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Interview: KCRW Gets 'UpClose' And Personal With Salon-Inspired Web Series

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Elvis Mitchell (The Treatment) with Matthew Weiner (creator of Mad Men). Photo by Bryony Shearmur.
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Next Sunday, public radio station KCRW (Santa Monica College, 89.9) and Bookworm host Michael Silverblatt will present an evening of intimate conversation with Sapphire, the best-selling author ofPush (the book that inspired the film Precious), and her latest novel, The Kid.

This event marks the fifth installment of KCRW’s UpClose program, a live series that seeks to “reinvent the art of the conversation,” by pairing pop culture icons with engaging hosts to present exclusive and insightful content for the web from some of our greatest cultural luminaries. Featured guests have included Matthew Weiner (Mad Men), Alan Ball (True Blood), and Catherine Keener (40-Year-Old Virgin). We spoke with KCRW’s General Manager Jennifer Ferro to learn more about the UpClose series.

LAist: One aim of UpClose is to "reinvent the art of cultural conversation," and another is to create original content for the Internet. Can you explain more about the motivation behind the UpClose series?

Jennifer Ferro: The main goal is to include people in the cultural conversation. At KCRW we have always been motivated to ask the questions, not just report on what was said.  Doing that on radio is a one-way experience. We wanted to take that same inspiration that we foster for people while they are in their cars, alone, and bring it into an intimate space, in person.

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Los Angeles is one of the capitals of this nation. Everyone comes through here. But the opportunities to actually talk to and interact with some of the most interesting people in popular culture isn't always there.  This series serves to address that. Plus, we love getting to meet some of hundreds of thousands of people who not only use KCRW as a service to stay informed but also hold KCRW in a special place in their hearts.

UpClose installments have featured pop culture icons Elvis Mitchell, Mathew Weiner, Alan Ball, and Catherine Keener. The next installment features award-winning author Sapphire. How are the guests chosen and what does the show look for in its guests?

Because the series is not a regularly scheduled thing we can wait until a great opportunity presents itself.  Also, the hosts of KCRW drive the choices of who we should talk to. 

With Matthew Weiner and Alan Ball, we realized that people have a much more intense relationship with TV shows than movies. TV series like True Blood and Mad Men have struck a nerve and created rabid fans for smart, entertaining and well-written shows. 

Sapphire is an author who Michael Silverblatt is particularly moved by. Her writing is powerful and can cut you to your core. Michael feels her latest book sets a new course for fiction and he knew our audience was the right forum to explore that concept.

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UpClose episodes are recorded in front of small live audiences, in intimate, salon-style environments -- what is the motivation behind this and how can one attend UpClose live?

UpClose events were designed to be up close with both the guests and our audience.  Having the chance to extend that experience online was another big motivation for creating the series.  

At KCRW we don't think of ourselves as a radio station. We think of ourselves as an authentic source for artistry and creativity.  We focus on music discovery, culture and news analysis.  We always want to start the conversation and see what happens when people jump in with us. We focus on Los Angeles but we also know that what happens here makes waves throughout the entire country.

Video and in person events are not what you'd think of for a radio station.  Because we don't think of just radio, we look for any medium that is the right one for the content we've got.  

We always make tickets available for the UpClose events. There are still some available for Sapphire. Anyone who wants to know about future events should sign up for our KCRW email newsletter at http://www.kcrw.com/about/sign-up-for-e-mail-newsletters.

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KCRW is one of the most successful NPR affiliate stations in Southern California. As General Manager of KCRW, what do you think public radio offers Angelenos, and the world, that other mediums might not?

Public radio is a unique piece of media that isn't driven by financial gain.  We have the freedom to start conversations, highlight musicians no one has yet heard of and discuss issues of importance that can't fit in a sound bite.  In a time where people get their media from any and all sources, we run the risk of being manipulated for other aims.  At KCRW and all of public media, the only constituent we serve is our audience.  

KCRW is a singular place.  We are equally committed to music, news and information and cultural issues.  I think we do them all quite well and have been able to gain the trust of an extremely intelligent audience.  

The next UpClose event will feature Bookworm host Michael Silverblatt and novelist Sapphire in West Hollywood* on July 24, 2011 @ 5pm. Tickets available online.

*Ed. note: The venue is published on the KCRW tickets page, but we are not permitted to say it in this post.