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

American soldiers in presence of gas, 42nd division. Essey, France. September 20, 1918.
Flickr Photo/Otis Historical Archives (CC-BY-NC-ND)

To mark the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, University of Washington professor Robin McCabe planned a series she calls “Music from the War to End All Wars.”

The debut event includes professor Robert Stacey’s talk ,“A Gathering Storm? Artistic Crisis and the Coming of the First World War.” 

Musician and author James McBride.
Flickr Photo/American Library Association (CC-BY-NC-ND)

As you listen to this episode of Speakers Forum, keep in mind that author James McBride gave this talk without any notes. In it he riffs on his family, career, books and life in America with thoughtful, humorous and inspiring improvisation.

Walter Benjamin in 1928.
Wikimedia Commons

Walter Benjamin was a radical German philosopher and critic. In the 1920s and 30s his fascination with new technology lead him to create a series of radio broadcasts. No recordings of those broadcasts remain. We don’t even know what Benjamin sounded like, though it has been said he was a talented performer. Benjamin, who was Jewish, committed suicide in 1940 when he became trapped in his attempt to escape the Nazis.

Flickr Photo/nwlynch (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Did you know E.B. White was fired by the Seattle Times in 1923? You’ll learn about that and other curiosities in this Yuletide episode of Speakers Forum.

It features stories by White, John Updike, Ken Kesey, Vladimir Nabokov and a spoof on Clement Clark Moore’s “A Visit from St. Nicholas.”

Our faithful rogues included Paul Dorpat, Jean Sherrard, Randy Hoffmeyer, Marianne Owen, David Skovar and Seattle indie American band Pineola.

Timothy Clemans (left) and Seattle Police COO Mike Wagers at the hackathon, Friday, December 19, 2014.
KUOW Photo/John O'Brien

The Seattle Police Department took an unusual step Friday to address issues surrounding the release of police video recordings: They invited area tech experts to the department’s first ever hackathon.

In a 48-hour period this past October the number of states that allow same-sex marriage nearly doubled. As of this writing, thirty-five states allow same-sex couples to marry legally. Courts made that decision in twenty-four states. Legislatures made the call in another eight. And in three states, including Washington, the decision went to voters.

Marc Solomon has an extensive background in advocacy and public policy, but he wasn’t a natural pick to help lead the campaign to make same-sex marriage a reality. In his book, “Winning Marriage,” he tells the story of how a seemingly impossible goal — to win the freedom to marry for all Americans — came near reality in such a short period of time.

Protestors rally Sunday, Aug. 10, 2014 to protest the shooting of Michael Brown, 18, by police in Ferguson, Mo.Protestors rally Sunday, Aug. 10, 2014 to protest the shooting of Michael Brown, 18, by police in Ferguson, Mo.
AP Photo/Sid Hastings

Seattle attorney Jeff Robinson recently addressed a gathering at the University Of Washington School Of Law. It had been just over a week since a Ferguson, Missouri grand jury decided not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown.

Robinson titled his talk "You Can Observe a Lot Just by Watching: The Killing of Michael Brown and the Transparent Grand Jury Investigation." 

Seattle Public Schools superintendent Larry Nyland.
Courtesy of Seattle Public Schools

The Seattle School Board voted five to two Wednesday night to clear the way for Dr. Larry Nyland to become the city’s permanent schools superintendent. Nyland grew up in Seattle and graduated from Roosevelt High School. He came out of retirement last July to serve as interim schools chief.

Just before Thanksgiving the board made public their intention to forgo a national search and offer Nyland the post. That decision has been controversial.

In June, KUOW Speakers Forum featured an event titled, “Exposing the Truth of U.S. Torture,” during which Brigadier General David R. Irvine lambasted U.S. torture practices abroad.

“If these kinds of practices were used by another nation on American serviceman, who were captives, who were prisoners of war, we as a nation would not tolerate it,” he said.

