By Lily Rothman
May 03, 2013
The May 2, 2013, taping of the public radio news-trivia show Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me was much like any other in its 15-year history. A panel of comedians riffed on current hot topics—this week, openly gay athletes and how to get horses to participate in psych studies. A celebrity guest—Steve Martin for this particular show—answered questions about his career and participated in a quiz. After the show is edited, it’ll air over the weekend. All in all, a typical taping of the weekly show.
The microphones that always capture Wait Wait were joined by nine cameras, recording what was the first-ever life cinecast of the show. The program was broadcast live—meaning, no tape delay in Eastern and Central time zones—to select movie theaters around the U.S. and Canada, where Wait Wait fans could actually see how the show is put together. It’s an experiment that brings the show in line with one of the latest trends in public radio, already familiar to fans of shows like This American Life and A Prairie Home Companion. By Experience, the company that coordinated the satellite transmission for the event, used an impressive fleet of satellite trucks parked outside the theater, from which the signal was beamed 23,000 miles up and then back down to cineplexes.
Movie theaters, think some, are the next frontier for the previously ears-only experience of radio. It’s a frontier with no shortage of obstacles, and new enough that more are still being discovered—but the the Wait Wait team is guessing that the rewards can be worth it.
“I think it will be really weird, and I say this from long personal experience, for everybody to find out what we look like, especially myself,” host Peter Sagal told TIME, joking that he had considered wearing gold lamé or a Gaga-style meat dress. “Nobody listens to me for the first 30 seconds I’m speaking to them, because they’re just coping with the fact that my voice is coming out of this head. ‘Oh my God,’ they’re thinking to themselves, ‘he doesn’t sound bald!’”