StoryCorps MobileBooth Recordings
March 17-April 16
WHQR 91.3 Public Radio
254 N. Front St.
As the weekend nears, a shiny silver AirStream pops onto the horizon. Inside, making its way to downtown Wilmington, is a fully-loaded studio that has been busy recording the stories of everyday citizens all over the country. The studio is called a MobileBooth and it belongs to StoryCorps, a non-profit organization based in Brooklyn that allows people to record their own interviews with the people most near and dear to them. Since the first mic was turned on in 2003, over 30,000 conversations have been recorded. Segments of the one-on-one conversations are frequently aired on NPR (locally at WHQR, 91.3FM), and a copy is given to each participant to share with generations to come. encore spoke with the MobileBooth senior coordinator, Virginia Lora, about the organization’s mission, what it hopes to achieve, and why they chose Wilmington as their current stop.
encore (e): What brings StoryCorps to Wilmington?
Virginia Lora (VL): Well, we’ve never been there before. We work with public radio stations around the country to bring the booth where it is needed and the station there, WHQR, invited us to come. We’ve been sending people back and forth from our offices here in Brooklyn to Wilmington to set up the visit and give people in Wilmington a chance to sign up and use the booth. We’re very excited about it.
e: For those that have never heard of your operation, can you tell us exactly what StoryCorps does?
VL: We started with the idea everyone should be able to tell their stories, have it recorded, and then preserved. All of our recordings are archived in the American Folklife Center in the Library of Congress. What we do for people is allow them to reserve our booth and our recording systems to interview a person of their choosing. That person can be a parent, a grandparent, a best friend, a mentor, or whoever they like. Each reservation gets 40 minutes in the booth to talk.
e: And why would they want to do that?
VL: This is a rare opportunity for so many people to bring up those candid questions they always wanted to ask. Most of the time, the interviewer will ask the other person to tell a story they want to hear and other times, they will ask specific questions, ask for explanations. A lot of participants interview their parents or grandparents about their childhoods or ask about big moments in history they lived through, like a war. Then they have the answers and the stories in the person’s own words, in their own voice, recorded for posterity. It’s a wonderful thing to have.
e: How did you get started with StoryCorps?
VL: It’s funny that you ask because I actually started inside the MobileBooth. I was what you would call a “facilitator”—the staff member inside the booth while the conversation is taking place. I did some interviews myself and helped people to operate their discussions.
e: Do you have a favorite story that came out of your experience as a facilitator?
VL: I can’t think of a specific story, but I would have to admit that I do have a favorite type of interview. When the people are not related, like when a student interviews a teacher or a role model, I always think those are the best conversations. When it is not someone in your family, you really feel that sense of opportunity, that this is a conversation that might not have happened otherwise. So they really take advantage of it, and the interview is always so interesting.
e: Addressing the controversy surrounding NPR and its federal funding, do you have anything to say about the stations that StoryCorps works with?
VL: Well, we are only a broadcasting partner with NPR, so I’m not sure if I can comment on that.
e: But the individual stations are the ones that would be hurt if the funding gets cut.
VL: Right. And I can definitely say that without the help of all of the public radio stations around the country, so many of these stories would never have been told. It’s so important that people have a chance to do this, to have access to it. That’s why we’re doing this. All voices deserve to be heard.