Author Ruth Ozeki.
Flickr Photo/Kris Krug (CC-BY-NC-ND)

If you’re driving a car or operating other heavy machinery when you listen to this Speakers Forum podcast, we hope you’ll pull over for the guided meditation portion. But don’t be alarmed. This talk is more likely to invigorate and inspire you than put you under a spell. And it may change forever how you react when your smart phone vibrates with some bit of news.

Thomas Jefferson memorial in Washington, D.C.
Flickr Photo/Wally Gobetz (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Time travel is a perennial fascination. Where would you go? Who would you meet? The website Ranker places Thomas Jefferson in the top ten of popular figures, just behind Winston Churchill and ahead of John Kennedy. 

Our guest in this episode of Speakers Forum is adept at a kind of time travel. Clay Jenkinson inhabited the role of President Thomas Jefferson at Town Hall Seattle on November 22. He was joined by the Saint Michael Trio for a performance of chamber music popular during Jefferson’s lifetime, including works by Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven, who were Jefferson’s contemporaries.

Dr. Cornel West.
Flickr Photo/J&R Music World (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Are you caught in an egocentric predicament? You’ll be asked to consider such a question in this episode of Speakers Forum.

Dr. Cornel West speaks forcefully on a wide range of subjects including the struggle for truth and justice; political discourse and dysfunction; African American religious, cultural and music history; and the impact of the events in Ferguson, Missouri.

Flickr Photo/Pedro Moura Pinheiro

A literary festival and a pub crawl combined? We have the audio to prove it. We bolted from space to space during this year’s Lit Crawl Seattle to gather as many readings as we could. 

Facebook Photo/Lit Crawl Seattle

So a poet walks into a noisy bar, starts reading her poems, and everyone falls silent and listens.

Lit Crawl Seattle was inspired by Litquake, San Francisco’s Literary Festival. The now yearly event is a one night mash-up of a literary festival and a pub crawl. Over 60 authors do their best to silence you, or rile you up, as you make your way from space to space.

Flickr Photo/Randy Stewart (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Since 2006, Ignite Seattle has given Puget Sounders the opportunity to share their insights into a topic they’re passionate about. It’s the prototype for what has become an international event.

The concept is simple. Have a great idea? Share it. The only catch? You have to do it in front of a packed auditorium, in five minutes. 

mars hill church
Flickr Photo/Mars Hill Church (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Seattle’s Mars Hill Church announced Friday that it will disband its network of churches. According to its website, each location will now become independent or close all together.

Robert Reich at the University of Iowa, Sep. 7, 2011
Wikipedia Photo

Former Clinton-era Labor Secretary Robert Reich visited Seattle recently to encourage supporters of the 15Now campaign and to try to win over skeptics.

A gun violence prevention meeting took place at Seattle City Hall on Wednesday. The event had been planned long in advance, but the recent shooting deaths at Marysville-Pilchuck High School highlight its significance. KUOW’s John O’Brien reports.

Two IAEA experts examine recovery work on top of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in April 2013.
Flickr Photo/IAEA Imagebank (CC-BY-NC-ND)

On March 11, 2011, a 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami crippled Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Physician and anti-nuclear activist Dr. Helen Caldicott calls into question reporting about that event and its aftermath. Her frank assessment of the people who control nuclear power: “Don’t believe anything the nuclear industry says, because they lie.”

What are the effects of the Fukushima meltdowns? In 2013, in response to concerns that media and policy makers were ignoring the impacts, a panel of scientists, engineers and policy experts met in New York to review the aftermath of the disaster. 

Public Domain

Americans honor the memory of Reverend Martin Luther King with street, school and place names, a national holiday, and a national monument.

Tavis Smiley appreciates that, but he also knows that many, if not most, Americans can’t quote more than King’s most famous line from his “I Have a Dream” speech. 

Seattle Town Hall's Facebook page

Today on Speakers Forum: poetic inspiration from your friends, neighbors and other notables.

When Town Hall Seattle opened its doors in March of 1999 ,the first gathering was a celebration of Seattle’s Favorite Poems. The event was part of a national project created and hosted by then-U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky. 

Sean Davis' book "The Wax Bullet War."

