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The Broadcast Clock

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There’s a term that epitomizes what we radio producers aspire to create: the “driveway moment.” It’s when a story is so good that you literally can’t get out of your car. Inside of a driveway moment, time becomes elastic–you could be staring straight at a clock for the entire duration of the story, but for that length of time, the clock has no power over you.

But ironically,  inside the machinery of public radio–the industry that creates driveway moments–the clock rules all.


At NPR’s studios in Washington, DC, there are clocks everywhere. Big red digital clocks, huge round analog clocks. There’s even special software and time calculators, where 60 + 60 = 2’00.

(All Things Considered director Monika Evstitieva during a live broadcast in NPR’s Studio 2A. Credit: Julia Barton)

Each show has a ‘clock’, a set template, from which the show almost never varies. Every show that broadcasts—or aspires to broadcast—in the public radio system has a clock. This is the All Things Considered broadcast clock, which NPR and stations across the country refer to on a daily basis:


It’s actually a pretty cool piece of visual design, but one which functions best when it is never seen. This template is used twice every weekday: ATC Hour 1, from 4:00:00pm through 4:59:59pm ET; and then for ATC Hour 2, from 5:00:00 through 5:59:59pm ET.

Here’s how it works: at the ‘top’ of the hour, there is a 59 second “billboard,” which announces what’s going up in the program. Then there’s five minutes for the newscast, which is itself divided into two segments (“Newscast I” and “Newscast II”). Then there are the “blocks”–A, B, C, and D–which is where the stories and interviews (or “two-ways”) live.

Segments can’t run long by even a second, because most of the local stations are automated to cut off the national program where the clock says they can. These times–the dividers between the sections on the clock–are called posts. You have to hit the post. Nothing can go wrong.

Though, of course, things go wrong every day.


(When Julia visited ATC, a live interview segment accidentally got wrapped up 35 seconds early. Then it was on Monika, the director, to figure out what to do. Credit: Julia Barton)

Taking care of the clock is so ingrained in the director’s psyche that a common side effect of the job is waking up in the middle of the night fearing that you’ve blown the post–these are called “director’s dreams.” To cope with the anxiety, ATC directors make their own cheat sheets to help them memorize every queue of every hour of broadcast.Visit any studio that does a regular live feed with a broadcast clock and you’ll likely find a cheat sheet one somewhere in the studio.

TOTN sheet

The director’s cheat sheets at ATC  have been used so much that they’re in tatters. They have since been laminated.

ATC sheet

(Note the correction in the “Top Credit” in the upper right. It’s not “1:00″, it’s “:59″)

When NPR began in the early 1970s, show clocks were much less regimented–or they didn’t have clocks at all.

One of the early champions against the fixed clock was Bill Siemering, a founder of NPR who helped design the network’s overall sound. He came up with the name All Things

Considered (original title: A Daily Identifiable Product). Siemering wrote the mission statement of NPR, which is enshrined in the halls of NPR (note the text on the walls).



(Credit: Interior Design)

Siemering liked a clock that was more free-form, because it allowed for spontaneity and unpredictability. But spontaneous and unpredictable does not always make for compelling radio. Done wrong, and you wind up with laughably bad “Schweddy Balls”-grade public radio.

When Siemering left NPR in the early 1970s, NPR chose to have more subdivided clocks. The constraints forced the shows to get tighter, which some say makes NPR stronger. One person is Neal Conan, former host of Talk of the Nation, who maintains that the earlier, freer days of NPR were not as halcyon as some may remember them.

 These days, podcasting allows for shows such as this one to be free of a post, and go on for as long or short as is fitting for any given story.

me clock with 99

Reporter-producer-editor (triple threat!) Julia Barton visited NPR’s old headquarters at Washington, DC, where she spoke with ATC directors Monika Estativia and Greg Dixon, and former Talk of the Nation host Neal Conan. Julia also spoke with public radio’s patron saint, Bill Siemering.

Many thanks to All Things Considered Executive Producer Chris Turpin and the other powers-that-be at NPR who gave us unfettered access to the shop during Julia’s visit.

(Note: Julia visited NPR while they were still at 635 Massachusetts Ave, NW. They have since moved to 1111 N. Capitol St.)

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3227 days ago
h/t textfiles
northampton ma
3227 days ago
New York, New York
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3 public comments
3219 days ago
listeners start to pick up on this structure, but i'd never seen it so explicitly dissected. fascinating
3226 days ago
Very interesting look at the traffic control in NPR. Much deeper than we did at QAX...
Chicago, IL, US
3225 days ago
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3227 days ago
Minneapolis, Minnesota
3225 days ago

I wrote two lines of code yesterday

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They were both wrong.

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3351 days ago
northampton ma
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3352 days ago
Budapest, Hungary

The Battlemind

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(Cross-posted from the DW Forums. Discussion is probably more lively there.)

This morning I accidentally woke up and designed the Monk for Dungeon World.

So why is this post about the Battlemind? Because I think that’s a better name for what I’m thinking here. It sidesteps the whole orientalism/exoticism angle and gets right to what the class really is, allowing you at your table to place it into the world. It also more clearly differentiates this class for the Fighter with fists as their signature weapon.

The touchstones for this class are my half-remembered 3E psionics rules, the concept of the Monk, and the Greybeards from Skyrim. Usually for a class Adam and I would do a pretty thorough review of what that class looked like in each edition, but this is just an idea that sprung into my head.

So what’s the core of this class?

The Battlemind

You start with these moves:


When you have time and tranquility to center your mind and body lose any Focus you had and gain 3 Focus. You cannot have more than 3 Focus at any time.


When you set your mind and body to combat choose a stance available to you and roll+Wis. Choose three of these stances to be available to you to start with:

  • Serpent’s Coil: While in this stance you use Focus to Hack and Slash.
  • Troll’s Strength: While in this stance your damage dice is d10+Focus.
  • Dragon Turtle’s Shell: While in this stance your Armor is equal to your Focus.
  • Dragon’s Foresight: While in this stance you use Focus to Defy Danger.
  • Unending Life: While in this stance you cannot die. Don’t make the Last Breath move even if you reach 0 HP. As soon as you leave this stance, if you’re still at 0 HP, you make the Last Breath move as normal.
  • Giant’s Reach: While in this stance your body is a weapon with these tags: Hand, Close, Reach, +1 damage, messy, forceful.

On a hit you assume your chosen stance until your concentration lapses. On a 7-9 you must also choose: spend one Focus or be put in some danger (the GM will describe it).


While you wear no armor, have Focus remaining, and carry less than your Load, you have 2 armor.

Fists of Power

Your body itself is a weapon with Hand range.


Damage dice is probably d8 (but see the Stances). HP is likely Constitution+8. Load is probably on the low end.

Focus is the main thing that the class’s moves revolve on. The core moves already demonstrate a lot of the core things moves can do with Focus: Spend it, count it, use it as a bonus. There’s a whole lot of advanced moves that fall straight out of that:

Focused Defense

When you’re in a stance and take damage you may spend 1 Focus and leave that stance to negate the damage.

Expanded Mind

When you use Oneness you gain 4 Focus. Your maximum Focus is 4.

Combat Flow

When you kill an enemy while in a stance you may change stances immediately, without rolling. Just choose a new stance.


Choose a new stance to add to your list.

Crouching Tiger

When you concentrate on movement and speed you may spend 1 Focus to defy gravity: for a few moments, so long as you keep moving, you may run up and across any vertical surface.

Restored Focus

When an ally successfully Aids you you may choose to gain 1 Focus instead of taking +1.

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3647 days ago
Oh man I can't wait to play this game.
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