10 Questions with ... Doug Tribou
April 17, 2012
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Board operator / producer at WRKO, Boston - 1996-1997. News anchor and reporter at WHCU, Ithaca - 1997-99. Program and News Director WGAN, WZAN, and WBAE/VAE Portland, ME - 1999-2005. First PD at 890 ESPN Boston - 2005-06. News anchor WBUR, Boston - 2006-08. Reporter / Producer "Only A Game" (produced at WBUR, distributed by NPR) - 2008-Present.
1. How did you get your start in radio? Why radio?
I always wanted to be in radio. My parents were radio fans. Morning news, baseball games, listening in the car. They bought those "Golden Age of Radio" boxed sets on cassette, so as a kid in the 1980s I got to hear "The Lone Ranger," Jack Benny, "The Green Hornet", and all of those great programs. I studied broadcast journalism at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University. My first on-air shift was as a DJ on an overnight at WERW, the free-format student station there. I got really involved and wound up being the general manager a couple of years later.
2. You worked your way up the commercial radio ladder to PD in Portland and Boston before making the move to public radio. What differences have you found in working in noncommercial vs. commercial radio -- what are the biggest differences, and what elements remain the same either way.
I love both public and commercial radio. Public radio has this great way of using one person's story to help explain a larger issue or topic. Public radio stations are also good at giving reporters time to dig into unusual stories. And there's a strong emphasis on the editing process for long-form pieces.
I think commercial radio does a good job of shifting on the fly to cover breaking news. And commercial radio does a better job of branding and imaging and has more fun with it.
But radio is still radio. Commercial or public, the reporters and anchors are always scrambling when there's a deadline coming up. There's tons of sarcasm behind the scenes and - probably the most important thing - everywhere I've worked, the people all try really hard to get it right.
3. At "Only a Game," you get to report on sports with a different approach than might be found on "regular" sports radio. Of the unusual stories on which you've reported, which have been the most memorable? What examples do you have of stories you've reported that otherwise wouldn't get attention from sports radio?
That's the great thing about my job. I can be at the NCAA basketball tournament one week and then head to a platform tennis tournament the next.
One story that stands out for me is a guy from New Hampshire who made a million foul shots to raise money for wounded U.S. military veterans and their families. He made an average of more than 1300 shots A DAY for two years just because he wanted to give something back. I was there when he made number 100,000 and did updates at 500,000 and 1,000,000. He made the final 1,000 at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, MA on Veterans' Day last year.
A few others - lobster boat speed races in Maine; participating in an open tryout for the NBA D-League; the history of the first NHL goalie mask (worn by Montreal Canadiens legend Jacques Plante); and my failed quest to find the location of an 18th-century portrait that was auctioned off in the 1970s and might be the earliest image of baseball.
4. You're pretty active on Twitter -- how do you use social media in conjunction with your work at WBUR?
Because "Only A Game" airs on Saturdays, social media is a great way for us to stay connected with our listeners during the week. We don't take calls during the show, so Facebook and Twitter let us start conversations with our audience. It also gives us another chance to interact with our affiliate stations (210 total). And of course, it's nice to have another option for promoting our stories and interviews.
5. You've taught and coached talent, especially regarding writing and reporting. Do you think there's as much interest among young people in going into radio in general and radio news in particular these days? What would you tell an aspiring radio journalist about what they should know -- how would you advise them to proceed into the business (if at all)?
WBUR has a large internship program and I still teach classes, so I see a lot of students that want to get involved with journalism and radio. Of course, TV is a big draw, too. And I'm meeting more students who want to blog full-time. Only A Game's had a good run lately, quite a few of our recent interns have found real, honest-to-goodness radio jobs and a few more will definitely be in the business as soon as they graduate.
I tell people to find places they want to work and try to get a foot in the door. There doesn't need to be an opening listed for you to send your materials to the right person. You might need to be willing to start out working in radio part-time (and at weird hours) while you do something else to pay the bills.
My other advice is to always work on improving your writing. Keep practicing it and polishing it. It will help everything from a cover letter to writing samples in an application. I always encourage people to spend more time listening to their own demos and airchecks, so they can critique their own work. If you're honest with yourself, you'll catch things that you can improve and then a program director or news director can help you from there.
6. You were among the experts quoted in a widely-publicized ESPN The Magazine story with the provocative headline "Why Boston is better than you" (in sports, that is). You mentioned the use and discussion by fans there of sabermetrics, but the question remains: Is Boston indeed "better" than other sports towns? Is it really that different, and why?
I do think Boston is one of a handful of cities in America that take the hobby of following sports to the edge of insanity (and I'm the black sheep of my family - a Yankees fan in a Red Sox clan). Philadelphia's on the list. Chicago, too. New York is a great sports town, but it's more fractured because there are so many teams. I think what's key about Boston is the fact that the city has one team in each of the major pro sports and all four have long histories. And Boston has this strange love/hate relationship with success. The fans remember the lean times, so they can't believe how lucky they've been lately, but they turn around and almost immediately demand more. "Wow, that championship was awesome. You know what would be even more awesome? A dynasty. Get workin' on that."
7. Of what are you most proud?
Well, my daughter, who'll turn 2 this summer, is at the top of the list, but since this is about radio... it was an honor to win the Saga Communications "Brilliant at the Basics Award" (Program Director of the Year) in 2001.
In the bigger picture, I'm proud that I've seen the business from a lot of angles. Smaller market stations, big market stations, commercial and public radio, working on the air and as a programmer, and being part of a syndicated show.
8. Who have been your mentors and influences in your career?
Cary Pahigian is the president and general manager of Saga's Portland, Maine cluster. He took a chance and hired me as a program and news director when I was 23. Cary has a great way of letting you be creative while holding you accountable for the nuts and bolts.
Steve Goldstein, Saga's vice president of programming, was a big influence, too. Steve has a great ear for content and knows how to teach PDs to think critically about their on-air product and make it better.
I interned for "Morning Guy Tai" Irwin and Henry Santoro at WFNX in Boston during college. Tai taught me a lot about the business and helped me get my career off the ground.
My wife, Hilary McQuilkin, is a producer for the NPR show, "On Point" (also based at WBUR). She's got a great ear for programming and always steers me straight.
9. Fill in the blank: I can't make it through the day without ______________.
...music. You can't listen to sports and news all the time!
10. What's the most important lesson you've learned in your career?
Two things: Good writing is the backbone for good radio. Whether it's for a newscast, imaging, ad copy, the station website, or an email to land a big guest, it makes a difference when things are written well. The second: everyone needs an editor.