John O'Brien

Producer, Speakers Forum

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

Flickr Photo/Seattle.roamer (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Mycologist Paul Stamets calls fungi “the soil magicians of nature.” He says they were the first organisms to come to land 1.3 billion years ago.

Stamets has spent his career searching for ways to learn from nature’s secrets to heal humans and the planet. One focus of his research is Northwest mycelium. 

Joe Wenke is a writer, activist and the founder of Trans Über, a publishing company that promotes LGBTQI community rights.

His most recent book is “The Human Agenda: Conversations about Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity.” In it Wenke and his guests tell stories of the search for shared humanity in an increasingly polarized world. Wenke argues there is no homosexual agenda, or transgender agenda, there is just the human agenda, summed up by the concept of our common and unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The Alaskan Way Viaduct sends cars streaming past Seattle's waterfront.
KUOW Photo/Gil Aegerter

Visionaries conceive of a future most of us can’t imagine. And when it comes to transportation in one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S., vision is crucial.

Beyond the annoyance factors we all face as we navigate our region, there are serious questions to address. How can we plan for a sustainable transit future? What is the impact of infrastructure spending, or the lack thereof? What national and international best practices can we look to? Will technology help solve our transportation problems? And how does the way we commute affect our health and happiness?

Poet Claudia Rankine (center) speaks with moderator Eric Liu (left) and playwright, Robert Schenkkan at the Citizen University National Confernence at the Seattle Center in March.
Alabastro Photography

What do you do in moments when race enters the room? That's just one of the topics that poet Claudia Rankine delved into during the annual Citizen University National Conference. 

The conference brings together community leaders, artists and activists to discuss the art and practice of citizenship. The organization's motto is “Let’s Do Democracy!”

Labor organizer Ai-Jen Poo says the U.S. doesn't have a plan for its elderly.
Flickr Photo/Elliot Margolies (CC-BY-NC-ND)

The annual Citizen University conference brings together community leaders, artists and activists to discuss the art and practice of citizenship. Their motto is “Let’s Do Democracy!”

The gathering evolved out of the work of the Guiding Lights Network, founded by author and educator Eric Liu in 2005. The theme this year was Citizen Power Now. To that end, participants focused on best practices for problem solving in a climate of political polarization.

Labor organizer Ai-jen Poo gave the keynote address, “The Future of Elder Care.”

An Orca performs at a SeaWorld location in 2008.
Flickr Photo/Jeff Kraus (CC-BY-NC-ND)

John Hargrove was an orca trainer for 14 years, mainly at SeaWorld. Shortly after quitting the company he gained attention for his part in the documentary "Blackfish." The film chronicles conditions at SeaWorld theme parks and the death of Dawn Brancheau, a SeaWorld trainer killed by an orca in 2010.

Dr. Jill Tarter, 2009 TED prizewinner, at the Allen Telescope Array
Flickr Photo/TED Conference (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Recent astronomical discoveries make this an especially exciting time to ponder the potential for life on other planets. Throughout her career Dr. Jill Cornell Tarter has sought to illuminate that inquiry.

Tarter is an American astronomer and the former director of the Center for SETI  Research in Mountain View, California. SETI refers to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. 

Patton Oswalt
Flickr Photo/Jason Carlin (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Patton Oswalt is an American writer, actor and comedian. You may have read one of his books, seen him on film or television, heard him as the voice of Remy in the movie "Ratatouille" or become one of his millions of followers on Twitter. The L.A. Times called him “the dean of nerd comics.”

On this episode of Speakers Forum, Oswalt reads from his new book "Silver Screen Fiend: Learning About Life from an Addiction to Film." He calls it “the dorkiest addiction memoir ever.” 

Seattle Arts and Lectures presented this event featuring Oswalt at Town Hall Seattle on Jan. 31. He was joined on stage by George Meyer, a producer and writer for The Simpsons. Thanks to Jennie Cecil Moore for this recording. 

Author Bruce Schneier.
Flickr Photo/Berkman Center for Internet & Society (CC-BY-NC-ND)

We live in a brave new digital world, and there’s much to appreciate about that. It’s efficient. It’s fun. It’s convenient. But what are we giving up when corporations and governments follow our whereabouts, buying habits, interests and orientations? What privacies do we trade away for the convenience of having a phone, a computer and a credit card?

Bruce Schneier is a cryptographer, privacy specialist and the author of “Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World.”

He spoke about his book and his views on what he calls “the golden age of surveillance” at Town Hall Seattle on March 9. Thanks to Anna Tatistcheff for our recording. 

Emcee Scott Berkun at Ignite 26 on Feb. 18, 2015, at Seattle's Town Hall.
Flickr Photo/Randy Stewart (CC-BY-NC-ND)

The Ignite series started here in Seattle in 2006, but has expanded to over 100 countries. Each Ignite event gives you the chance to talk about something that inspires you.

What’s the catch? You have to do it in five minutes on the stage at a packed Town Hall. Their motto is: “Enlighten us, but make it quick!”

Musician Kim Gordon at La Route du Rock 2007
Flickr Photo/Guillaume (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Seattleites turned out in force recently to hear from and ask questions of alt-rock deity Kim Gordon. Gordon is a musician, artist, record producer and one of the founders of the band Sonic Youth.

Inspired by post-punk, avant-garde and no wave bands of the 1970s, Sonic Youth created an unconventional sound marked by dissonance, feedback and alternate tunings that helped change how rock was defined.

Our guest on this episode of Speakers Forum is David J. Morris, a war correspondent, former Marine and PTSD sufferer.

Morris served as a lieutenant in the Marine Corps in the 1990s, but did not see combat then. He went on to work as an embedded journalist in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2004 he was nearly killed when a Humvee he was riding in hit an IED.

The cast of "Letters to the Editor": Shellie Shulkin, David Bestock, Molli Corcoran, Andrew Litzky, Laura Ferri and Carl  Shutoff.
KUOW Photo/John O'Brien

The Jewish Transcript newspaper, now known as The Jewish Sound, first went to print in Seattle in March 1924. Its founder, Herman Horowitz, said he felt a duty to the Jewish community of the Northwest to provide a forum for “their ideas, aspirations and principles." 

To mark the publication’s 90th anniversary, the editors of The Jewish Sound approached Seattle’s Book-It Repertory Theatre about a collaboration. 

Dr. Atul Gawande
Flickr Photo/Center for American Progress (CC-BY-NC-ND)

The United States is experiencing a pendulum swing in end-of-life care.

In 1945 the average American died at home. By the late 1990s, 83 percent were dying in institutions. Now in recent years, 45 percent are dying with hospice care.

Left to right: Bob Ferguson, Pete Holmes, Joni Balter and Larry Hubbell at a marijuana forum at Seattle University.
Courtesy of Danielle Potter

In 2012 Washington voters’ approved Initiative 502. Passage of the measure set in place a licensing and regulation scheme and rescinded state laws criminalizing recreational marijuana use and possession. It legalized the production, sale and taxation of small amounts of marijuana-related products for adults 21 and over.

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