Most radio producers don’t get jobs by recording interviews on their parents’ answering machine, then feeding clips into a boombox.
Then again, most radio producers are not vying for Ira Glass’ attention.
But the quirky “This American Life” personality liked what he heard from Hillary Frank. In 2000 he hired her for his Chicago staff.
It was a great career move. The Westport native — who had left Staples 7 years earlier as a junior, heading straight to Tufts — learned plenty at the popular, offbeat, interview-driven radio show.
She began freelaning for “Studio 360,” “”Marketplace” and “All Things Considered.” She wrote 3 novels.
Then, in 2010, Hillary had a baby. Childbirth and recovery were rough. She’d just moved to New Jersey. She had no other moms to talk to.
“After all those years as a radio producer, I knew I could ask anyone anything by sticking a microphone in their face,” Hillary says.
It worked. Asking questions was cathartic. She felt better — and the women she talked with did too.
Working irregularly (“during naptimes”), she produced 20 shows in 3 years. All were about early parenthood. She called it “The Longest Shortest Time.”
The topics were typical Hillary. “The Emperor’s New Onesie” covered a toddler who refused to wear clothing. After 2 stark naked months, she was diagnosed with a sensory disorder. The girl’s mother told the story in a funny, relatable way.
For a piece on natural childbirth, Hillary revisited her own experience. She interviewed her midwife and others, wondering whether she could have done anything differently. The answer: probably not.
Hillary’s stories ranged from ridiculous to serious. Topics included miscarriages, the NICU, and a lifelong vegetarian who thought her son’s digestive problem came from her breast milk, and began eating meat.
Hillary started by emailing 300 colleagues and friends. Slowly — through word of mouth, and a shoutout on “This American Life”‘s Facebook page — her audience grew. Strangers submitted their own stories.
Last fall, Hillary realized she needed to start making money from her podcasts. Kickstarter provided donors and sponsors.
Now WNYC has picked up her podcasts. They air it on their website, through their iTunes channel, and via their app. She’s promoted it on the Brian Lehrer and Leonard Lopate shows too.
Tomorrow (Tuesday, June 17, 3 p.m.) she hosts a Google hangout called “What’s Up With Your Boobs?” (It’s about lactation.)
Hillary just completed her 32nd episode. A father is surprised to feel indifferent — at times miserable — after his child is born. His wife, meanwhile, is thrilled.
Hillary approaches the story the same way she does every other one: with a twist. She doesn’t probe the feelings themselves; instead, she examines spousal conflict in parenthood.
“The Longest Shortest Time” is well worth all of yours.
typo! freelancing, you forgot the “c”!
and tell hillary frank i’ve become a loyal fan. i listen to all her stuff. she’s great!
From time-to-time I do catch you, Hillary, on NPR affiloiates,as I drive about Vermont. Good wishes to you always, Be well, be safe. –Karl Decker (,,.Yeah, your old English teacher)
Mr. Decker! It means so much to me to know you are a listener. You were the first person to teach me how to write in a way that is not boring.