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In Profile: Science Today

For almost 13 years, UCOP’s Larissa Branin has served as a major artery between the public and UC researchers. In addition to her video production duties, Branin is the producer and host of Science Today, a five-day-a-week radio program produced for the Westwood One/CBS Radio Network by the university.

UC has produced a science program on the CBS Radio Network since the late 1940s. What was once an hour-long program has become a snappy 1-minute show that has grown to momentous success—reaching over 1.5 million listeners in California alone, and a nationwide audience in dozens of major metropolitan markets. Today, the program’s simultaneous presence on the Internet has vastly increased its national and international audience.

Link recently sat down with Branin to get the scoop on Science Today.

Why is Science Today important for UC?

Every day millions of listeners hear, in our researchers’ own words, how UC impacts people locally, nationally and globally. UC is truly on the cutting edge of research and Science Today helps us tell that story.

Science Today also serves as a valuable link between research and the general public. For example, we have been contacted by other researchers and entrepreneurs who were seeking collaboration with UC on breakthrough discoveries they heard about or found online.  Almost every week Science Today receives inquiries from listeners or web surfers who want to receive more information about a particular study.

What type of content does Science Today cover?

The program features stories highlighting scientific breakthroughs at UC and our labs. You’ll find everything from health and the environment to social and physical sciences. For example, in a recent week (December 7, 2009), research topics included musculoskeletal problems, tsunamis, depression, preventing job burnout and improving livestock distribution.

What does a typical workweek look like for you?

It’s a balancing act between radio and video production, but I try to spend Monday through Wednesday gathering news and interviewing researchers. Each interview lasts around 30 minutes. Thursdays, I’m able to write the stories and start editing sound bites. On Fridays I go to a studio at UC Berkeley to record my narration and put all of the researchers’ sound bites together. By the following Tuesday, the program is uploaded to a satellite in New York for CBS radio affiliates to pick up.

How do you pack a 30-minute interview into a 1-minute radio show?

Lots of editing!  (Laughter). I stick to my journalism school roots and get right to the ‘who, what, when, where and why’. Each radio spot has to be between 58 seconds and 63 seconds long. I’ve gotten to the point where I can basically eyeball a script and tell you exactly how many seconds it is. We’re able to cover many different angles in one interview, so researchers usually have information I can use for future segments.

You helped launch a more dynamic Science Today website in 2000. What has that meant for the program?

The website has helped grow the program significantly. We post all shows on the site each week—both the audio and a script version. The website also afforded us the opportunity to introduce video online. We post a video bi-weekly—one that has been produced by us or is sent to us from a campus. A lot of research is visual, so being able to share video can help them tell their story better.

Having all of our programs on a website also helps us reach a wider audience. There are people around the world that tune in each week to find out what’s going on. We recently learned that there are classrooms in Japan and Canada – and our own UC Irvine – that use Science Today in ESL courses.

Science Today is ranked very highly on Google. Why do you think that is?

The strength of the content is what drives the audience. We cover so many topics that affect so many different groups of people. Plus, the information is presented quickly, so it’s digestible. We have about 30,000 unique visitors to the Science Today website each month. Soon, we’ll be redesigning the site and posting full-length interviews as podcasts, so I’m looking forward to that.

Science Today by the numbers

665: Number of shows produced by Branin since 1997.

3325: Number of segments produced by Branin since 1997

Science Today website:

Branin is a multimedia director in UCOP’s external relations department.

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