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Posted at 11:24 AM ET, 05/11/2012

‘TED Radio Hour’ host Alison Stewart on innovation, creativity and what her TED talk would be about

Alison Stewart, host of the “TED Radio Hour,” a program co-produced by TED and National Public Radio. (Stephen Voss/NPR)
Mother’s Day weekend is upon us, and if you are a fan of National Public Radio and the Technology Entertainment and Design conference better known as TED, then this, for you, should be the mother of all audio experiences.

It’s called “TED Radio Hour,” and it is a co-production of TED and NPR. The program’s third episode arrives Friday.

The show, released as a podcast and to roughly 100 public radio stations, is hosted by journalist and long-time television host Alison Stewart. While Stewart may be best-known for her work on MSNBC as the host of “The Most” and the substitute host for “Countdown” and “The Rachel Maddow Show,” she is not new to NPR. She was the founding host of the multi-platform program “The Bryant Park Project,” and she has guest-hosted NPR’s popular radio programs “Weekend Edition” and “Talk of the Nation.” She was most recently the host of “Need to Know” on PBS. She has been named among “The Root 100” by our sister publication, and, if you were a young political junkie in the ’90s, you probably remember her as the host of “Choose or Lose” on MTV.

She now hosts the most popular podcast in the United States on iTunes. That’s right: In three weeks, the joint magic of NPR’s audio storytelling and TED’s compelling roughly 18-minutes-each talks has produced something people clearly want more of. That’s probably because “TED Radio Hour” goes beyond the individual TED talks, of which there are roughly 1,200.

Highlights from individual talks are sprinkled throughout the program, along with Stewart’s more recent interviews with the speaker and other experts. So, if you loved listening to Dan Ariely’s talk on why we cheat or Dan Gilbert on what makes us happy, “TED Radio Hour” gives you a chance to listen to the talks again, along with an additional post mortem interview.

Having interviewed TED creator Richard Saul Wurman before, I decided to track down Stewart, and get her take on returning to radio, creativity, innovation and TED.

Q: What's your favorite TED talk? 

Regina Dugan (Jeffrey MacMillan)
Stewart: Most recently I have been thinking a lot about what Regina Dugan, the director of DARPA, said. Her message was “Don't fear failure.” She presented the whole idea that amazing things come from those who are willing to try. She used some extraordinary technology — drones and thought-controlled prosthetics — to show what’s possible that most would think seems impossible. She also put up a slide that said, “What would you do if you knew you couldn't fail?” It is a great question. I’ve asked myself that a few times recently. Maybe she asked herself that because I think she is leaving the Pentagon for Google.

If you could give a TED talk, what would it be about?

 I would give a TED talk about the importance of community in education. I am writing a book about the history of Dunbar High School in D.C. Despite all the societal and legal hurdles, during segregation, Dunbar was an academically elite high school. It was due in large part to the community built within and around the school.  Successful schools are not warehouses. Dunbar shows us that  successful schools, internally, are living, vibrant communities with a fair amount of autonomy supported and guided  by outside engaged communities. Or I would give a talk about how to watch a mainstream news show — the untold story behind what gets on the air. 

What innovation do you currently have your eye on/would desperately like to see launched into the world?  

Inexpensive computers for developing countries. It was a big deal a few years ago. Economic disparity is a huge issue and we can talk about Web this/Internet that, but the reality is many people around the world and in the U.S. can’t afford computers.  A man named David Braben is working on a $25 computer with this in mind. It is called Raspberry Pi.

People often think reporters are not in the creativity business. But it's really the art of storytelling. Given that, can you describe your creative process? 

I always joke that I am a creative person in the news business and normally being “creative” when it comes to news stories is a bad thing.  I research as much as possible. I always find there is some nugget, some throwaway piece of information that leads to an interesting revelation. Or there is some sort of back story related to that nugget that is interesting.  Here’s the thing — these days information is not rare. You can get info almost anywhere. But the motivation behind a news story is unique. I think we need to think more about why something happens. The who, what, where and when are easy to come by.

What have you learned about TED through doing the show that you didn't know before?  

I didn’t  realize the strength and duration of the relationships between TED, the attendees and the speakers. Even though people come from all walks of life, there seems to be a common bond of imagination and hope that is equally as important as all the gee-whiz stuff.

New episodes of The “TED Radio Hour” are released on Fridays.

This post has been updated.

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By  |  11:24 AM ET, 05/11/2012

Categories:  Education, Morning Read, The Arts

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