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Marfa Public Radio 2018 Murrow Awards - Excellence in Innovation

In 2018, Marfa Public Radio took a week-long road trip across its wide region, a broadcast range covering more than 30,000 square miles of rural West Texas. The goal: to engage listeners in person, and introduce our new Hearken-based project, West Texas Wonders.

The aim of the project is simple: to listen to our community. We're asking listeners what they want to know about the place we all call home.

Our reporters then find the answers and broadcast them in the form of radio stories.

In order to have a successful launch, we knew we couldn't just promote West Texas Wonders digitally. Not all of our listeners are on social media, or the internet, for that matter. What's more, Marfa and the greater Big Bend Region are hubs for tourism, and our online audience spans far beyond our local community. We wanted to make sure that that the loudest voices driving the series weren't coming from the outside.

So instead of relying on the web to engage with our listeners, we decided to hit the road!

For one week, Marfa Public Radio's Sally Beauvais and Elise Pepple drove across West Texas, collecting questions from residents. Below is a recap of that journey and a look into the innovative approach the station took to connect with listeners.

Day 1: Big Bend National Park and Terlingua

On the first day of Marfa Public Radio's week-long trip, we made two stops in the southern corner of our broadcast range. But before our team went down to Big Bend National Park and Terlingua, we did a live call-in from the road. This first call was to establish for our listeners what we would be doing that week.

Day 2: Alpine and Marathon

Our road trip strategy was multi-tiered. It included setting up a booth at each of our stops --places like bars, grocery stores, a small-town post office, a library. We handed out the usual Marfa Public Radio fare -- t-shirts, coffee mugs and stickers -- but we also had slips of paper, where booth visitors could write down their question for West Texas Wonders.

Beauvais and Pepple recorded questions from participants who were willing to step up to the mic. Then, each morning of the trip, we aired a reel of new questions on the radio that we collected from the road, to encourage folks to come to meet us and ask their own.

Some of those bits of audio ultimately turned into evergreen 30-second spots that we use to promote the series on air.

Day 3: Fort Davis and Marfa

By day 3, the Marfa Public Radio team had traveled more than 270 miles of far West Texas. Beauvais and Pepple continued to call in live updates to our daily news magazine shows, but they also called into our music shows. In the example below, Pepple speaks with Classical Midday DJ Roseland Klein about the questions the team had received so far and how listeners could submit their own to West Texas Wonders.


Days 4 and 5: Odessa and Midland

By the end of the trip, Beauvais and Pepple traveled over 700 miles of West Texas and collected 180 questions. They found that the most common inquiry from residents across the Permian Basin and Big Bend region had to do with the mysterious Marfa lights -- an unexplained phenomenon in the Marfa sky that's piqued the curiosity of locals and visitors alike for over 100 years.

So, to kick off the series, Marfa Public Radio's Diana Nguyen went in search of the real stories behind the lights.

The Marfa Lights — Underground Lightning, Wandering Ghosts, Or Something Else?

The questions we received throughout the road trip shaped the first 6 months of West Texas Wonders. We answered questions about empty skyscrapers, giant ranches, community infrastructure, and more.

Tall City, Empty Buildings: What’s Up With The Abandoned Skyscrapers In Downtown Midland?

How Did West Texas Ranches Get SO BIG?

How Do 4-Way Stops Really Work?