John O'Brien | KUOW News and Information

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

Mohamed Bakr talks with Glenda Johnson (left) at KUOW's Ask a Muslim event on July 24, 2016 at the New Holly Gathering Hall.
KUOW Photo/Lisa Wang

Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world today. In 2010, researchers counted 1.6 billion Muslims around the globe; approximately 23 percent of the world population. 

There are 3.3 million Muslims in the United States; approximately 1 percent of our population. In the wake of 9/11, President George Bush said this about Muslim Americans:

Sandbox Radio's 'The Bridal Issue' at ACT Theatre.
Courtesy of Joe Iano

It’s Sandbox Radio time again on Speakers Forum. Our presentation of their latest work, "The Bridal Issue,” includes the following performances: 

  • “The Big Stuff,” by Lisa Halpern
  • “The Mouse That Went To The Country,” by James Thurber (adapted by Leslie Law)
  • “Buckets of Rain,” written and performed by Tina Rowley
  • “The Very Proper Gander,” by James Thurber (adapted by Leslie Law)
  • “Plattitudes: Spinster,” written and performed by Peggy Platt
  • “The Pirate Don Durk of Dowdee,” by Mildred Plew Meigs (adapted by Richard Ziman)
  • “Beyond the Box: Unbridled,” by Elizabeth Heffron

Susan Stamberg and Marcie Sillman at KUOW.
Photo courtesy of Lisa Wang

Susan Stamberg was the first woman to anchor a national nightly news broadcast in the U.S. She has been on staff at NPR since the network began in 1971. She currently serves as a special correspondent.

This talk with KUOW’s Marcie Sillman covers the early days of NPR; Stamberg’s creation of Weekend Edition, which included her promotion of Click and Clack and Will Shortz; and her passion for arts and culture reporting.

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.

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.

NPR political correspondent Mara Liasson speaking at KUOW studios on March 31, 2016.
KUOW Photo/Bond Huberman

NPR national politics correspondent Mara Liasson spoke March 31 at Seattle Town Hall about political trends in this election cycle. 

She was then joined by a panel of local communications experts to discuss the challenges news organizations and journalists face in a shifting media landscape. The panel included: Seattle Times editor Kathy Best, KUOW president and general manager Caryn Mathes, GeekWire co-founder John Cook and Providence Health Services and Swedish Hospital executive Dan Dixon.

John Nichols and Robert McChesney at UC Berkeley.
Flickr Photo/Steve Rhodes (CC BY NC 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/gVotXN

In their new book “People Get Ready: The Fight Against a Jobless Economy and a Citizenless Democracy,” Robert McChesney and John Nichols argue for a return to democratic ideals -- or else. Their dire warnings point to the possibility of a massive failure for our economy and political system without the renewal of core democratic infrastructures: “a credible free press, high quality education for all and checks on inequality, militarism and corruption.”

In this Sept. 17, 2014 file photo, Colorado-based author Jon Krakauer gestures during an interview in Denver.
AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File

Shocked by the story of a family friend, author Jon Krakauer began an exploration of why sexual assault is at once so prevalent and yet so unreported and not prosecuted.

His new book is “Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town.” In this talk he explains how what happens in Missoula, Montana is a template for our national failure to confront the epidemic of sexual assault.

Senator Cory Booker at Town Hall Seattle
KUOW Photo/John O'Brien

In this talk, Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) challenges all Americans -- left, right and center-- to rise above cynicism and treat one another with love and respect, even if we don’t always see eye to eye. His new book is, “United: Thoughts on Finding Common Ground and Advancing the Common Good.”

Booker spoke at Town Hall Seattle on March 24.

Niah, April and Jasmyne Sims pose outside Safeco Field before the Bernie Sanders rally Friday in Seattle.
KUOW photo/John O'Brien

Bernie Sanders hit familiar themes in his ballpark appearance in Seattle Friday.

The presidential candidate spoke to thousands of people at his second Seattle appearance in less than a week. People lined up outside Safeco Field hours ahead of the rally.

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