Winner Glynn Washington Hosts 'Snap Judgment'

In 2007, public radio launched a talent search. Anyone could submit a brief audio entry demonstrating "hostiness." Four rounds and over 1,400 entries later, three winners were chosen. Glynn Washington was one of them, and now his show Snap Judgment airs on NPR member stations around the country.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

Three years ago, public radio launched a quest for new on-air talent. Anyone could submit a two-minute audio entry that demonstrated hostiness. Over 1,400 answered. In the final round of the competition, Glynn Washington produced a pilot for a show about storytelling called "Snap Judgment."

(Soundbite of radio show, "Snap Judgment")

Mr. GLYNN WASHINGTON (Producer, "Snap Judgment"): When I was a kid, a black kid, I attended an all-white school. One Monday morning I knew for sure I was about to get a beat-down. My only hope was maybe - just maybe - if I press my lips together real tight, maybe I can pass for white and avoid the beating. Well, I tried. It didn't work, but the art of passing has intrigued me ever since. Welcome to "Snap Judgment." It's that fork in the road. It's the right or left. Jump or don't.

I'm your host, Glynn Washington. And today on the show a boy passes for a man, a man passes for a (unintelligible) and somebody thought he was passing for an upstanding citizen until he met the war on terror. Stay tuned.

CONAN: Three winners emerged from that competition. Today, Glynn Washington's "Snap Judgment" runs on NPR member stations across the country. It's also available as a podcast. Today, you have a chance to pitch your story to "Snap Judgment" and Glynn Washington.

Listeners who call the hotline at the radio program have three minutes to pitch. We'll give you one. Call us and tell us about a decision that changed your life, 800-989-8255. Better yet, zap us an email. The address is talk@npr.org. You can also write us on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Glynn Washington is host and executive producer of "Snap Judgment," and joins us now from member station KQED in San Francisco. Nice to have you on the program today.

WASHINGTON: Great to be here, Neal. I can't believe you found that program though to lead the show with.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: And one thing we should note, obviously, your program is not live.

WASHINGTON: The program is not live. We do a lot it takes a lot of time, oftentimes, to interview people, to put these stories together. Seven hours of interview going into a five-minute story; you can't quite go live.

CONAN: And where do you find these stories?

WASHINGTON: Well, you know, it's interesting actually. When we first started this whole project off, I was speaking to one Ira Glass.

CONAN: Yes, we've heard of him.

WASHINGTON: Yeah, yeah. He's been around a little while. He said, you know, hope you have a lot of interesting friends because, you know, when you're getting a show like this launched, you're going to need them. And I think we've talked to all of them so far, some amazing stories. And now that the engine is going a little bit more, we're able to branch out quite a bit more widely than we have in the past.

CONAN: It's been said, first radio program is hard, but a fifth, sixth and seventh radio programs, those are really hard.

WASHINGTON: Yeah. We've been having a fantastic time, though. People have amazing stories. I am always stunned. I think I've got the best job in the world. People have the most incredible adventures, interesting perspectives. What we really tried to do, Neal, is to tell a story where you elucidate not just what happened to you but your perspective on the world.

And sort of, our take on it is, you know, we we're not going to necessarily fact-check everything that you say in the traditional public radio manner. If you tell me that your grandmother is a witch, and she's bent on the destruction of your firstborn child, I'm not going to ask anything about Wicca. I'm going to say, what'd you do next?

(Soundbite of laughter)

WASHINGTON: We accept your world view whatever it is and go on from there. And that's kind of like our version of storytelling.

CONAN: And stories too good to check, so...

WASHINGTON: Stories too good check, you know, and but it is a different maybe it's a different type of truth. But as you as we as you especially would know, that if you these shows that we have today, different types of people yelling about different types of things, a different type of truth can often be found within them. When you look for an emotional resonance as opposed to a strict sort of, did this happen, I'm going to go and send a bunch of reporters to fact-check everything that you say. What happened to you, how did you feel about it, might be, in fact, more important.

CONAN: And I'm I've read that you say you helped prepare yourself for this in part by growing up amidst a, what - a group you describe as a religious cult.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WASHINGTON: I didnt know I was preparing myself for this. But, yeah, I thought I had a youth that was misspent in the clutches of a religious cult. And now, it seems like the stories from that time period end up being solid gold. All cults, I think, Neal, are very similar. They're much the same. You have a charismatic figure. You have a - you know, there's a secret. You all just know a special secret nobody else knows. And but then there's an insularity to it as well that distinguishes cults from any other group with wacky beliefs. And so we had that. We had the end time was going to happen any minute. You had to be ready. The particular, I think, specialty of our cult was that we thought we were going to be whisked off to the caves of Petra while the rest of you all burned up in the final days.

CONAN: Hmm. The Petra, of course, in Jordan, which we've been talking about the rest of the program. But anyway...

WASHINGTON: That's right.

CONAN: ...it's that's well, when the end days don't come, you have to come up with some pretty creative explanations.

WASHINGTON: Well, that's just it. When you if you say that Jesus is coming next week and Jesus doesn't show up, well, then you got some explaining to do in order to keep the church filled. And so I studied. My misspent youth at the foot of masters who kept those seats filled. And I it was very, very interesting to me to look back on this now and realize that from Vince(ph) came a type of a storytelling palette. But it's I think is very true.

CONAN: We're talking with Glynn Washington. If you'd like to pitch him a story that changed your life, a story that might appear on "Snap Judgments," we'll give you a minute to do it. 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org.

Kevin(ph) is on the line calling from Long Island.

