From the set of National Public Radio’s popular game show “Wait Wait ... Don’t Tell Me!” in Chicago last week, panelist Luke Burbank admired images of the sunset over Port Townsend Bay.
“Here I am recording this radio show that goes out to 5 million people a week and I’m thinking, ‘Man, I really wish I was there [PT],” he says with a laugh.
Burbank married his wife, Carey, at Fort Worden State Park last May, and the area made quite the impression on the new couple. So, when they began to discuss leaving their home city of Seattle and settling down somewhere a little less urban, Port Townsend quickly rose to the top of the list.
“We’d visited Port Townsend several times, and one day we turned to each other and asked, ‘Why aren’t we living here?’”
Last month, the couple moved into their new home near North Beach.
“We’re both very fortunate to have jobs that allow us to live in this beautiful place and keep working,” says Burbank. (Carey Burbank develops television commercials as an associate creative director at Uncle Bob Productions in Seattle.)
Although Port Townsend represents a big change from the big city, says Burbank, the couple is settling in. And their observations have quickly become content for Burbank’s shows.
Whatever the task – driving, grocery shopping, etc. – Burbank says, he generally sets a determined pace, but he’s realizing there’s another way.
“An immediate observation I’ve had is that no one here seems to be in a hurry, which is a big change for me,” he says. “I’m the type of guy who goes to the hardware store with a mission – get in, get out – but here, people are strolling, munching their free popcorn and don’t seem the least bit worried about getting to their destination a few minutes later.”
LIVE FROM PORT TOWNSEND
From his Washington Street studio, public radio host Burbank connects to audiences throughout the U.S.
On Monday, April 14, he recorded and broadcast the 1,578th episode of “Too Beautiful to Live” (“TBTL”), which has listeners eavesdropping on conversations between Burbank, cohost Andrew Walsh of Los Angeles and guests.
This week, comedian, radio personality, television host and actor Adam Carolla joined the show.
“‘TBTL’ is like a firefly in a jar, it’s just too beautiful for this world,” says Burbank. “When [cofounder Jennifer Andrews and I] were first pitching it to producers, we didn’t really care if the show got cancelled.”
After two years on the air, it was. Today, “TBTL” is delivered to audiences via podcast.
“We kept going with it, though, and have a great following,” he says. “We have a lot of fun, and I think people appreciate that.”
Despite the distance between them, the men record their show daily – connecting through an integrated services digital network that allows simultaneous digital transmission of voice, video, data and other network services over the traditional circuits of the telephone network.
“It’s amazing how egalitarian-making radio is today,” says Burbank. “When I first started, you needed a million-dollar studio; now, I can record from pretty much anywhere.”
A graduate of the University of Washington’s journalism program, Burbank has a résumé that includes reporting for National Public Radio in Los Angeles, New York, Washington, D.C., and Miami. After those jobs, he landed his first solo show, “The Bryant Park Project.”
Over the past five years, he’s juggled a schedule of four different radio shows – “TBTL,” now being recorded in PT; “LiveWire,” which is recorded in Portland, Ore.; “Wait Wait ... Don’t Tell Me!” recorded before a live studio audience in Chicago, Ill.; and “The Luke Burbank Show,” formerly on KIRO-FM radio in Seattle.
“For 15 years, I’ve felt like I was always reaching for success, trying to earn that recognition, see how many people were re-tweeting me, but my mind set has changed in the last few years, and I’m ready to focus more on just enjoying what I do,” Burbank says.
IT’S ABOUT JOY
Having worked in both public and commercial radio, Burbank asks the question, “Do hosts really think ‘this’ is the best way to tell the story?”
“Commercial radio tends to be all about entertainment but doesn’t offer much information, while public radio offers a whole lot of information but isn’t always that entertaining,” he said.
For Burbank, finding topics that not only interest but inspire audiences is the goal.
“I think David (Foster) Wallace said it best: Outrage is the easiest emotion to create in someone, it is also the least authentic ... the harder to create is joy. But joy is real. It sticks with you.”