By Josh Davis, Associate Editor
(Nov. 8, 2018) NPR listeners may be familiar with “Bird Note,” a brief, factoid-filled segment carried by stations across the country that’s identifiable by its woodwind intro music and recordings of bird songs. The program claims about 1.7 million daily listeners, including those on social media.
Shore Craft Beer founder Ann Hillyer has long been a fan of the program, which she cited as inspiration for the new “Beer Notes” segment produced through her office.
“‘Bird Note’ is a two-minute show on NPR and it’s always fascinating,” she said. “It’s history, or it’s anecdotes, it’s science – migratory patterns or mating behaviors. And I thought, why is there nothing like this on beers?”
Hillyer came up with the idea about two-and-a-half years ago, but struggled to find funding to support it. Recently, a rural development grant from USDA came through to pay for equipment necessary to produce the program.
Hillyer did some research and spoke with representatives from Delmarva Public Radio, bought a fancy microphone, and then constructed a … unique … soundproof barrier suitable for high-quality recording.
“We got a plastic tub and we lined it with egg crate, and then we put the microphone in the box and we put our head in the box,” she said. “And it sounds great. Honest to God, that’s what we’re doing. It’s so silly!”
Kristen Helf and BL Strang-Moya write the segments, which are then recorded by Hillyer and Anne Neely.
Programs recorded so far include the debate over cans versus bottles, the history of New England IPAs, and how gluten-free beers are made. There are also separate segments on the origins of Oktoberfest, and how early American settlers influenced the creation of pumpkin beers.
Rather than woodwinds imitating birdcalls, each program opens with the sound of a can of beer opening and short, bluesy intro music.
Area breweries, from Ironweed Ale Werks in Ocean City to Dogfish Head in Milton, Delaware, are featured during program segments. There is also mention of the broadcast originating locally.
“If this is playing in Portland or Ashville and it says, ‘Brought you from Delmarva, where world-class beer meets world-class beauty,’ everybody is going to start looking at Delmarva as a craft beer destination,” Hillyer said.
Individual segments can be streamed from BeerNotes.org and are available for syndication. Locally, it can be heard on Delmarva Public Radio stations at 5:44 p.m., each Thursday during “All Things Considered.”
Hillyer said plans are to produce one show per week.
“Any public radio station across the nation can pick this show up,” she said, adding there’s also an online form for listeners to request that a local NPR station carry the program.
To add a radio station to the online form, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Include the station location, call letters and the program director’s email address.
“The more requests we can get, the better,” Hillyer said. “What we’re hoping is that other stations pick it up and have it as a weekly show as well.”
Hillyer said listeners could also email ideas for upcoming Beer Notes segments.
“If you have good ideas, send them our way,” she said. “We want people to send us ideas they want to hear about or learn about. That’s another thing you can do through BeerNotes.org.
“We want this to be something that goes on. Nothing is huge when it starts,” she continued. “I think we have to thank the stations for carrying it and we have to continue long enough that we can get other stations to pick it up. And then, Delmarva becomes the center for tourism.”
Of all the things Hillyer has done to promote local beer and tourism through Shore Craft Beer, she said Beer Notes is her personal favorite.
“Honestly, it’s the coolest thing I’ve ever done in my entire career,” she said. “It just makes me happy when somebody comes up and says, ‘Hey, I learned something!’ It’s my favorite project ever.
“If we can teach people about beers, that’s a fantastic thing. If we can get people here to sample our local beers, that’s fantastic,” Hillyer continued. “As we boost tourism, we get more support for the breweries. And maybe, eventually, Maryland will see that tourism is a good thing and that the strength of the breweries and what they’re providing makes it a great tourist destination. That’s the goal.”