‘Pulse of the Planet’ to end in June

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The short-form program Pulse of the Planet will end its long run on public radio June 3, the program’s founder and EP Jim Metzner told Current. 

Metzner recording audio at the Great Gull Island for “Pulse of the Planet” in 2005.

Since 1988, the program has provided 2-minute morsels of soundscapes and interviews each weekday on topics such as nature, science and culture. Metzner created the program as “an alternative to the news that tries to show that there’s something beneath the news that relates to the rhythms of our world, the natural world and the world of traditional culture, which is our heritage as human beings,” he said. 

“I’m 73, I’m starting to get to be involved in a lot of other projects,” Metzner said when asked why the program is ending. He added that short formats are “going out of fashion again on radio.” KERA in Dallas and Cleveland’s Ideastream, a founding station, dropped the show last month. At its peak, the program aired on about 300 stations, including some commercial outlets, he said.

“I thought it was time,” Metzner said. “Now I’d like to go on to other things. I had some regrets and sadness, but it’s time to move on.”

Pulse of the Planet will continue as a podcast under the same name. Metzner said it will feature longer-form episodes, which he may provide to stations on a weekly basis. A few stations have already shown interest, but he suspects the new format will live on mainly as a podcast. 

Always free to stations, the program has received support from funders including the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Some sponsors have indicated that they will continue partial support of the weekly podcast, though it is “mostly unfunded” so far, Metzner said.

Over the decades, Metzner has produced nearly 8,000 Pulse segments. “I practically dream in two-minute segments,” he said. 

Collections of sound

The program will also live on through an archive of the program’s recordings and research through the Library of Congress. 

The Library of Congress acquired the archive in 2019, which includes nearly 28,000 items from 1979–2007. The collection covers Pulse of the Planet and Sounds of Science, which Metzner produced before Pulse.

The archives include “not only interviews with thousands of scientists, but sounds literally from all over the planet, and things that nobody else had even seen fit to record before,” he said. 

While the archive’s paper files are searchable online, the recordings are not yet available. “But give the Library Congress time,” Metzner said. “They will ultimately have the sounds available online.” Many show episodes are on Pulse’s website

Among his new endeavors, Metzner has launched the American Soundscapes Project, which aims to crowdsource sounds. The project will be like a “StoryCorps for sound,” he said. 

The project is in its early stages but will eventually include a mix of sounds recorded by professionals as well as anyone who chooses to submit.

“For the first time in history, we’re all walking around with recorders in our back pockets in smartphones,” he said. “And so you can actually make a very decent recording.”

“We want people to send in the sounds that matter to them,” he said. 

Metzner doesn’t have a specific plan for how the project will use the sounds beyond collecting them on the website. “Once we start gathering the sounds, I think organically the next step will appear,” he said.

One public radio station has asked to use the sounds in broadcasts, he said.

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