WBEZ Alliance (Chicago, IL)

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    A young woman stands at a podium speaking into a microphone. Attached to the front of the podium is a poster that says "2006 Third Coast International Audio Festival.

Alaska Public Radio host Rebecca Sheir took home the Director’s Choice Award for her audio documentary on Jewish death and burials at the 2006 Third Coast International Audio Festival. Photo courtesy of WBEZ Alliance

A family is seated around a television set, watching old home movies. There’s Mom and Dad, now in their 60s, exchanging wedding vows on the screen. Dad recalls how he much he loved the sermon. Mom remembers hating the minister’s message. Their grown daughter, Sasha, sighs and says, “To begin with, my parents never got along.”

Got the picture? Well, there isn’t one. Only voices tell the story in ‘Til Death Do Us Part, one of 258 entries in the 2006 Third Coast International Audio Festival. The festival was founded by WBEZ-FM, Chicago’s public radio station, as a “Sundance for Radio.” This annual celebration of audio documentaries has received NEA funding every year since its inception in 2000. In FY 2006, the festival was awarded an NEA Access to Artistic Excellence grant of $20,000 to continue expanding its programming. The festival now has three components—a competition for radio documentaries, a conference in Chicago for narrative radio producers, and a new “Listening Tour” at film festivals.

Sitting in a dark theater, just listening to audio stories such as ‘Til Death Do Us Part, may sound a little bizarre. But Joanna Zorn, the festival’s executive producer, suggested that Third Coast is all about promoting radio with an arthouse aesthetic. “We want to raise the level of discussion to an artistic level,” Zorn said. “Radio is often thought of as an information source—it’s where we go to get the news, the traffic, the weather—but it really can be so much more than that. We want to raise awareness of audio documentaries as an art form.”

(From the NEA 2006 Annual Report