As more than 100 people from throughout and beyond Chattanooga celebrated the community’s willingness to come together in conversation, organizers gave them something new to talk about at a StoryCorps One Small Step listening party Thursday, Dec. 8, at Songbirds Guitar & Pop Culture Museum. Student podcasters at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga soon will have the opportunity to compete for funds needed to bring student-developed podcast storytelling ideas to life.
The news was shared by Will Davis, who teaches podcasting at UTC and is outreach manager of the University’s PodLab, a student podcasting studio training the next generation of professional podcasters. Davis also was emcee at the listening party to celebrate Chattanooga’s role in One Small Step, an initiative of National Public Radio’s StoryCorps project and a response to increasingly polarized American society.
The live event featured local participants among those Davis and some of his UTC students began recording in conversation last summer and continued through fall. One Small Step pairs interviewees who’ve never met before and who might not appear to have anything in common to sit down at the PodLab and begin talking.
“We are grateful to each of the more than 50 people who made time to sit down with someone they’d never met toward making a connection and reflecting on their commonality,” Davis said. “And I’m also excited to be able to announce that we are establishing a series of student scholarships for creative storytelling projects in the spirit of One Small Step. I know that when our sharp students use their imaginations to tell empathetic stories, the result will be compelling proposals for scholarship funding review.”
Parameters for proposals, evaluation criteria and funding award amounts are now in development, with details to come in early 2023, Davis said.
Meanwhile, the recordings of the 50 or so people involved in One Small Step Chattanooga conversations since summer 2022 will be at the heart of Davis’ spring semester 2023 podcasting courses. Students will be involved in every aspect of editing, packaging, promoting and sharing a multi-episode serial podcast based on Chattanooga’s One Small Step conversations. Episodes of that serial will be aired on Chattanooga NPR affiliate WUTC-FM 88.1 and available for download at the station’s website—in addition to distribution via Spotify, Apple Podcasts and other popular podcast platforms.
Guests at Thursday’s listening party heard excerpts of conversations between: Tracy Beamon, and Christopher Cooper, Scar Pardue and Caleb Lawen, and Joda Thongnopnua and former U.S. Sen. Bob Corker.
StoryCorps records, preserves and shares stories from everyday Americans, and Chattanooga is one of only six sites chosen nationally for StoryCorps’ One Small Step initiative. Davis has led the effort, as he did Tennessee Valley StoryCorps, the Chattanooga-area presentation of that NPR initiative in 2019.
StoryCorps officials describe Chattanooga as a politically diverse region that can serve as a model for other communities, “demonstrating what’s possible when people take time to listen to those with whom they disagree.”
“Chattanooga is becoming bigger and denser every day, and every effort is being made to make it a more tolerant and inclusive city,” Davis said. “One Small Step embodies our community’s goals.”
Since 2003, StoryCorps has given people of all backgrounds and beliefs in thousands of towns in all 50 states the opportunity to record interviews about their lives. StoryCorps recordings are preserved in the American Folklife Center archive at the National Library of Congress. The archive comprises the largest single collection of human voices ever gathered and shares select stories with the public through StoryCorps’ podcast episodes, NPR broadcasts, animated short films, digital platforms and best-selling books.