BEHIND THE SCENES with 2007 Audio Luminary Award recipient Peter Leonhard Braun

When did you fall in love with radio? Was there a defining moment? Or, more to the point, why radio

When I started out in the early '50s of the last century, being fresh, smart and self conceited, I fancied myself to be a remarkably gifted writer and was looking for a promising platform to take off with all my talents. The magnetic medium of that time was radio, TV not even on the horizon. So I knocked at the door, dressed up to impress and wearing my most important face, and had to wait in front of the door for about three years. Doing what? Growing. Growing into the ability to write not only three or four smashing sentences embedded in mediocrity but to cope disciplined with a content of ten minutes and more. It was a humiliating time. In fact I was not growing but shrinking. Into the right size. Then it happened; 1955 I sold my first ten-minute piece, got a fee of 100 DM (at that time about $40, I guess) and a confirming pat on my shoulders. It was the greatest moment in my early professional life. I knew and felt that I am on the right track. This is the road I am made for. I am a radio man

Years later I started into TV, doing about three, four films –- and returned to radio. I hear things, I do not see them, I think acoustically, not visually, I compose a subject and I do not film it. And I have to work by myself and not in a team

In our highly specialised world of production the feature maker is blessed to be permitted to work like a medieval handicraft. He finds his subject himself, researches and records himself, is doing his own writing, mixing, speaking. Then finishes the production and even sells it himself. From the beginning to the end, all by himself. I loved it and lived from it -- for 20 years as a freelance and really well off

You played an important part in developing the radio "feature" as a new form in radio in the mid-1970s. What, exactly, IS a feature? What are the essential ingredients of one and how does it differ from the radio documentary

Compared with radio drama which always lived nicely dressed on the fancy first floor of the radio building the feature is at home in the cellar of cold and hard facts. It wears overalls, drags factual material, which it transports by lorry to its audience. The feature is a forwarding business to dispatch information. This is the What, but the real point is the How. The feature can sing, can dance, it even can strip the information. For me, feature is the art form of information. Its range of possibilities is identical with the range of the medium itself. It is pure radio. Range of subjects –- endless. Range of forms –- endless. The feature loves radio as an always undiscovered continent, free space and free movement of inspiration and ideas. It lives wildly, it refuses to be defined by the mere content or form of a programme. It understands radio as a chance to match the gifts of a person and a medium. It is an expression of life and abilities

In the second stage of my professional career I was on staff, being head of features at the public broadcaster of Berlin for 20 years. "What is a feature?" I was asked by visitors again and again. "If it was excellent, the programme you have listened to –- it was a feature. If it was more normal, predictable in structure and expression –- it was a radio documentary. If it was bad –- it was a radio drama". And then, of course, I laughed, but mostly alone

What role has the International Features Conference, which you co-founded with Ake Blomstrom and Andries Poppe back in 1974, played in sustaining the form and worldwide radio community

The feature maker is a lonely animal not really fitting into the drawers of established radio. Take him or her as a cocktail of contradictory ingredients, a bit current affairs, a bit documentarian, some radio drama, a musician and sculptor, a technician, a detective, a poet, a journalist of course, and the conductor of an orchestra of facts. The zebra among the programme-herds of radio. I was head hunting these zebra's world-wide for three reasons

a) They are rare, you cannot find enough of them in one country –- for a feature output in good quality and high numbers

b) I expected them to be strong enough and ready for the necessary revolution: To implode the traditional understanding of feature work (boring litany of talking heads) and to unfold a rich and new universe of radio

c) To fight for more respect for this Cinderella of radio, for regular programme slots, enlarged production times, better equipment, more budget, more collaborators

It was a long way to Tipperary, and without the International Feature Conference we would not have made it. But conference after conference, year by year the professional reputation and resonance grew, and even more importantly, our self-understanding as feature makers became more solid. We had an aim, we knew the track, and we could rely on each other. And really, we saw ourselves succeeding in expanding programme quality and even in the long march through all our broadcasting organisations. Great times

The heart and the spine of the IFC was and still is cross-border collaboration plus personal trust. The feature Gypsies of the world meet once a year and do nothing else than present their programmes to each other and tell each other the truth about them. Constructive honesty and mutual support is the secret of their belonging. This seems not to erode -- in 2007 we had the 33rd IFC, in 33 years

How has the radio feature evolved in the past 35+ years

The international uprise of the radio doc was a tedious process of teaching each other and learning from each other. And consequently of influencing each other. The enormous effort of a renaissance of the feature trade could only be made together. We knew that. Please realise that the feature world is a very personal one, most often only two to three people in each country are the focus of development, but around this focus the new thinking and new style of production would spread. The complete evolution was based on three miracles

