KCUR health reporter Alex Smith has won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for a radio feature about a deaf man who regained his hearing through cochlear implants.
The prestigious award in the large-market radio category from the Radio Television Digital News Association honors outstanding achievements in electronic journalism. The award is named after famed CBS broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow, best known for his radio dispatches from London during World War II.
Smith’s piece focuses on Kansas City native Rob Jefferson, a man in his mid-50s who had been deaf for about 15 years before the implants enabled him to regain his hearing.
“In addition to telling Rob’s story, I tried to re-create his actual experience of relearning to hear,” Smith says, describing the feature. “Cochlear implants were a godsend for him, but he also describes getting them as a confusing, overwhelming and even scary experience. My hope is that the piece as a listening experience is at times confusing and disorienting, but that it also provides a hint of Rob’s journey of rediscovery of the world of sound.”
Smith learned of Jefferson when he was working on a story about research into potential cures for hearing loss. The two met in a coffee shop, where Smith asked Jefferson what it was like to lose his hearing. Jefferson told him he had felt isolated and disconnected from other people.
“But after the interview was over, we continued to talk, and he told me about getting cochlear implants and the process of relearning how to hear,” Smith says. “Jefferson is a reserved, Midwestern guy, but he teared up describing hearing birds for the first time since he was a teenager, rediscovering the Beatles and the sound of his wife saying, ‘I love you.’”
Smith says that he finished the interview with a renewed appreciation for his own sense of hearing “and found myself paying more attention to ordinary noises.”
“Even weeks later, I continued to think about the scenes he described and wondered if I could recreate his experience using radio tools. I called Rob and told him my idea, and he agreed to come to the studio for another interview,” Smith says, explaining how the piece took shape.
Smith joined KCUR in 2006 as an assistant producer. He later helped produce “KC Currents,” a weekly, community-oriented magazine program that aired on KCUR from 2006 through 2014.
In January 2014, he started working on air as a health/science reporter. He received the Kansas Association of Broadcasters’ Tony Jewell Award for Community Service in 2016 for a series of stories on health outcomes in Wyandotte County.
Smith graduated in 2002 from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, where he majored in communications studies. Before becoming a journalist, he studied electronic music and sound design for theater – background he drew upon to enhance the Jefferson feature with sound elements.
Smith is married to Gina Kaufmann, host of KCUR’s “Central Standard” talk show. They have a son, Ari, who just turned one.
Dan Margolies is KCUR’s health editor. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.