Design is everywhere in our lives, perhaps most importantly in the places where we've just stopped noticing. 99% Invisible is a weekly exploration of the process and power of design and architecture. From award winning producer Roman Mars. Learn more at 99percentinvisible.org.

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LATEST EPISODE

324- Billboard Boys: The Greatest Radio Contest of All Time

The year was 1982, and in the small city of Allentown on the eastern edge of Pennsylvania sat an AM radio station called WSAN. For years, it had broadcast country music to the surrounding Lehigh Valley -- an area known for malls, manufacturing and Mack Trucks. WSAN was about to undergo a complete identity change, from a country station and to a "nostalgia" station -- meaning Big Band, and soft hits from the 1950's. They wanted a gimmick to hook new listeners, so WSAN decided to launch a good old-fashioned endurance contest, reminiscent of the pole sitting stunts or dance marathons popular in the 1920's. They secured a local sponsor, Love Homes, to donate a prize: a single-wide modular home worth $18,000. It seemed like a simple marketing strategy, but WSAN had grossly underestimated just how much people would endure for a little economic security. Billboard Boys: The Greatest Radio Contest of All Time
00:28:49 9/18/2018

Past Episodes

The Sear & Roebuck Mail Order Catalog was nearly omnipresent in early twentieth century American life. By 1908, one fifth of Americans were subscribers. At its peak, the Sears catalog offered over 100,000 items on 1,400 pages. It weighed four pounds. The Sears catalog tells the tale of a world -- itemized. And starting in 1908, the company that offered America everything began offering what just might be its most audacious product line ever: houses. The House that Came in the Mail
00:32:11 9/11/2018
A straw is a simple thing. It's a tube, a conveyance mechanism for liquid. The defining characteristic of the straw is the emptiness inside it. This is the stuff of tragedy, and America. The invention of American industrialism, the creation of urban life, changing gender relations, public-health reform, suburbia and its hamburger-loving teens, better living through plastics, and the financialization of the economy: The straw was there for all these things?rolled out of extrusion machines, dispensed, pushed through lids, bent, dropped into the abyss. The First Straw
00:24:49 9/4/2018
Blepharoplasty is often done to lift loose or sagging skin around the upper eyelids caused by aging. But for a lot of people of Asian descent, this surgery is not strictly about aging and more commonly referred to as "double eyelid" surgery. The double eyelid surgery adds a crease -- so instead of the skin of the upper lid running smoothly from the bottom of the eyebrow straight down to the eyelashes, there is now a small indented fold in the skin, just a few millimeters wide, that runs in a horizontal crescent above the lash line. In 2017 alone over 12,500 Asian Americans had double eyelid surgery, and given the racist history behind the procedure, it makes sense that some people in the U.S. are vocally critical about it...but it's more complicated than that. Double Standards
00:25:41 8/28/2018
Most of the American west is owned by the Federal Government. About 85 percent of Nevada, 61 percent of Alaska, 53 percent of Oregon, the list goes on.  And there have always been questions about how this immense swath of land should be used. Should we allow ranchers to graze cattle, or should the western land be a place where wild animals can roam free and be protected, or is it land we want to reserve for recreation?  As you can imagine, there is no consensus on the answers to these questions but there are a LOT of strong feelings, and over the years, those strong feelings have sometimes bubbled up to the surface and manifested in protests and even violence. In 2016, a group of armed militants occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in western Oregon. They were led by a cattle rancher by the name of Ammon Bundy - the son of Cliven Bundy. Perhaps you heard about it but never understood exactly what it was all about. Well, today we bring you a story from Longreads and Oregon Public Broadcasting reported by Leah Sottile- it's the first in series they put together that looks deeply into the fascinating and even sometimes wonky details of how the american west is managed, why the Bundys are so angry about it, and the religious ideology that undergirds their fight against the federal government. Bundyville The Bundyville series on Longreads
00:42:43 8/21/2018
For Americans, the sight of pagoda roofs and dragon gates means that you are in Chinatown. Whether in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, or Las Vegas, the chinoiserie look is distinctive. But for people from China, the Chinatown aesthetic can feel surprisingly foreign. The same goes for fortune cookies. Two stories from the 99pi archive about the complex and interesting ways China has been interpreted by America. It's Chinatown
00:35:53 8/14/2018
Nestled between the mountains and the ocean, right next to Santa Barbara, sits Montecito, California. The region endures a major fire approximately once every 10 years. For this landscape, fire is predictable and it is inevitable. Now, coupled with multi-year drought, it is becoming unmanageable. For decades, locals have taken fire as a fact of life, rebuilding as needed. But that acceptance is getting harder to sustain as fires become more frequent and more intense -- and as communities are forced to reckon with rebuilding again and again. Area residents and officials are starting to rethink how they deal with disaster. Last year, there was another fire -- the largest in California history up to that point -- that made people feel a new sense of danger. Fire and Rain
00:30:25 8/7/2018
After the massive Panorama Fire in southern California in 1980, a young fire researcher named Jack Cohen went in to investigate the houses that were destroyed. One of the first things that Cohen did was to listen to emergency dispatch tapes from the day of the fire. And as he listened, he began to notice a pattern. People were calling in about houses on fire long before the fire front ever reached their neighborhoods.The houses were not burning because a wall of flames was racing through the community, destroying them. It was something else: embers. This started Cohen on a crusade to get people to rethink how we fight wildfires. Built to Burn
00:31:54 7/31/2018
Four times every day, on radios all across the British Isles, a BBC announcer begins reading from a seemingly indecipherable script. "And now the Shipping Forecast issued by the Met Office on behalf of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency," says the voice over the wire. "Viking, North Utsire; southwesterly five to seven; occasionally gale eight; rain or showers; moderate or good, occasionally poor." Cryptic and mesmerizing, this is the UK's nautical weather report. The Shipping Forecast
00:27:53 7/24/2018
Louis is a can of generic cola. He's been on the shelf a long while, so he's had some time to think. Go2 is a store brand. "People call it a knockoff," says Louis. "I've been called the best of the worst. Bottom-shelf. We can describe it as bottom-shelf. I'm at peace with that." Everything is Alive is an unscripted interview show with host Ian Chillag in which all the subjects are inanimate objects. In each episode, a different thing tells us its life story -- and everything it says is true. Subscribe to Everything is Alive on Apple Podcasts and RadioPublic
00:32:03 7/17/2018
In the spring of 1962, an ad man named Martin Speckter was thinking about advertising when he realized something: many ads asked questions, but not just any questions -- excited and exclamatory questions -- a trend not unique to his time. Got milk?! Where's the beef?! Can you hear me now?! So he asked himself: could there be a mark that made it clear (visually on a page) that something is both a question and an exclamation?! Speckter was also the editor of the typography magazine *TYPEtalks, *so  in March of 1962, in an article for the magazine titled "Making a New Point, Or How About That...", Speckter proposed the first new mark of English language punctuation in 300 years: the interrobang. Plus, we revisit the story of another special character, the octothorpe. Interrobang
00:32:05 7/10/2018

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