Output: Bitton’s homage to Piaf, STEM rock tunes from PBS, where 5-year-olds hide evidence (on PRX), and more

By Dru Sefton

Decades ago, a teenaged Raquel Bitton locked herself in her San Francisco bedroom, suffering miserably from her first broken heart.

Her only comfort was an album by Edith Piaf, the diminutive French chanteuse known as “the Little Sparrow.”

“It is the love that you love,” Piaf sang in “C’est L’amour.” “It is love that makes you dream. It is love that wants love. It is love that makes us cry.”

“I listened to it all and came out of my room with a decision to get onstage and sing — and to love again,” Bitton said. “I put together a little revue singing Piaf’s songs, telling pieces of her stories. I started in coffeehouses.”

Bitton’s passion ultimately grew into a film, Piaf: Her Story, Her Songs, now offered for public TV broadcasts from NETA.

Bitton now looks back on a career that has taken her to Carnegie Hall three times and around the world performing Piaf’s signature titles and telling crowds the tragic and riveting tale of the famous singer. Born to a drug addict, Piaf grew up in her grandmother’s brothel and gave birth to a child of her own at 15 who died of meningitis. Soon after, her phenomenal voice was discovered while she was singing in an alley.

She went on to become the highest-paid singer in the world, facing four major surgeries, two serious automobile accidents, morphine addiction and alcoholism before dying in 1963 at age 47.

Through the years, Bitton met Piaf’s inner circle, particularly her songwriters. In the mid-1990s, she interviewed many of them for a story about Piaf that she produced for NPR, and her friendships with Piaf’s associates deepened.

As her own career progressed, she wanted to record their recollections on film, so she returned to a tiny Parisian bistro at the foot of the cemetery where Piaf is buried to capture an evening of food and conversation. That footage, along with Bitton’s own concert performances, became the basis of her 2003 documentary.

“This film was 20 years in the making,” Bitton said. “I wanted it to be perfect, a tribute forever. Now most of the people in it have passed away. How grateful I am to have had the chance to meet and know them, and have them tell me what it was like, why they wrote the songs they did for Piaf. Her life was in her songs” such as “La Vie en Rose,” “No Regrets” and “Hymn to Love.”

The 95-minute film made the festival circuit and was released on DVD by Lionsgate. It has aired on WNET in New York, KCET in Los Angeles, WHYY in Philadelphia and KQED in San Francisco, according to Bitton. She plans a national tour in 2013 to promote the NETA offering as well as to honor the 50th anniversary of Piaf’s death.

PBS Kids is announcing the release of its first music album, PBS Kids Rocks!, with 15 songs designed to bolster preschool children’s reading and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills.

Performing are Grammy-Award–winners Ozomatli and They Might Be Giants, indie duo the Weepies and the guitar-playing Steve Roslonek, a.k.a. Mr. Steve, co-host of the PBS Kids preschool lineup. The bands perform songs including “Opposable Thumbs,” “Five Senses” and “Gravity Always Brings me Down.”

The album has been available on Amazon.com ($7.99) and iTunes ($9.99) since November 2011. PBS spokesperson Melissa Mills said PBS initially promoted the album through social media, and decided to work with the artists on a traditional promotion campaign. Proceeds support PBS Kids educational programming.

iQ Kids Radio is produced in studios within the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh (Photo: WQED).

WQED and the Pittsburgh production company behind the long-running Saturday Light Brigade pubradio show are partnering on an upcoming streaming channel, iQ Kids Radio.

The partners just secured three years of support from the Junior League of Pittsburgh to kick-start the project, set to launch in 2013.

iQ Kids Radio will blend children’s content from WQED, PBS and SLB Radio Productions covering multiple disciplines — language, science, music appreciation, geography and more — into a streaming-audio format, as well as individual programs for podcasts and national distribution aimed at kids up to age 12 and their parents.

