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Queena Kim, Off-Ramp's first producer, sheds light on the show's beginnings

Off-Ramp producer Queena Kim acts on behalf of millions of Angelenos. The meter didn't stand a chance.
Off-Ramp producer Queena Kim acts on behalf of millions of Angelenos. The meter didn't stand a chance.
John Rabe/KPCC

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Off-Ramp began eleven years ago, just as digital technology was beginning to overtake radio. No more cassette tape or mini-discs; host John and producer Queena Kim thought they could take on all of Los Angeles with two digital audio recorders and a different approach to public radio.

Short-handed as they were, John and Queena had to adopt slash-and-burn tactics to get each show produced on time. The majority of interviews were conducted in the field; at the homes, workplaces, and favorite hang-outs of their subjects (instead of waiting for guests to come to the station) and many of the stories were edited as simple two-way interviews with life in Southern California picked up as ambient, background noise. After all, a show called Off-Ramp had better be ready to brave some LA traffic.

At this juncture, John feels free to say what he has always wanted to, but hasn't for fear of self-aggrandizement: "I think we were trendsetters. I think Marketplace and NPR heard the stuff we were doing, and started doing stuff like it." Once again, Kim chalks it up to being in the right place at the right time technologically, and the two person team's willingness to break out of the old-school, public radio way writing a story: with a very clear sonic difference between studio narration and field audio.

Of course, it wasn't just Marantz recorders and minimal rewriting that gave Off-Ramp its flavor. There was a whole lot of weird spewing up out of Los Angeles during the show's formative years and Kim's tenure (2006-2010). She recalls covering a ten-theremin orchestra at Disney Hall, and the excitement of working on a show that let her (and the listeners, vicariously) do things she always wanted to do. "It was almost like having a free pass to the city."

In order to capture what was new and exciting, John and Queena both agree that it was absolutely vital to abandon the reporter's instinct for safely packaging the story ahead of time. John cites his editor at Minnesota Public Radio's philosophy, Mike Edgerly; "Go find what the story is, go out and explore and figure out what the story is. Don't figure it out at your desk first." The collaboration between John's ideas and Kim's sense of logistics formed a dialectic relationship, valuing the "third, better idea" over either of their original perspectives. In light of that, John says Queena Kim was the perfect person with whom to start Off-Ramp.