When Sean Davis graduated from Oregon’s Sweet Home High School in 1991 he wanted to see the world. He considered joining the Peace Corps, but with no plans for college he wasn't eligible. Unhappy with his grocery store job, Davis finally did what he’d determined not to do: He joined the Army.

For eight years Davis served as an infantryman and military policeman. He traveled the world relatively unscathed and left the Army in 1999. Back home he pursued an interest in painting and tried art school for a year before dropping out. 

robot, machine, artificial intelligence, technology
Flickr Photo/Chris Devers (CC-BY-NC-ND)

On the road to a future which promises steady advances in artificial intelligence, what should we expect? What should we be wary of, or hopeful about?

Our guide this week for those questions is Blaise Agüera y Arcas, a software designer currently working on machine intelligence for Google. In his previous work as an engineer at Microsoft his focus included augmented reality, Bing Maps and Bing Mobile, wearable computing and natural user interfaces. As you’ll hear, Agüera y Arcas is insightful and philosophical about the cross sections of science and human culture in our past and future. 

Seattle's Pike Place Market.
Flickr Photo/girl_onthe_les (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Here in the Northwest we take pride in our regional seafood industry, but details about the big picture of seafood distribution may surprise or appall you. Our guest this week on Speakers Forum is Paul Greenberg, author of the book “American Catch: The Fight for Our Local Seafood.”

The U.S., which controls more ocean than any other nation, imports 91 percent of its seafood.

Kristin Ohlson's book "The Soil Will Save Us."

This week on Speakers Forum we’ll hear from author Kristin Ohlson. Her new book is "The Soil Will Save Us: How Scientists, Farmers, and Foodies Are Healing the Soil to Save the Planet."

In it she sheds light on our understanding of soil and its crucial role in capturing and storing carbon emissions. Ohlson details how changes in how we farm may hold the key to countering global warming.

Ohlson is a freelance journalist and author based in Portland, Ore. She’s written for the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, Utne and Salon. Her books include "Stalking the Divine" and "Kabul Beauty School."

Ohlson spoke at The Elliott Bay Book Company on July 28. Thanks to Anna Tatistcheff for this recording. 

Tom Robbins' book "Tibetan Peach Pie"

Today on Speakers Forum best-selling author Tom Robbins returns home to tell some mostly true stories from his new memoir, "Tibetan Peach Pie: A True Account of an Imaginative Life."

It starts with 5-year-old “Tommy Rotten” forcing his mother to take dictation, and leads to a very good Tom Clancy impersonation.

Gillian Flynn's novel, "Gone Girl."

Welcome to the scary summer reading edition of Speakers Forum. This week you’ll be encouraged by our guest Gillian Flynn to read her best-selling novel, "Gone Girl," before the movie comes out in October.

You’ll hear her read the duly infamous “cool girl” passage, and learn the gritty details of her unusual writing technique. And as an added bonus, you’ll get Seattle writer Maria Semple’s take on the Flynn phenomenon.

Flickr Photo/WSDOT (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Free contraceptive coverage is mandated by the Affordable Care Act.

But in the landmark Hobby Lobby decision last June, the Supreme Court ruled that closely held corporations are exempt from the law if the owners object on religious grounds.

Michael Waldman's book "The Second Amendment: A Biography"

Most Americans don’t question an individual’s right to own a gun, with certain exceptions. But in an age when senseless public shootings make frequent headlines, many question the limits of gun ownership. 

And though a large majority of Americans say they support expanded background checks for gun ownership, Congress can’t come to any agreement on possible legislation.

Flickr Photo/Giulia Forsythe

Human beings have wondered how our brains work for millennia. And we haven’t been afraid to knock about in there to find out. There is evidence that trepanation, the surgical practice of drilling a hole into the skull in order to cure headaches or mental disorders, was performed in Neolithic times, just at the tail end of the Stone Age. Ouch!

According to author Sam Kean, the stories of people who survived terrible brain disease and injury are at the heart of how modern neuroscience advanced. Kean spoke at Town Hall Seattle on May 20.

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