Extraordinary Stories of Ordinary Life

25 Years of Radio Diaries

Radio Diaries began 25 years ago this month.

Amanda Brand was 17 when I gave her a big clunky cassette recorder and asked her to record her life for a few months. She didn’t know what to expect. Neither did I. 

Amanda was the first diarist I ever worked with. She had recently come out to her parents. They were Catholic and didn’t know anyone who was gay; they did not take the news well. That’s what her story was about. But, it was the scenes and sounds from Amanda’s story, all the everyday moments she recorded that got me really excited.  And, it turns out, teenagers are exceptionally good at recording these moments.  Amanda — in her self-described “industrial gothic” style — drove around with her friends aimlessly on a Friday night; she burped while walking around her house; she called her girlfriend on the family’s old rotary phone; and she recorded an intimate and difficult conversation with her parents about her sexuality. 

And at the end of her diary, Amanda says with teenage bravado:

“My parents… they’re going to have to get used to it. Because pretty soon when I bring my wife over to their house to eat dinner, you know, with my kids, they’re gonna be like: ok fine. That’s how it’s gonna be.”

Amanda (front) with her family today.

25 years later, that’s exactly how things have turned out. Amanda is married (formerly Amanda Brand, now Amanda Katz), they have 9-year-old twins, and they regularly visit Amanda’s parents for dinner. These days, says Amanda, her mom brags that her daughter is gay.

In radio, a lot has changed in 25 too: from cassettes to flash drives, splicing tape to keyboard commands, broadcasts to podcasts. But one thing hasn’t changed. A microphone is still a passport to places and people we might not otherwise meet. That still feels as important as ever.

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