John O'Brien

Producer, Speakers Forum

Year started with KUOW: 2006

John O’Brien produces Speakers Forum at KUOW. He learned to love radio as a child waking up one summer morning to the harmonies of Simon and Garfunkel.

As a teenager, he would drive the back roads of Indiana and Michigan late at night listening to vintage radio theater. The question of whether or not he had the legal right to drive then remains a mystery. Only The Shadow knows.

Inspired by a chance meeting with Noah Adams, he learned to make radio as an intern on KUOW’s The Conversation with Ross Reynolds.

John has been recording talks for Speakers Forum since 2007. Early on he learned Seattle is a Mecca for any touring speaker because Seattleites read so much, support a wide variety of venues and ask smart questions. He says that makes his job easy and always interesting.

John is a graduate of St. Johns College in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Ways to Connect

Pfc. Holly Horned of the Indiana Army National Guard adjusts her gas mask before entering a gas chamber during a nuclear, biological and chemical warfare training exercise at Camp Atterbury, Ind., June 15, 2010.
Flickr Photo/DVIDSHUB (CC BY 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/8cwDmR

Author Mary Roach has a specialty of sorts; she writes about the funnier aspects of science. Along with the humor, she’s known for her thorough research.

Her books include “Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers,” “Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex” and now “Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War.”  

Mary Roach spoke with Seattle Review of Book’s co-founder Paul Constant at Town Hall Seattle on June 15. The event was sponsored by University Book Store. Ana Sofia Knauf recorded their conversation.

Stock paper
Flickr Photo/Hobvias Sudoneighm (CC BY 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/Fecq6

Author Mark Kurlansky tells the story of the time he met legendary newsman Walter Cronkite. Cronkite greeted him with the line “I know you. You’re the leading expander of minutiae.”

If you’re only familiar with Kurlansky’s book titles that may seem an apt description. His latest is “Paper: Paging Through History.”

But he begs to differ. He says he’s not trying to find the obscure in minor details. He’s looking for critical keys to history.

Sebastian Junger speaks at TED Talks Live in November 2015 at Town Hall New York.
Flickr Photo/TED Conference (CC BY NC 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/A7DoJU

News of soldiers who struggle on their return home from war is a constant in the United States. Author Sebastian Junger looked for an explanation for this cultural phenomenon, and may have found it in his research into Native American history. His new book is “Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging.”

Amanda Saab at Ignite Seattle 30
Photo courtesy of Randy Stewart

The Ignite series started in Seattle in 2006. Each event gives you the chance to talk about something that inspires you, for 5 minutes, on a stage in front of hundreds of strangers. Their motto is “enlighten us, but make it quick!” 

Donald Morehead talks about life as a homeless person in Seattle at an event from Seattle Public Library and KUOW on June 3, 2016.
Courtesy of Seattle Public Library/Alex Garland

The Jungle is a three mile-long homeless camp under Interstate 5. It’s been in the news frequently since a deadly shooting there on January 26.

Many of us have driven over it, maybe without thinking about the hundreds of people who live there. What brought them there? What’s it like? And why do many residents prefer it to homeless shelters?

Photo: Brie Ripley

A recent poetry reading at Folio, The Seattle Athenaeum, featured three renowned Northwest poets: Heather McHugh, Lucia Perillo and Washington poet laureate Tod Marshall. What’s an Athenaeum? Listen in. All will be revealed.


Sandbox Radio members (front) Seanjohn Walsh, Lisa Viertel, Katie Driscoll, Eric Ray Anderson (back) Shigeko Calos-Nakano, Lizzy Burton
Photo by Truman Buffett

It’s Sandbox Radio time again on Speakers Forum, with special guest Nancy Pearl. Here’s our presentation of their latest work "The Words and the Bees." 


Dr. Ira Helfand at 2013 conference in Oslo, Norway.
Flickr Photo/atomwaffenfrei. jetzt (CC BY NC 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/e1AiM1

What have we learned from our historic use of nuclear weapons? And given their terrible destructive force, why have we not banned them? 

This talk by Dr. Ira Helfand offers detailed insights into the dangers of nuclear proliferation and war. He covers the risks of the U.S.-Russia and India-Pakistan conflicts, the threat of terrorism, the North Korean wild card, the possibility of an accidental war, and how a modern nuclear war would impact humans and the environment.

Journalist Sonia Shah at her 2013 TED talk in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Flickr Photo/Ted Conference (CC BY NC 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/eMH3af

In a 2006 study, 90 percent of epidemiologists predicted a pandemic would kill 165 million people sometime in the next two generations.

Research published this year confirms that threat, and suggests the impacts would be greater than those caused by world war or financial crises. The study concluded that “leaders at all levels have not been giving these threats anything close to the priority they demand.”

Ballard Bridge south approach under construction, 1939
Flickr Photo/Seattle Municipal Archives (CC BY 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/wpQDgY

How much do you know about the history of the place you live? If that place is Seattle, points of interest include how the natives of this area lived, why the so-called pioneers chose to settle here, and why this town won out over others as Puget Sound’s central city. In this talk, professor Linda Nash delves into the historic depths of how chance and natural resources fueled this booming metropolis of trade and expansion.

A sign at the Occupy Philly protest.
Flickr Photo/-Curly- (CC BY NC 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/aEmiVj

Author and journalist Chris Hedges is a radical by U.S. standards. He believes our system of government is so compromised by corporate influence that nothing short of revolution and corporate overthrow can fix it. His suggestions include nationalization of banks and utilities.

Author Peggy Orenstein
Courtesy Photo/Michael Todd

For her new book, “Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape,” Peggy Orenstein conducted ongoing, in-depth interviews with dozens of young women. The result is an honest picture of the sex lives of women 15-20 years old.

Thomas Merton Center dinner honoring Bill McKibben, 11/4/2013
Flickr Photo/Mark Dixon (CC BY 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/hkccL6

On his recent visit to Seattle, author and environmentalist Bill McKibben apologized for his “life’s work of bumming people out” about climate change. He continued with that sobering work in this talk at Town Hall Seattle, but not without sharing his optimism about the successes and the future of the environmental movement.

Courtesy of David Haldeman

This Humanities Washington Think & Drink conversation addresses the effects of climate change in the Northwest. It features Amy Snover, director of the University of Washington Climate Impacts Group, Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien and KUOW environment reporter Ashley Ahearn. They spoke at Naked City Brewery and Taphouse on March 30. Anna Tatistcheff recorded their talk.

Timothy Egan (with Oscar Wilde) in Galway, Ireland
Courtesy of Timothy Egan

Seven years ago, writer Timothy Egan was on a trip to Helena, Montana. While on a walk with the governor he came across a statue that intrigued him and asked a simple question: “Who is that?” The answer lead Egan on an extended journey leading toward his new book, “The Immortal Irishman.”

Egan, who lives in Seattle, is a New York Times columnist and the author of seven books. He spoke at Town Hall Seattle on March 1. Jennie Cecil Moore recorded his talk.

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