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Hot 20: The Radiohead, Roman Mars

“My favorite place in the city is the former site of Adolph Sutro’s Triumph of Light statue on Mt. Olympus, near 17th and Clayton.” (Listen to episode 5 of the show to hear the story behind the statue and its fate.) Photograph by Robert Schlatter.

A show about design…on the radio? Well, producer Roman Mars’ latest project, 99% Invisible, focuses on what you don’t really see: the cul-de-sac, Plimsoll lines, steering wheels.

A joint venture between SF radio station KALW and the local chapter of The American Institute of Architects, the original idea was to sandwich an architecture feature in between segments of Morning Edition. “There was all this design awareness bubbling,” Mars says, “but it was about shiny new awesome things. I wanted to do a show about the ugly things.” In the process, he’s created the next public radio cult, à la This American Life and Radiolab.

“People say, ‘I love your show—can I give you money?’ That’s never happened to me before,” marvels Mars. The other thing they say is, “I wish it were longer.” Hence the extended podcast versions and the expanded website (funded by the biggest journalistic Kickstarter campaign ever).

What’s next? More new episodes, perhaps books, maybe even videos. “I don’t know how I’m going to fit this all in—I barely sleep now!—but I know enough to know that people don’t always want to hear what you want to say. So when they do, you should probably talk.”

Why Roman Mars starting holding office hours

“I started, beginning after the Kickstarter campaign, having all these requests-for-brain-picking emails. Well, I just couldn’t field all the emails properly, and I like to respond but I just couldn’t do it—I don’t write fast, so if somebody sends a thoughtful email, it takes a long time to think about it and write an answer. So I began doing monthly office hours. I just go to this coffee shop for two hours, and people just show up and they ask me questions. I do it in the middle of a Friday afternoon, and you have to go to Kensington—I put some hurdles in!—but it’s a way I could be generous with my time and also be protective of it. The last time, it ended up being maybe 15 of us chatting about their projects. It isn’t just social, though—there’s a point to it.”