1) Against all local or regional traditions of programme philosophy we shared the will for pushing forward and improving our documentarian output. Who is we? Single persons (and please give me the honour to introduce the pilgrim fathers to you) from Australia (Robert Peach), Austria (Alfred Treiber), Belgium (Andries Poppe), Canada (Don Mowatt), Croatia (Zvonimir Bajsic), Denmark (Viggo Clausen), Finland (Pertti Salomaa), France (René Farabet), Germany (PLB), Hungary (Lajos Lorand), Ireland (Michael Littleton), The Netherlands (Bob Uschi), Norway (Nils Heyerdahl), Poland (Jerzy Tuszewski), Sweden (Åke Blomström), Switzerland (Walter Baumgartner), United Kingdom (John Theocharis), USA (Karl Schmidt) etc. Very different people, one has to see that clearly, but very determined to leave their harbours of professional origin and to meet all these other interesting and crazy steamers out there in the open sea

2) There was no binding ideology, no superior radiophonic god, but a vital network of variability. And this bundled multiplicity gave the needed strength, the respect, the niveau

3) Constructive and controversial friendship

The result you can hear today. A French school, a Polish one, the Norwegian culture of radiophonic mastership, the British originality, German solidity, Finnish wizardry, Austrian craftiness, you may enumerate it country by country, organisation by organisation, person by person. And all is based on that acoustic explosion in the beginning, the long big bang of liberating the radio feature from narrowcasting to broadcasting or boundless sound

Revolution, Evolution, Diversification

In some cases you might speak of national styles, in all cases -- and I love this expression -– you can speak of personal handwritings. Feature is a rich and fertile field

What do you imagine the future holds for radio? What have you heard recently that really struck a chord / excited you? And finally, can/does radio change the world

Our life on this planet becomes more and more complex and complicated. People have great difficulties to understand their own situations and especially the rapid and permanent changes of them. They simply do not catch up anymore with this constant process of alteration, modification, transformation of the political, economic, social, and even inter-personal conditions of their existence

And exactly here is our duty and responsibility to inform, to clarify, to illuminate. Maybe even a new age of enlightenment is needed for the people but especially with the people. Radio should take over this job. It has a universal and easy access to its audience, its tradition of narrating, relating, arguing, its unique qualification for debate and discussion, all of this makes it the best equipped communicator for the Herculean task

Radio is a strong medium, maybe even the strongest among all of them. And everybody knows why. Intimacy, warmth, closeness, connecting directly to the listener. Of course, this has been forgotten. Radio became a prostitute to serve everybody's wishes. A sales agent, an entertainer, a teacher, a preacher, a 24-hour busybody. You might even say the radio people themselves let down the medium –- but now it comes -– not the audience

Last week I was invited to some kind of amateurish awarding ceremony and I just could not escape from going there. The public broadcaster in Berlin had asked the listeners to send in five-minute pieces –- my goodness -– what will you get

I went there, got stuck in a traffic jam, was late, felt guilty not to be among the 30-40 persons I expected to have persuaded themselves to come. But when I entered the studio hall, it was packed and I could not find a seat anymore. Hundreds of five-minute programmes had been sent in, hundreds of people were sitting there. Enthusiastic. More young faces than old ones

And then the pieces. Surprisingly witty, original, always messages and acceptably well made. This is "What I have heard recently and that really struck a chord/Excited me". It was a proof that radio can change the world if it understands and uses its own power. It has to change from a mass medium to a personal medium. It should not think in programmes anymore but in bridging to and between single persons. Most of them out there are singular, even isolated, strangers not only in the night but also in the day, surrounded by indifference and lack of contact

Here is the greatest chance of radio. I do not broadcast programmes anymore, but persons, liveliness, individuality. We have to broadcast ourselves, I am the programme, I am the radio. I am speaking about a "from me to you" radio, about a binding energy or cohesive force. It works by two elements. Authenticity (it is really me who addresses you and means you) and honesty. The lying medium, the pretending medium has to become sincere. We have to try to give to the listener out there what he misses most -– the best friend. The new medium, the new carrier, then becomes meant humanity and it may carry its communication in all forms (feature programmes included) of brightness, understanding and joy of life, and you will hear it become a cosmos of dedication, good will, and belonging. Such radio I see as never-ending and immortal, and with the listeners together it will be capable to change the world for the better

I would begin to ask my listener to make another five-minute piece. Title: "What I always wanted to say to you. . . ." And I would receive love confessions, revelations of truth, speeches to the deceased, and whatsoever. People would need to do these pieces, people would love to listen to these pieces, and at the end I would make out of this fidgety energy of life the most beautiful and breath taking feature of the world

Hooray! I got carried away.