StoryCorps Airstream Mobile Studio Arrives in Boise 

Nationally broadcast confessional story series seeks local driveway moments

Spin your yarn at the StoryCorps Airstream mobile studio through Saturday, July 6.

Spin your yarn at the StoryCorps Airstream mobile studio through Saturday, July 6.

They're called driveway moments. National Public Radio--and in particular StoryCorps, the intensely personal and nationally broadcast confessional story series--is notorious for leaving people lingering in their cars. Broadcast Friday mornings and heard by an estimated audience of 13 million on NPR's Morning Edition, StoryCorps is responsible for emotionally kidnapping thousands of listeners, reluctant to walk into the office until that last heart-tugging minute. And more often than not, those same listeners need a few extra seconds to wipe away a tear.

"We're probably responsible for more driveway moments than anything else on the radio," said Krisi Packer, associate manager of marketing and communications for StoryCorps. "Plus, there's something new: Every Friday morning on Twitter, there's something called 'The no-cry challenge.' It's a test to see how long you can make it through the broadcast without tears."

You may have lost the challenge yourself. Perhaps it was when Justin Cliburn in Norman, Okla., told his wife, Deanne, about Ali, the young boy he befriended during his service in Iraq. Or maybe you heard Joey and Delora Guerrero of Frederick, Md., talk about being stationed in Iraq when he got down on one knee and proposed amid the roar of mortar fire.

"When I tell people I work for a national oral history project, they say, 'Hmmm, OK,' said Jordan Bullard, senior coordinator for StoryCorp's mobile department. "When I say 'StoryCorps,' I can almost see a light go on over their head."

StoryCorps, which has collected more than 45,000 interviews over the past 10 years, rolled its Airstream mobile studio out to the steps of Boise City Hall June 10. It will generate nearly 175 of its own driveway moments (though it will be parked on the plaza) Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Saturday, July 6.

"StoryCorps is so much more than what you hear on Morning Edition. Less than 1 percent of our interviews are broadcast on NPR," said Packer. "In fact, we're a separate entity."

Each StoryCorps conversation is archived by the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

"Plus we establish local, community archives," said Bullard. "We want to make sure that when we leave Boise, the legacy of this community stays here."

Bullard and Packer both sat down with more than two dozen representatives of local nonprofits and organizations in Boise April 23, asking them to invite Idahoans with a compelling personal story to share the tales of their lives. Included in the meeting was the Idaho Human Rights Commission, Boise Bicycle Project, Life's Kitchen, The Cabin, Centro de Comunidad y Justicia, Idaho Community Action Network, The Idaho Foodbank and the Idaho Office for Refugees.

"The people who traditionally listen to StoryCorps are people who listen to NPR, but we wanted to reach outside that demographic," said Bullard. "And that's why we reached out to all of these Idaho organizations. We want to be a service for these groups to help preserve their legacy."

Both Bullard and Packer noted that they were impressed by the early interest from Idaho nonprofits during their Boise visit.

"It was great. The groups we talked with were really engaged," said Packer. "So we invited them to make some advance reservations."

The general public can also make reservations to tell their own stories through Boise State Public Radio, StoryCorps' local partner and Idaho's broadcast home of StoryCorps.

"The Treasure Valley is such a wonderful place to live, due in large part to the fascinating people who call this home," said BSPR General Manager John Hess. "We're a proud partner to help tell our stories."

Packer was a news reporter for BSPR in 2008, when she was asked to help produce local recordings for StoryCorps during its last Boise visit.

"That's how I fell in love with StoryCorps," she said. "I remember the first story I ever produced in Boise. It was a mother and daughter, and they were talking about the mother's son and the daughter's brother; he was struck by lightning. Amazing. Everybody has a story. We say it all the time, but it's really true."

Within a couple of years, Packer was working full-time for StoryCorps at its Brooklyn headquarters.

"I don't go on the road too often, but this--the Boise stop--this was the one time I requested to travel," she said.

Packer said the traditional StoryCorps recordings are only a part of her responsibilities in New York City.

"We've got so many special initiatives with specific archives: StoryCorps Historias for Latinos, StoryCorps Griot preserves the voices of African Americans, StoryCorps Legacy captures the voices of people with serious illnesses, and the September 11 Initiative remembers the stories of those affected by the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Our goal is to record a memory for each person lost."

Additionally, StoryCorps has published books and CDs, and has even branched out into short feature films.

"We've animated some of the best StoryCorps stories and they're a big hit," said Packer. "We just had a premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, and we've got a half-hour animated special on PBS coming up this fall."

Even though some people might feel uncomfortable at first talking in front of a microphone, the StoryCorps staff is constantly amazed at how much people share.

"It's interesting; when people get in front of our microphone, they become more candid," said Bullard. "It somehow gives them the license to ask questions of someone they love that they may have never asked before."

Packer added that the broadcast's emotional power to move millions, holding them captive in their driveways that extra minute, is daunting.

"Coast to coast, people are so moved by these stories," Packer said. "It's a reminder of our shared humanity."

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