BEHIND THE SCENES with Sara Fishko

How do you come up with your story ideas

I'm not sure, exactly, where my ideas come from, I have to admit. I have a music background (I was a pianist years ago) and an editing background (I edited films for years), and one of the things I think about a lot is editing music, how music is affected by juxtaposition... how one thing is changed by being placed up against another. So many of the ideas I have are related to that thought. The House I Live In was a case of having a story that was wonderfully improbable, and a wealth of archive material to back it up: a press copy of a Sinatra CD set arrived, containing the song and the Oscar acceptance speech, which led me to the radio broadcast, which led me to the old Earl Robinson recording of the song. One thing so often leads to another

How do you define the scope of the topics you cover for The Fishko Files

It is a broad definition, if there is one at all. I am supposed to be doing "cultural" pieces, so that's part of it, but even more, I feel I have to have something to "contribute" to the story, some personal bit of knowledge or insight. My two questions before starting a piece are: "What can I say about this?" and "How do I make it radio ?" I also observe, as I look over the pieces I've done, that I have a special interest in the cultural history of the last hundred years or so, especially as it relates to political and social movements. So a piece like The House I Live In was a natural for me, as were pieces on Schoenberg, the Theremin, the Mexican revolutionary composer Revueltas, Lotte Lenya, etc., etc.

I was unaware of your film background. How do your interests in radio and film balance or even sustain one another

They are incredibly related: all that I learned about story-telling and structure, I learned by "finding" documentary films in the editing room which is, after all, where they are "found" and structured. It is a wildly non-linear, wonderfully free-associative process which, happily, translates to radio. And what I was able to bring to film from radio (and music) was a sense of economy, forward motion, rhythm.

How important is it to you to bring humor and irony into your work

I am always terrified to release a piece that has no irony: irony is where I live. I am frustrated by earnestness, though I may display it at times myself. Part of this comes from the realization that my own preoccupations are, sometimes, a bit... er... odd. It seems only right to let people know that I know this. Irony seems like the best way, as "confessional" radio is not my thing, particularly. And irony adds another layer, and I love layers. I have to say I am not always conscious that I am being ironic -- it comes quite naturally to me.

How do you use your voice to deliver the irony

I have always loved deadpan, and I think what I am doing is a kind of vocal deadpan. I like to assume people in the audience are very smart -- and they don't need everything telegraphed. So I play it very narrow (as opposed to broad), and it comes across as irony. Which I GUESS is what it is. All I can tell you is this is not something I had to cultivate -- it just happened. In fact, if anything, I sometimes have to work against it when it sends the wrong message. So I guess the answer is... it just comes naturally out of the way I look at things.

What's your advice to people who may want to follow in your footsteps

I came to this rather late, after a long time of doing other things which prepared me beautifully for it. This, of course, is not necessarily the only way to go about it -- but it certainly works, which is not to say one should wait as long as I did. But I would not discourage anyone from soaking up whatever he/she can about the craft of just putting things together. ANY things -- movies, words, musical compositions, hats. Juxtaposition is all. Learn how to juxtapose.