Public Radio's BURN: An Energy Journal Reports on "The Grid" in One-Hour Special To Be Broadcast Nationwide This Summer

Host Alex Chadwick Leads Team of Journalists Through the Maze of the Nation's Electrical Grid System, Exploring How it Works, How it Enables Virtually Everything We Do, Its Problems and Its Future

LOS ANGELES, June 20, 2013 /PRNewswire-iReach/ -- In its upcoming one-hour special titled "The Switch," Public Radio's award-winning BURN: An Energy Journal takes on The Grid – the nation's complex electrical generation and distribution system.  The National Academy of Engineering calls The Grid the single most important invention of the 20th Century.  Veteran journalist Alex Chadwick leads a team of colleagues in an exploration of The Grid – its history, how it works, why it is so important, its troubling vulnerabilities, and the smart technology that will impact its future.  The special profiles a journalist who deliberately chooses to live off the grid.  And it examines how a U.S. Army smart micro grid will help save soldiers' lives in Afghanistan. (See descriptions of stories below).


BURN is produced by SoundVision Productions, winner of numerous awards and most recently the prestigious AAAS Kavli Science Journalism Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in partnership with APM's Marketplace with a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.  The BURN radio specials are distributed nationwide by American Public Media, with individual stories airing periodically on Marketplace.

Host Alex Chadwick bookends "The Switch" with two powerful, related stories about Hoboken, New Jersey, which was heavily damaged by Hurricane Sandy.  The city of Hoboken is subject to flooding even during normal rainstorms, but it never saw anything like what happened last October when Sandy thundered ashore.  Chadwick records the harrowing stories of several residents, all of whom were frustrated by the long wait to restore electrical power.  He also interviews the mayor of Hoboken, Dawn Zimmer, who has pledged to build a new, smarter grid that would allow Hoboken to "save itself" when the next big storm hits.

Chadwick also offers a candid interview with Jim Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy, the nation's largest electric company, based in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Rogers calls The Grid "the great enabler" because of everything it powers in our society and personal lives.  A funny thing happened in the middle of Chadwick's interview with Rogers.  The power went out.

Producer Josh Kurz uses snap, pop and humor to describe the inner workings of The Grid with a richly textured radio piece ­and a short video.  From the power station to the plugs in your home, Josh's animation runs with an A/C current, illustrating The Grid's complex architecture along the way.  He describes The Grid's problems – it's really old and un-digitized – and peeks at its "smart" future

BURN Managing Producer Mary Beth Kirchner, who has won more than 50 radio reporting and producing awards, travels to a remote area of Western Colorado to meet with acclaimed National Geographic science writer Michelle Nijhuis and her family, who have chosen to live totally "off-the-grid" in the small town of Paonia, population 1,500.  There's no access to the gird, no television, no flushable toilet.   Nijhuis and her family use solar power, wood heat, a propane water heater and straw bale insulation – all constructed with salvaged materials.  Kirchner asks if there is something to be learned for the rest of us from the Nijhuis' experience?   

When the power goes down and the lights go out anywhere in the country, an army of power linemen is deployed.  These men and women are on the front lines when the public needs to be reconnected to The Grid, often working long hours in dangerous conditions.  BURN Science Reporter Ari Daniel Shapiro offers a portrait of that community through the voice of one lineman, whose hard hat belies a thoughtful eloquence, and whose ability to climb a utility pole brings light to a dark night.

"The Switch" also recalls the enormous task of bringing electricity to rural America in the first half of the 20th Century.  And Chadwick interviews Paul Stockton, who was until recently the Obama Administration's point guard in the Pentagon for protecting the nation's electrical system from terrorism and cyber attacks. Stockton says a massive hack by an enemy of America could cripple the military's ability to conduct war.  Finally, Chadwick reports on how the U.S. Army is introducing a smart micro grid onto the battlefield that will save energy and lives.

Many public radio stations will be broadcasting the "The Switch" just before or during the 4th of July weekend, with other stations opting to run it later in the summer.  Check your local listings, or visit the BURN website to listen to the broadcast at any time.  Also available online are photo essays, graphs, charts and videos explaining how the grid works.

For "The Switch," the BURN team will provide public radio stations across the country with digital content to integrate with their social media platforms to help promote the special and educate the public.  Also, BURN is inviting public radio station reporters across the country who have covered electric power issues in their communities to send us stories that we can share on Sound Cloud and other social media. 

To keep up with the latest BURN stories and blogs on energy and climate change – including our Rome BURNS series – join the conversation on BURN Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

For media inquiries, contact Scott Busby at or 310.475.2914.

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Media Contact: Scott Busby, The Busby Group, 310.475.2914,

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