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(Almost) One Year Later With Sam Sanders of NPR's 'It's Been A Minute'

The NPR West team dressed in Sam's "uniform" in honor of his first day.
Melissa Kuypers
The NPR West team dressed in Sam's "uniform" in honor of his first day.

It's Been a Minute is nearing its first anniversary. NPR Extra caught up with NPR journalist and podcast host Sam Sanders about his move to NPR West in Culver City, California, transition from NPR's Washington Desk, and what he hopes to accomplish before IBAM turns one year old.

<strong><em></em></strong><em></em>Sam Sanders at his live show held in Studio One at NPR HQ.
Kara Frame / NPR
Sam Sanders at his live show held in Studio One at NPR HQ.

Earlier this month, you announced that you were relocating to NPR West in California. You just made the move a few weeks ago. What drew you to the West Coast?

So many things! I lived in LA once before, after a transfer to NPR West when I was a producer at NPR. I first lived here for two and a half years, before heading back to DC to cover the 2016 election.

When I got to LA that first time, in November of 2012, it took a few months for the city to click for me, but once it did, I was hooked. The city is so massive and overwhelming, you can't even start to comprehend it until you realize there is no one center in this place. You have to bite off a new chunk to figure out every few months.

And once you do that, it's great. The weather is perfect, the vibe is more laid back than the East Coast, the food is incredible, you can explore so many different climates in just a few hours drive, AND ALSO DID I MENTION THE WEATHER? Honestly though, my favorite part about LA is how you're never done discovering it. It is massive, like its own country. I'm always down to find some new part to explore.

In many other ways, I've leaned into the stereotypical West Coast life. I run on the beach when I can and I meditate in the sand right after. I do think the produce is better out here. I started doing yoga in LA. I actually LIKE driving in SoCal (and telling you how I got to wherever, and where I parked). I'm that dude. I love being that dude.

It's Been a Minute is almost a year old. What's challenging when starting a new podcast and radio show?

The hardest part is maintaining the right balance between experimentation and locking into a groove. The first few months of the show were full of the team throwing out ideas, trying a little bit of everything, and seeing what stuck. (That's honestly my favorite part.) About a year in, we have decided some segments and features that work consistently every week. But I still want to make sure we are scrappy enough to try new things in the show, and change it up, while still giving listeners something they can rely on. I want us to keep surprising you, while ALSO making sure you always feel at home when you listen.

How was the transition from the NPR Politics Podcast to It's Been a Minute? Do you feel like you're still in a transition period?

The transition period was crazy, to be honest. The thing about working on the Washington Desk is that you are a part of a pretty big club. At its peak during the election season, I believe the NPR Politics team, altogether, was well over 20 people if not approaching 30. You were part of a big community there, every day. Once I left to work on the new show, I moved up to the fifth floor of the building, and it was just Brent Baughman and me in the corner by a window. I told people it felt like going from a big, bustling public school to being home-schooled as an only student.

Another challenge now, being at NPR West, is the time difference. The show requires that we all constantly be up on the news of the day, and so even though I'm usually up and at 'em and reading a paper by 6 a.m. West Coast time, I still always, always feel like I'm a bit behind the news cycle.

With so much media out there for people to consume, what drives you to host It's Been a Minute?

Being able to be a part of something really, really new. Launching the NPR Politics Podcast with the Washington Desk in 2015 was so big for me, because I can look back on what we made and realize it was new. A new model of news coverage for NPR, and a podcast that probably led to a lot of other newsrooms trying to replicate that work (which is a big compliment).

With #IBAM (yes, we have an acronym), I am excited to upend NPR and all of public radio's expectations of what exactly a podcast is, what a weekend radio show has to be, how a host should sound, and what an NPR program should cover.

In several big ways, already, this show is different and hybrid. It's not just a news recap show, it's also a long-form interview show. It's fun, light weekend programming, but it's also covering big news of the week, with real journalists and reporting. I like that we are making something that is blurring all the lines.

I've been at NPR almost a decade now, learning the rules of how to do stuff here. I am overjoyed to have yet another opportunity to break just about all of those rules.

What do you hope to accomplish before It's Been a Minute officially turns one year old?

An Aunt Betty spin-off.

I'm kidding! I want to start having some informal meet-ups with #IBAM listeners before we hit one year. I think they'd all like each other.

Aunt Betty at <em>It's Been a Minute</em> Live!
Kara Frame / NPR
Aunt Betty at It's Been a Minute Live!

Our own Rosemary Girard asked you in a previous interview—when It's Been a Minute was introduced—"What's a question that you wish you could be asked in an interview?" You answered "What song is stuck in my head at the moment." So, what song is stuck in your head at the moment?

I drove out from DC to LA this time, with the dog. And I was a little obsessed with finding the perfect song to drive to. I found one. It's by an artist named Devonte Hynes, who goes by Blood Orange when he's performing. The song is called "Champagne Coast." And it's one of those songs that immediately makes me think of the open road, and going from where I am to someplace different. It's at just the right tempo, too; I think the perfect songs to drive to aren't too fast or too slow. The lyrics are a little cheesy, about a breakup I think, but I don't really listen for the words with this one. It's for the vibe. It's one of those songs that immediately puts you in a mood as soon as it starts.

What are you going to miss most about working out of headquarters or Washington, DC?

I will so miss being in such close proximity to all of my NPR DC peeps. Whenever I needed a break from work in DC, I could just walk down the hall, or go down a few flights of stairs to the newsroom and pick up conversations with so many people I've gotten to know over the last several years. The abundance of smart, engaging colleagues at NPR DC is really pretty awe-inspiring.

Also, Brent Baughman. I will miss him. We've worked together for so long now, it's already weird not seeing him every day.

On January 1 of this year, you tweeted you got Italian take-out and that 2018 was "going to be the best year ever." Now that it's March, do you still feel that 2018 is living up to the hype for you?

I do! I've found a restaurant near my apartment in LA that serves this spectacular chicken fried pork belly dish. I feel like it's a sign; the universe is clearly trying to make me happy in 2018.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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