“Imagine you captured Columbia in a jar—all the people, spaces, and things that populate your life as an undergraduate—and opened it up. What would it sound like?” Mahima Chablani and Diana Guyton, both CC ’14, asked. In an endeavor to seek and share answers to this question, the two, in collaboration with WKCR’s arts and news departments, are helming “This Columbia Life,” an hour-long talk radio program in the vein of NPR’s “This American Life.”
The show will include narratives both nail-biting (“that time you flirted with disaster”) and quotidian (“that week you didn’t shower”), and students are encouraged to reach out if they have a tale. Coinciding with this project is an open-mic on Thursday that will be recorded and that offers a chance to tell your own Morningside yarn. Spectator sat down with Chablani and Guyton to discuss the conception of the show, the boons of broadcast radio, and the themes that unite us as a campus.
Alexandra Warrick: There are a great deal of platforms through which Columbia students can share their personal stories. What makes “This Columbia Life”—and, by extension, radio—a distinct and vital conduit for these stories to be told? What does this medium offer that others may not?
Mahima Chablani: One thing is that all of the stories fit within an hour-long show, and you can kind of dip in and dip out as you please. Our expectation would be that you stick around and consume all of it for the whole hour, but you kind of have more agency, perhaps, in the listening process because radio can accompany you. You can listen to it while you’re studying, you can listen to it while you’re folding laundry, you can listen to it with your friends when having a listening party. You can still be in a very private space while having a public experience, I guess.
Diana Guyton: Another thing—you can dip in and you can dip out, but you also can’t skim anything, you know? You have to listen to someone at their own pace, or the pace that we’re presenting it, with the pauses and the music that we’ve added. You’re not going to be distracted by what someone looks like, or other visual cues, because it’s a limited sensory experience. You’re just there to listen, so you become that much more attuned to how interesting people’s voices are, how connected that is to what they’re saying.
MC: And then you can hear the show either through the airwaves—on the exact date that we’re airing it—or you can access it online, and it’s kind of preserved for you.
DG: That’s something that’s interesting about radio now, in 2014—that we are going to air it on FM, and it will stream online, but then we’re also going to preserve it on our SoundCloud and hopefully on the WKCR website as well, so you can return to it. I’ve been returning to the stories from 2012—I actually listened to one from 2012 and realized that somebody said something that has been, like, informing my insecurities for two years that I’d forgotten. When it was started in 2012 it was also presented as an oral history project, and I think that’s true, in a way. We’re preserving just people’s voices.
AW: In your exposure to the stories shared over the course of this program’s existence, has a uniting thread become apparent between these different anecdotes, or do the experiences shared vary too much from person to person to detect any one common or recurring theme?
MC: Unlike “This American Life,” we aren’t giving people themes beforehand—we’re structuring the shows based on the themes that we receive. We haven’t necessarily found one particular thread, besides everyone being a Columbia student—
DG: It would be impossible to find one.
MC: But we are seeing a lot of reoccurring feelings and sensations—like, for example, the speakers or storytellers are responding to moments of rejection, or moments of denial, and find affection somewhere else.
DG: Affection or support somewhere else—that’s something else that keeps coming up, people trying to develop support networks.
MC: Right now, we’re trying to structure the stories around the common themes that we’ve seen.
AW: What does the live event offer that radio may or may not?
DG: We wanted to reach people that we can’t reach through the WKCR community. We can only reach so many people, we only know so many people, and only so many people think they care about radio, so we thought—if we flyer, and we get people talking, and we give them a physical space to go to, we can bring this incredible experience that we’re having with people here in the studio, we can bring that onto the campus more.
MC: And it can happen visibly, all at once. Audibly, all at once.
DG: It’s interactive, you get an immediate response from the audience which you don’t get when it’s just us, and we’re hoping it’ll bring more people to the project.
AW: What advice would you give attendees who wish to share a story on Friday?
DG: Our best advice would really be don’t be afraid to be personal, to be honest, to be real.
MC: To pee your pants.
DG: Yeah, that’s fine.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
The open mic for “This Columbia Life” will take place Thursday night at 8 p.m. in 501 Dodge Hall.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified “This American Life” as an NPR show. It is not. Spectator regrets the error.