I thought up this site in February or March of 2009. I pitched it to the CoLab staff, and they thought it was cool. It took me until May to find the time I needed to face down my fear of the internet so I could make the vision actually appear on the web. It was one of those working-from-home days when it’s 9:00 p.m. by the time you check the clock, and by then you have a thick layer of computer sweat on your face, you’re so hungry it hurts to stand up, and you think your hamstrings might be permanently shortened from squatting at a coffee table for an unknown number of hours.
After all that the site was ugly and had a weird URL. Two days later, after finally finding some of the techies MIT is allegedly full of (they might be allergic to the urban planning department), I had a decent looking page and achieved the URL http://colabradio.mit.edu.
My original concept was to have each post feature a ten-minute audio story. Audio editing is my favorite. Since I though I would be doing most of the production, I figured I should get to choose the media format I liked best. So, CoLab concepts + audio files = CoLab Radio. I hoped to eventually make the audio files good enough for the actual radio. Everything made sense.
Unfortunately, my original concept suffered from two important delusions.
My first delusion was that we would have the time to produce a ten-minute audio story once a week. It’s not like I came up with the incredibly innovative idea of an office blog and then all of my other projects disappeared. It took me five months to finally make some posts.
My second delusion was that people would want to come to a site that had less than one new post a week. I’d look at our blog stats those first few weeks and see seven hits in a day and feel like a huge loser. My boyfriend gently suggested that perhaps people didn’t return to a blog that never actually said anything. I guess I though the internet was kind of like the entire Atlantic Ocean stored in a giant Ziploc bag. All we had to do was poke it with our brilliant blog and all the ocean critters would come to surge though the site like krill through baleen. It was not that simple.
Finally I started having some decent ideas. I asked each CoLab staff person to commit to making one post a month. Then I went to Colombia with the Cartagena Practicum and the participants started posting every other day. Then some students decided to blog their theses and projects. Then some community groups started blogging about their work. By the following March we were real. I had the courage to go on Google Analytics once a week and peek at the number of visitors. Lots of people were coming.
But the lots of people had lots of questions, the most prominent among them: “Now why is it called CoLab Radio? There’s nothing to listen to on here!” A year later, the memory of those three sweaty days groveling to tech geeks was enough to preclude me from even considering the possibility of changing the URL. I did nothing.
By then we had a bunch of contributors to the site. We forgot about web traffic and devoted ourselves to the experience our contributors and their communities were having as they posted their stories. People started asking the contributing bloggers about the name, and surprisingly, the bloggers just made things up. One contributor told her thesis adviser that ‘Radio’ was a play on history. In the olden days the radio was the prime public platform for communicating new ideas. CoLab Radio was a new forum for communicating ideas about cities. Another contributor said that the radio presented a treasure chest of ideas, news and stories, and CoLab Radio site offered the same kind of joy; it was a collection of beautiful and interesting things. Someone else said it was because a radio show is interactive with call-in shows, and the site was interactive too.
Then there is a separate list of reasons why radio is lovely word. The cadence is nice: CO-lab RAY-dee-Oh. Also, it’s a visual word. “We like the tinny and retro feel of ‘radio’,” said CoLab Executive Director Dayna Cunningham. “I like that radio is a simple, accessible and pretty universal medium that is still the main channel of communication in much of the developing world and also in U.S. minority communities.” With that in mind, CoLab still hankers for the real radio.
In summary, if you are wondering why this site is called CoLab Radio, or if you write for this site and your dad is asking you why it’s called that, just make something up. It will be more interesting than the truth. If you come up with something good, please do us the favor of emailing us your reason at email@example.com or leaving a comment below this post.
Post by Alexa Mills.