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CHIRP Radio’s storytelling series focuses on performers’ First Times

Funds raised by the live show and podcast go toward the independent station's first radio tower.

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In the early 90s, comedian Sean Flannery says, he told a really big lie for the first time, impersonating a New Jersey pharmacist to sneak into a Huey Lewis and the News concert at a medical conference in Cleveland. At the afterparty, he drunkenly walked off a roof, breaking his back and shattering his heels. But as other partygoers tried desperately to get ahold of the pharmacist's wife, they realized Flannery wasn't actually the person he'd claimed to be. At least, that's the stand-up's story, which he followed with a mellow version of the band's hit "Power of Love" for a recent edition of CHIRP Radio's storytelling event and podcast The First Time—it remains a favorite of coproducer Julia Mueller.

Four times yearly, producers Mueller, Bobby Evers, and Jenn Sodini (who also hosts) recruit comedians, musicians, journalists, chefs, professors, and a variety of others to share experiences about memorable firsts in their lives, prompted by themes like "First Scare," "First Impression," and "First Taste." Following the story, the house band, the First Time Four, play a rendition of a song chosen by the performer to expand on the tale. Each episode is then made available in podcast form.

"[Sara Miller] did a story about her first experience in Chicago getting totally lost," Mueller says. "She got picked up by a random yellow car that she thought was a taxi, and the song that kept playing from the car's cassette player was 'Baby Got Back.' So she told the story paired with that song—[and the First Time Four] harmonized and knocked it out of the park with this almost a cappella version."

The series started five years ago as a fund-raiser for CHIRP, and proceeds still benefit the indie station, but now there's a specific goal in mind: its first radio tower. According to Mueller, CHIRP plans to broadcast at 107.1 FM as well as online as soon as possible, and ticket sales for this month's show could be what puts it over the top.

The First Time's latest topic, "First Gig," asks participants—who include stand-up Rachel McCartney, singer and sketch performer Megan Ensley, writer RJ Eldrigde, and CHIRP DJ Billy Kalb—to talk about the first time they started pursuing the work they truly wanted to do.

"It's superfun to pick a theme and see how people interpret it," Mueller says. "And it's fun to do these other creative things that wouldn't seem directly related to an indie radio station."  v

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