SF Chronicle – Radio health spot packs in tips

Justin Berton, San Francisco CHRONICLE Staff Writer

If you want to make the topic of kidney stones interesting to a radio-listening audience, try shaking a jar full of the pebble-size miscreants into a microphone.”That was our hook- in for that one,” said Christopher Springmann, the producer and creator of “Life, Love & Health,” a 90-second program that airs daily on radio stations and satellite radio that has gained a loyal and growing following – especially on the Internet, where viewers can click on segments of their choice. The show may be short, but it tries to pack in a wealth of information by inviting physicians, patients, nurse practitioners and even patients to discuss the disease process, from the recognition of symptoms to getting a correct diagnosis, to exploring treatment options and outcomes.

Since 2003, Springmann has produced more than 1,000 of the shows from his South of Market studio, which air on 12 XM Satellite Radio channels, reaching an estimated 6 million listeners, as well as VOA and American Forces Network terrestrial airwaves, where the two stations account for another 20 million listeners monthly.

“That kind of information is extraordinarily valuable to people,” Springmann said. “If someone has just been diagnosed with, let’s say, breast cancer, they’re anxious not only to find out information about the subject, but also to hear other people’s experiences and outcomes as this might relate to their own journey. Because it really is a journey.”

Springmann spent the first 25 years of his professional career taking photographs, including working as a photojournalist for the San Francisco Chronicle in 1971. After leaving the paper, he wrote and shot portraits for California CEO Magazine where he was assigned to what would become a career-altering story about health care and women of color. After filing the story, Springmann was listening to KQED radio when a short piece about environmentalism caught his attention. He was soon inspired to do the same for health care. “I thought, ‘That’s how to reach people,’ ” Springmann said.

Healthy goals

Springmann brings his journalist’s training to researching his topics and vets stories for efficacy. Whether it’s the 90-second daily or the hour-long weekly program, the goal is the same: Make people aware of disease. Prevention, wellness and health promotion are the main goals, says Springmann.

But is it possible to make people aware in 90 seconds? And about serious maladies? Springmann recalled a recent show about colon-rectal cancer that mentioned symptoms to be aware of. “A listener heard the show one day and the next day she got up from the toilet, looked down and saw blood,” he said. “Instead of going into symptom denial, she called her physician. He said: ‘Come on in and have a colonoscopy.’ ” The doctors, Springmann said, discovered a forest of precancerous polyps, and removed them.

According to Joanne Buckley, executive director of the National Association of Medical Communicators, as traditional media outlets downsize – and limit the number of health stories on television and radio – her group has witnessed an increase in broadcasts like Springmann’s.

“It’s definitely a cottage industry right now,” Buckley said. “It’s difficult to measure how many are out there, but I take a call every day from someone who wants to learn how to do it.”

Many people get information through the media, especially online, says Steve Heilig, director of public health and education for the San Francisco Medical Society.

Accuracy a concern

“The only concern is that people get accurate information,” says Heilig, who believes that “Life, Love & Health” Web radio provides that. To judge, he checked the sponsors and underwriters, which is what he suggests for a regular listener or reader to do, too, when they search for health related information.

Following listeners’ needs, “LL&H” recently added a longer format, producing an hour-long show (not including commercial time) that is divided into four 11-minute segments. Each segment is designed to stand alone, so listeners can download individual segments.
“I admire talents like Ira Glass who can hook audiences in for an entire hour,” Springmann said. “But the reality is, most people listen to the radio on their own time, or on the Internet, or in their cars. They don’t listen as long as they used to.”
To listen to past “Life, Love & Health” segments, go to lifeloveandhealth.com.

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