KEVIN (Caller): Hi, Neal.

CONAN: Go ahead, Kevin.

KEVIN: Hi. How are you?

CONAN: I'm well. Thank you.

KEVIN: My story is quite simple but it changed my whole life one day. I was 13 years old. I knew I wanted to become a veterinarian. I knocked on the door of a local veterinarian who was well-respected in the community, said I would like to be a veterinarian. I'd like to work here. You don't have to pay me. At which point, he laughed in my face and showed me a mop. And two years later, he hired me. And, but what that thought me was the power of being bold and putting yourself out there in a differential way, offering yourself up as a good candidate. I think that's a tremendous lesson to me, and it should be to many young people I know.

CONAN: All right. We'll put that in the hopper, Kevin, and see if we'll get back to you for, perhaps, an appearance on "Snap Judgment."

KEVIN: Okay.

CONAN: What did you think of his story, Glynn?

(Soundbite of laughter)

WASHINGTON: Kevin, go on ahead with your veterinarian business. I think it's fabulous. I think and he took the right lesson from it. The types of stories, though, that we're looking for, you oftentimes have to come face-to-face with a different version of yourself. Let me give you an example. When we first started this show when I first started this show, one of the contest we had various challenges. What happened was I we there was a there I heard about this contest. It's like, do you want to be the next public radio host? And I thought, sure. But what I was really doing, Neal - because I thought that people like Neal Conan have the greatest jobs in the world.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: You found out differently since. But go ahead.

WASHINGTON: But I was like, well, you know what? They're not going to give me that job. But at least and everyone in public radio understands this at least I want to preserve my right to complain, because that's what we that's what pledge breaks are all about, you know? We can't wait to send in a check but then we own this. This is part of us. We're all in this together. And so I thought, you know what? I'm going to send in my little clip here just so that I call in and tell them what I don't like. And I forgot about it.

And about three months later, they called and said I was one of 10 finalists, which was great. And but they started doing this crazy challenges. And one of the ones I remember specifically was when they said, okay, Glynn. You've got 15 no we're going to give you a word and then we're going to give you 15 seconds and we want you riff off of it for two minutes. And I was like, what's the word? What's the word? On your mark, get set, go. And the word was grace, and I had a few seconds to think about it. And given my background, as you kind of described, Neal, it's a bit of a softball for me given the connotations. And so I was thinking about it. I couldn't think of anything. Still, I thought I should be able to do this. I should be able to do this. But I couldn't think of anything. Go.

And whenever I'm at a loss for a story, they always generally end up referring to my mother. And I remember I was I was actually in Japan and I was minding my own business a few years back, and I got a call from my mother. And I could hear this clapping and shouting and screaming in the background. And she was talking, she was like, Glynn, I can't believe you did this to me. And I was like, Mama? I can't believe you treat me this way. Mama, what is it? I found it, son. I found it. The church ladies found it with me, and we're coming for you. Mother, what are talking about?

And you have to understand, at this point in my life, I was itinerant. I didn't really own anything. The only thing I had was this group of this collection of books that I was keeping stored in my mother's basement: books from Japan, books about primates, books about whatever. And they were all being stored in my mother's basement for this time in the distant, distant future when I thought, I'm going to get back there and I'm going to be able to enjoy reading these things for a change.

CONAN: Glynn, tick, tick, tick.

WASHINGTON: I'm sorry.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WASHINGTON: Well, that's how it was. And she said, I found your book, "Satanic Verses." And how are you going to bring the verses of Satan up in my house, son? We're going to burn these books. And I hear the clapping and the shouting in the background with my mother. Mother, do not burn my books. We're burning them, son. You cannot bring the verses of Satan in my house. Mom, "Satanic Verses" is not what you think it is. Do not burn them. Click. And the phone was off. And it was at that point, I think, in the storytelling when I it was like, when I finally got back a hold of her, she told me that I had to restore the grace of my home.

CONAN: We're talking with Glynn Washington about his program "Snap Judgment." You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Well, that's one story. Let's hear another. This is Richard(ph), Richard with us in Marshfield in Wisconsin.

RICHARD (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi. Go ahead, Richard. You've got a minute.

RICHARD: I got a minute. At 17 years old, I decided to take my first drink and I substantially - eventually became an alcoholic. And every decision I made under the influence of alcohol had changed my life and practically destroyed everything that I was ever wanted to accomplish. When I stopped drinking, I then decided to become sober and look back and find out how alcohol affected my life and (technical difficulty) person in a sober world.

CONAN: Have you done redemptive stories like that, Glynn?

WASHINGTON: We have. And congratulations to you for taking that. It's amazing. One of the stories that we did do was by a guy by the name of Justin McClure who broke up with his wife, was having some issues, got three DUIs within the course of, like, two weeks. And he found out and for him, it was the best thing ever. They said they put Justin(ph) in a room and said, we're going to put you in prison and throw away the key for a while or you're going to participate in this program where you have to be back by 7:00 everyday. He went to work, no car, and he had to run there and back. If he was one minute late, he was going in the slammer. And he said it was the best thing ever happened to him, that exercise of having to run. And he's a marathoner now because he had to run from his workplace to be on time. And I again, those stories are the redemptive stories are really amazing.

CONAN: Richard, thanks very much for the call and hang in there. Glynn Washington, thanks very much for your time today.

WASHINGTON: Thank you so much, Neal. I appreciate it.

CONAN: "Snap Judgment" can be heard Saturday nights at 11:00 at KQED in San Francisco. It's where Glynn Washington joined us from. It's also available as a podcast.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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