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Too Much Tape

KPBS Metro Reporter, Alison St. John in 1996.
KPBS file photo
KPBS Metro Reporter, Alison St. John in 1996.

When I first joined KPBS we were still using cassette tape decks to record our interviews and reel to reel tape to mix the pieces. I still remember editing tape with a razor blade late into the night to meet Morning Edition deadlines.

One of the first radio features I did was with Dr. Bronner of Dr. Bronner’s “All-One” Peppermint Soap fame. Dr. Bronner’s soap was very popular with hippies and carries a fascinating label that can keep you occupied in the shower for hours. Dr. Bronner lived on a ranch in Escondido where he also operated his business.

He wore glasses covered in dark paper with pin holes in it, because his eyes were sensitive, and he talked almost non-stop for two hours, most of it in language very similar to his label. “Absolute cleanliness is godliness! Teach the moral ABC that unites all mankind free! Instantly, 6 billion strong and we’re all ONE, ALL ONE! ”


He had two telephones in his living room, one red, and one black. The red one, he told me, was his direct line to the White House. While we were interviewing, it rang.

“Yes, yes,” he said, after picking it up, “I’ll send two boxes right way! Tell them to pour it on a face cloth and lather up well every morning. That way they can’t fail to defeat the enemy.”

“That,” he told me when he put the phone down, “was the White House. They just ordered two boxes of my peppermint soap for the troops in Iraq.” This was during the first Gulf War. The interview produced a lot of great tape…two whole cassettes full in fact. Then I had to make a radio story out of it all. Luckily, a reporter could turn in a seven minute piece to Morning Edition back then. Thank goodness. Now-a-days, radio stories for Morning Edition are only four.

But I’m still a sucker for an interesting interview, and I still usually end up with far too much tape.