Public radio’s ‘On Being’ will move to seasonal podcast

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Chris Daniels

Tippett

After almost 20 years on public radio at the helm of her award-winning show On Being, Krista Tippett is transitioning the weekly program to a seasonal podcast.

Tippett said that the On Being Project, her nonprofit organization that produces the show, began seeing itself a few years ago “as a media and public life organization and to figure out what it means to be that. For us, it’s about what we want to do more of, rather than we want to do less radio.”

“There’s a personal aspect to this move, too, which is I’m venturing into a new chapter of my life and I needed to get out from under these weekly deadlines,” she added. “It’s not the right rhythm of life at this stage of life, and I’ve worked so hard for such a long time. You can do that, but you need to stop. I need to create the space and the time to create.”

Distributed by WNYC Studios, On Being airs on 389 stations. Its last weekly radio episode will air June 23. The first season of the podcast will launch in October, with plans to produce two seasons each year with 10 to 12 episodes per season, according to a spokesperson.

Tippett’s migration from public radio marks another step in the evolution of On Being. The show explored theology when it premiered on Minnesota Public Radio in 2003 as Speaking of Faith. In 2010, Tippett renamed the show On Being to reflect the scientists and poets she was including among her guests.

She spun the show off from American Public Media in 2013, shifting production to the On Being Project. The independent company focuses on the intersection of media and social healing. It reported $6.5 million in income in fiscal year 2020, according to tax filings.

As the host of a show focused on existential questions, Tippett looks at this professional development as a life change that’s been in the works for several years. 

“Things don’t die in public radio, right?” she said. “I watched the Car Talk guys actually die and still be on the radio … and I said to myself, ‘At some point, this is going to end, or it’s going to morph into a new form, and that is not going to be about failure. It’s going to be about the nature of vitality. It’s about being alive.’”

Listeners won’t hear much of a change when they listen to the On Being podcast, though Tippett said her producer will have the freedom to let the show stretch beyond the stringent 51-minute mark set by public radio. With continued funding from regular donors, including the Heartland Foundation, the Lilly Endowment and the Ford Foundation, Tippett said there are no plans to include commercials in the podcast.

The move will also allow Tippett to expand the in-person events that she was just beginning to ramp up before the pandemic. In 2018, the On Being Project hosted its first gathering of poets and theologians among the California redwoods. Upcoming projects may be less ambitious and will more likely incorporate both in-person and virtual events.

Tippett said the transition away from public radio will be difficult for her in part because the show will no longer be available to listeners with limited internet access. “It is a loss to me to lose rural audiences and also people in prison,” she said, adding that she has received multiple letters from incarcerated individuals on death row in Texas and from an educator working in prisons in New York state.

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