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Love Is on the Air

New York Times, WBUR team up on Modern Love podcast

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Love is patient, love is kind. And at times it can also be awkward, funny, tear-inducing, and stressful.

Those are the lessons that can be gleaned from the popular New York Times “Modern Love” column, which launched 11 years ago and appears each Sunday in the “Style” section. Readers have contributed more than 600 essays about dealing with experiences from taking a family vacation as a divorced couple to losing their virginity to how Shamu the whale could improve a marriage.

Last month, WBUR, BU’s National Public Radio station, and the New York Times teamed up to transform the column into a weekly podcast of the same name. The show resurrects previous “Modern Love” essays, read by actors and accompanied by ambient sound and music. Afterward, WBUR host Meghna Chakrabarti (Questrom’13) and Daniel Jones, Times “Modern Love” editor, check in with the stories’ authors for an update on the original essay. Did they finally ask their crush on a date or not? Have they had any contact with the child they gave up for open adoption? Have they moved on from the loss they wrote about?

In the first episodes, actress Sarah Paulson (American Horror Story) read an essay about a mother’s experience with open adoption and Tony-winning actor Jason Alexander (Hon.’95) (Seinfeld) retold the story of a man saying good-bye to his pet fish.

The idea for the partnership came from WBUR’s collaborative iLab, which is tasked with dreaming up new shows for the station. Since Modern Love’s debut, it has consistently been one of the top downloads on the iTunes podcast charts.

Jessica Alpert, WBUR’s managing producer for product development, says while not every “Modern Love” column makes for a good podcast, those that do have the potential to be arresting. She says that with a verbal performance, the team believed they could add another dimension to the essays. When choosing an essay from the archives to feature, the team hunts for one that has definitive scenes, dialogue, and movement, “whether it’s emotional movement or physical movement, something that we can really illustrate through sound,” Alpert says, and not one that’s “purely cerebral,” like someone thinking about something without leaving their bedroom.

Once the team identifies an essay, next up is thinking about which actor would be ideal to read the piece. In the beginning, the team reached out to actors themselves, but Modern Love: The Podcast has proven so popular that Alpert says actors are now calling in to volunteer their services. “The first few months putting the show together were just plain hustle,” she says. “But when you have the New York Times, NPR, and WBUR behind you, people listen. To have people calling us now is a great feeling. I find that actors are loving the process of putting this together. For some of them, it’s a new experience and it allows them to flex their creative muscle and to show their dimension and range.”

Free episodes of the Modern Love podcast can be downloaded here. New episodes of the podcast are available every Thursday on iTunes and Stitcher, as well as on NYTimes.com and WBUR.org.

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Amy Laskowski

Amy Laskowski can be reached at amlaskow@bu.edu.

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