic that comes from honoring and building upon one another's unique talents, ideas and ways of understanding the world around us, and I feel lucky to be part of it.

Thomas Lu, Producer: It's a show that cares so, so much about who we feature as a guest. As a show, we recognize that academia — specifically, science academia — isn't necessarily the most diverse. As a team, we've made it our goal to invite people with a wide range of identities — from race and geography, to disabilities and gender identity — onto the show.

Caption (L to R, clockwise): Short Waven intern Indi Khera, producer Rebecca Ramirez, producer Brit Hanson, editor Gisèle Grayson, producer Thomas Lu, co-host Maddie Sofia, and co-host Emily Kwong. Not pictured, editor Viet Le, our fearless leader.
NPR

In the past two years of making Short Wave, what have been your favorite episodes or topics to explore on Short Wave?

Viet Le, Senior Editor: "When A Listener Calls" was our very first show based on a listener question and has one of my all-time favorite Short Wave moments. It was around Halloween and our listener wanted to know why people like to get scared for fun. So for the very top of the episode, the team conspired to scare Emily when she and Maddie were recording (pre-pandemic) in the studio. You can hear the surprise about a minute into the episode! It was just a super fun (and relevant) way to introduce the topic. It also captures the signature energy and playfulness that's been a part of Short Wave from the start.

Kwong: How much time do you have? I kid, I kid, but after 400+ episodes, Maddie's recent Twitter thread highlighting her favorites from each team member has some of my favorites too.

Grayson - Short Wave features some of the Science Desk's best work, and the reporters love having the opportunity to bring a fuller version of their reporting to the Short Wave format. Jon Hamilton's How Covid Affects The Brain is one of the most listened-to episodes, Dan Charles tells the tale, with some fun Thomas Lu sound design, of a farmer / pink bollworm smack-down, Becky Hersher brought Short Wave her original reporting about FEMA policies that result in discrimination against low-income and Black communities, Lauren Sommer did some wonderful investigave work on state policies about post-wildfire rebuilding, Nell Greenfieldboyce told listeners that Twinkies CAN go bad, contrary to popular lore. Selena Simmons-Duffin wrapped up her year-long investigation about contact tracing exclusively for Short Wave, and Geoff Brumfiel just this week broke down the liberties science fiction takes with how to move through space.

Emily, is there anything you're looking forward to covering in the future?

Kwong: For all the good that science has done, it has also harmed communities of color and underrepresented communities. And I'm interested in scientists who use the tools of their trade to bring justice to those communities – and to heal generational trauma and environmental destruction. We've explored this in the field of dermatology; in genetic ancestry; in conservation; in mathematics. And I want to keep going with this coverage. Who else is leveraging their skills for good? Please write to me (ekwong@npr.org).

I'm also looking forward to showcasing the reporting of our science desk and producers, especially in the areas of climate change, basic research, and the other letters in STEMM – technology, engineering, medicine, and math. LOVE a good math story, like this one reported by Rebecca Ramirez. A profile, like this two-way with disabled scientists Krystal Vasquez that Thomas Lu produced. And anytime producer Brit Hanson breaks our format, and creates something non-narrated.

Emily Kwong
Wanyu Zhang / Wanyu Zhang

And Emily, what new additions or ideas are you planning to bring to the show?

Kwong: That will largely depend on OUR NEW CO-HOST. That person's vibe, vision, and expertise. There will never be another Maddie Sofia. We are looking for someone who can bring their OWN unique perspective to the show – while sharing our values of science-joy and inclusivity. Here is the job posting, if you're interested in learning more!

What are your favorite podcasts?

Thomas Lu: I'm a sap. I love the cheese and the cringe and the over endearing. So, give me Death, Sex, and Money or give me Modern Love. Other ones I'm a fan of: Love Me from CBC and Short Cuts from BBC. I go to these for the stories and the variety but stay for the beautiful sound design.

Kwong: Gimme all that nuance and scene tape and follow-up; I like stories about what happens after and what that says about our society. Recent examples of this are: Floodlines. You're Wrong About. And I LOVE biographical podcasts. Making Oprah. Anything For Selena. Also, my closest friends and I send each other voice memos. I cannot recommend this form of "keeping in touch" enough. It's like a podcast for your ears only.

What is your hope for the future of Short Wave?

Kwong: For listeners to enjoy a different-sounding Short Wave — the perspective the new co-host will bring. But expect the same values. Inclusivity. Research-rich reporting. And fun.

Rebecca Ramirez, Producer: Maddie leaving is absolutely crushing. That is the truth — and we're in the business of absolute, honest truth. I say this here because I spend a lot of time thinking about lineages. Mine. Short Wave's. NPR's. Where everyone fits and what they carry with them, pass on...Our future will always carry Maddie with it. It will also expand for a new person we will love and cherish when we meet them. And it will be another stitch in a hopefully very long fabric of empathetic truth telling, which we've all been entrusted with for just a time. Like all handmade things, the whole of this fabric is so much greater for all its idiosyncrasies and imperfections. It is the joys and the heartaches of science, scientists — and humanity. We don't know what our future is, but we know it is beautiful because of those who came before and those who will come after.

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Caption: Co-Host Maddie Sofia and producer Rebecca Ramirez during Short Wave's launch week, October 2019.
NPR