Programming also will include youth-created music, storytelling and news and commentary based on listener submissions at iQkidsradio.org and SLB’s work with more than 8,000 children annually on The Saturday Light Brigade, a kids’ radio show with music, live performances and interviews.

In 2004, supported by broadcasters, foundations, corporations and individuals, SLB Radio Productions opened a $250,000 broadcast studio and training complex in the expanded Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.

The Junior League of Pittsburgh is providing administrative and volunteer support as well as $45,000 for the launch. Junior League members will help with business planning and design and run events related to the project.

A father’s recorded chat with his young daughters after a disastrous haircut gave the Public Radio Exchange its first viral hit.

PRX.org averages between 5,000 and 10,000 visitors per day. On June 28, “Two Little Girls Explain The Worst Haircut Ever” generated more than 107,000 hits as well as media exposure, including on ABC News.

WNPR/Connecticut Public Radio reporter Jeff Cohen recorded the nearly three-minute segment back in February, several weeks after 5-year-old Sadie surreptitiously hacked off nearly a foot of curly hair from her 3-year-old sister Eva. Cohen, a former print reporter who has been at the station for two-and-a-half years, routinely makes recordings to share on a family blog. He played this one for WNPR News Director John Dankosky, who suggested running it on PRX.

In the interview, Sadie does most of the talking. Cohen asks, When did you first realize something was wrong? “When I was finished and put the scissors back and looked at her and was like, ‘Uh-oh. This is baaad, bad, bad, bad.’” What did you do with the hair? “I hid it under the radiator.” Cohen asks if Sadie thought he and his wife “were going to like” the trim. “No. I didn’t know you were going to scream like that, though.”

The piece initially received little attention, getting picked up by a handful of pubradio stations. Then on June 27, the link popped up on MetaFilter, a popular community blog with about 12,000 active members. From there, on June 28 and 29, it spread to Gawker, Neatorama, BuzzFeed and the Huffington Post.

“We were fielding dozens of simultaneous listens from all over the world every second” that Thursday and Friday, said John Barth, PRX managing director. “I would say PRX.org bent but did not break. We saw some slowdown of the site, but through deft engineering work shifted the demand and kept things flowing.”

The attention culminated in a two-minute segment June 30 on ABC’s World News with David Muir. Cohen turned down a live appearance with the girls on Good Morning America. “They’re little kids, and that’s a lot of exposure,” he said.

Cohen has been pondering the item’s popularity. “Why are people interested in this, as opposed to anything else?” he said. “I think because it’s not really about my kids, it’s about kids. All kids are cute, all kids make mistakes. Parents have kids that make mistakes. So it’s not a story unique to us.”

Barth said PRX is “thrilled” with the response. “This is the sort of thing we want to happen with more PRX pieces,” he said, “and open sharing of pieces on PRX makes this possible.”

Jazz fans mourn changes on WGBH-FM

WGBH-FM’s decision to scale back jazz programming, part of a schedule revamp announced June 20, sparked an outcry from fans that culminated in a jazz funeral.

After his July 5 weeknight show, longtime jazz host Eric Jackson participated in the raucous hourlong funeral in front of the Boston station’s headquarters. The event was organized by Ken Field, a local saxophonist who hosts a jazz show on WMBR-FM.

Starting July 2, the station reshuffled its schedule to pick up additional broadcasts of Marketplace, extend Morning Edition by an hour, and refine its midday talk show lineup. It also picked up Public Radio Remix, a syndicated stream of story-telling segments from Public Radio Exchange, from midnight to 5 a.m. weekdays.

The changes included a reconfiguration of WGBH’s weeknight jazz schedule, cutting into airtime devoted to Jackson’s weeknight show and Jazz with Bob Parlocha.

“We understand the feeling of loss that jazz fans feel,” WGBH spokesperson Jake Messier told Current. “However, it is important to note that jazz remains on the WGBH Radio schedule as part of our 60-year commitment to local arts and music.”

A Facebook page set up by disgruntled listeners, the “Save Jazz on WGBH Now” page, had 1,500 members at Current’s deadline.

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