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

As the U.S. presidential election shifts into the major party convention phase the question arises, how politically polarized are we? As this discussion details, while our political discourse may not have reached historical depths of incivility, sometimes it sure feels that way.

And statistically, both politicians and voters are more polarized now than ever before.

John O'Brien

In this talk and reading, poet Matthew Dickman speaks eloquently about the often taboo subject of suicide. He says he can’t offer an answer to the question, why do people commit suicide?

Instead, he shares what he has learned from the suicides of his brother Darin and close friends, what he has learned from research and what other poets have written.


John O'Brien

As Representative Jim McDermott prepares to retire after 28 years of service, the top three contenders for his 7th District seat in Congress are on the stump to succeed him. 


Rev. Starsky Wilson at Seattle Public Library
Courtesy of Naomi Ishisaka Photography

Reverend Starsky Wilson was co-chair of a commission created to study the aftermath of the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

Wilson's charge was “to address the underlying root causes that led to the unrest in the wake of Michael Brown’s death and to publish an unflinching report with transformative policy recommendations for making the region stronger and a better place for everyone to live.”

Author Lindy West lives in Seattle.
Photo by Jenny Jimenez / http://photojj.com

From slaying trolls on Twitter, writing as a columnist for The Guardian, to co-founding the social media campaign, Shout Your Abortion, Lindy West is fearless. But she wasn’t always that way.

West’s new memoir is “Shrill: Notes From A Loud Woman.” Memoirists often chronicle embarrassing experiences, but not everyone can do it with the humor and grit West is known for. She got her start at The Stranger and kept writing, because she’s good at it, and because life’s too short to be ashamed of yourself, or shamed by others.

From left: Rob McKenna, Matt Manweller, Chris Vance, John Carlson and Ross Reynolds.
KUOW Photo/Lisa Wang

It’s been a long road, but the race to the White House is coming down to the wire.

Ross Reynolds gathered a panel of prominent Republicans to share reflections on the state of their party. The wide-ranging discussion began with a question: What does it means to be a Republican in today’s political landscape, on a local and national level?

Female House members on the steps of the House on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.  Jan. 3, 2013, prior to the official opening of the 113th Congress.
AP Photo/Cliff Owen

It’s been 100 years since the first woman was elected to Congress. Since then, the rise of women into positions of political and corporate power has been slow-going to say the least.

Jay Newton-Small is TIME Magazine’s Washington D.C. correspondent and the author of “Broad Influence: How Women Are Changing the Way America Works.” She had to dig, and hire a team of researchers, but the data she discovered reveals how a critical mass of women in public and private leadership positions clearly benefits both realms.

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.

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