Imagine a Sundance Festival for radio and you start to get the idea of what the Third Coast International Audio Festival is all about. This festival is designed to honor and enrich the world of documentary audio and create new opportunities for extraordinary work to reach audiences. It’s a competition with monetary support going to the winners. It’s a weekend conference, October 26-27, in Chicago. It’s a program to be hosted by Ira Glass and featuring the award-winning works. It will be produced and distributed by Chicago Public Radio. And it’s a Web site (

Chicago Public Radio created this festival because there is a bounty of engaging work being produced today on radio and the Internet. Documentary programs are emerging from the networks (National Public Radio and Public Radio International) and also from stations (Chicago’s “This American Life,” WBUR’s “Inside Out”), from independent radio producers and increasingly from people who never thought of themselves as “producers.” Writers, artists and others in the last group share a fondness for radio and often have a powerful story to tell.

I suppose we should not have been so surprised when, instead of receiving 150 entries, our final tally is more than 300 from a dozen different countries. There is a renaissance of interest in the documentary form in print, film and in radio. Ira Glass, host and producer of “This American Life,” recently explained it this way: “At this odd cultural moment, when we’re inundated with stories all day long, it’s still remarkable how few TV shows, movies, songs and magazines actually capture what our lives are really like. We hunger for something that puts our lives in perspective. That’s what documentary is for.”

The Third Coast festival is a new opportunity to celebrate the audio documentary form, revealing the power of radio and the Internet to document our world.

Johanna Zorn has worked as a producer/director at Chicago Public Radio for 20 years. For the past 10 years she has produced the nationally acclaimed series, “Chicago Matters.” As part of this series, Zorn has had the opportunity to work with many of the nation’s top documentary producers.

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