Neal Conan’s first foray out of the studio in 11 years took him very far from the studio indeed — all the way to Greenland, where he documented climate change for public radio’s Burn: An Energy Journal.
The former Talk of the Nation host contributed to “Rising Seas,” the sixth installment of the ongoing series reporting on energy issues. Conan hadn’t reported from the field since 2002, when he took the TOTN hosting job. He left NPR in June, when TOTN was canceled.
Burn host Alex Chadwick, who previously anchored NPR’s Day to Day, enlisted Conan after TOTN ended. Chadwick explains on “Rising Seas” that he needed a radio producer to send to Greenland with nature writer Gretel Ehrlich, and “I happened to know one with some free time over the summer,” he said. “Neal Conan, welcome back to public radio.”
Conan and Ehrlich traveled to Greenland for a week in late July to see the effects of global warming in action. The country’s ice sheets are melting faster than expected, contributing to rising sea levels along the East Coast of the U.S. and Canada.
The reporter recorded his trip in a vessel navigating icebergs, capturing the dramatic sounds of chunks of ice falling into the water, snapping and popping as they melted. “With each boom and crack, a bit more of Greenland’s ice falls into the sea,” Conan narrates.
Conan had never visited Greenland. As he flew in, “to see it from the air is just astonishing,” he said. The ice covering much of the country isn’t flat but “looks as if someone just cracked it with a hammer,” Conan said. “It’s all shattered with crevasses.”
The last time Conan had reported from the field, for NPR’s Radio Expeditions series in 2002, he was using a tape recorder and editing tape with a razor blade. He found the principles of digital editing for Burn similar enough, he said.
The former TOTN host has no other public radio gigs lined up. After leaving NPR, he gave himself six months to catch his breath and figure out what to do next, he said.
“The six months aren’t up yet,” Conan said. He has moved to a small town in Wyoming and plans to spend winters in Hawaii.
SoundVision Productions, Burn’s producer, intends for “Rising Seas” to air on stations between Oct. 20 and Nov. 30. It anticipates it will run on 275 stations, based on previous carriage of Burn specials.