The Space Reviewin association with SpaceNews

David Livingston
Dr. David Livingston has been producing The Space Show since 2001. (credit:

A peek behind the scenes of The Space Show (part 2)

TSR: People don’t sit around watching the TV and suddenly decide, “I think I’ll do a radio talk-show program.” How did the concept of the program come about? Did someone approach you with the idea or was it something you developed on your own?

Dr. David Livingston: I was approached by a station in Phoenix to do a business consulting show. The Phoenix station found out about me when I spoke at an all-day Cato Institute seminar on space. I agreed to do the Phoenix business consulting show for three to six months, in an effort to improve my public speaking, thinking it would be a plus for lectures and conferences. I started out with the program known as “Business Without Boundaries” (BWB) and I focused on interviewing business consulting people once a week. The show was OK, so-so enjoyable for me. I did enjoy the guests and the topics, but it was not a passion. However, I was enjoying doing a radio show. About two months into BWB, I decided to get my friend Dr. Patrick Collins from Japan on the show regarding space tourism. Patrick did the show with me and after that I changed its format to only space subjects. The feedback was immediate: lots of good comments by e-mail, plus, I now had the “fire in the belly” passion for BWB and radio. For business reasons, I eventually left the Phoenix station and moved to KKNW in Seattle. I changed the name to “The Space Show” and continued with the space-themed programming.

I stumbled into this by accident and fell in love with it. I still completely enjoy and love it, and the Internet and satellites have made the show available to so many people around the world. When SpaceShipOne was flying, I had reporters on the scene and I did a four-hour broadcast, nonstop, of all events with those flights. I got thousands and thousands of emails from around the world, with people telling me that The Space Show was their only source for information. Dads sent me notes from Australia, where it was around 2 AM, and they were keeping their three- and four-year-old kids up to hear The Space Show, thinking this was as historically significant as the Wright Brothers’ flight.

I stumbled into this by accident and fell in love with it.

When our servers were crashing due to the popularity of the SpaceShipOne events and I put out the word for people to use another site furnished by Pioneer Radio in the UK, within 15 minutes I had unlimited bandwidth mirror sites springing up to carry our broadcast. These sites were all over Europe, Canada, Asia, the US, and Australia. Bringing SpaceShipOne live to people around the world was something I had not thought of, it was a side benefit for having decided to do the full event coverage. Space is a powerful uniting force: I have seen it, witnessed it, participated in it. I am glad I stumbled into it. Serendipity, I guess.

TSR: The first hour of your 90-minute (plus) program is broadcast live by a Seattle radio station. What’s the story behind that association? How did you get hooked up with them?

Livingston: When I realized I needed to leave the Phoenix station, I looked for a good station in a good market that followed decent business practices. As I buy my air time, costs were critical and still are. KKNW was one of the stations that made it to the top of my short list. I checked references, flew to Seattle to meet their people, see their facilities and equipment, talk to their engineers, etc. At the time, the show was just one hour but over time as guests kept going over the 60-minute period and since I was streaming the show anyway, it did not matter. Thus, I let the show evolve to 90 minutes. Some guests still go over and that’s fine with me. Also, I have done and will continue to do many two-hour programs. KKNW only carries the Tuesday evening show, 7-8 pm Pacific. My next stop though is satellite transmission and an expansion to a much broader on-air network. I am working on this with new Space Show plans, which I hope to be able to announce soon.

TSR: Your program is heard in over 50 countries, with a podcast and MP3 archive—listening options that go on and on, and continue to grow every time we turn around. So, did you start out with just the radio broadcast program and then the stream-casting on the Internet came along later, or were both those options with you from the get-go?

Livingston: I started out with just the 600minute radio broadcast in Phoenix. The Phoenix station was supposed to stream the show but they were not reliable, and that is putting it kindly. I added my own stream service with as it was just too frustrating to be dependent on the Phoenix station. KKNW streams the first hour and replays the show and stream on Saturdays, but now I stream it on multiple streaming services. Streaming, podcasting, archives: they are probably reaching far more people than the one hour live Seattle broadcast.

To run a program like The Space Show, you need to be reliable so I have multiple computers, backups, streaming services, lots of broadcasting equipment, phone lines, hybrids, etc. However, I have three areas of vulnerability that concern me, for without these services I can’t do a show. These are the cable high-speed Internet connection, phone service, and electrical power. So far I have not had outages during a show and I hope it stays that way.

TSR: You’ve shown no fear in your endeavors with The Space Show, including live on the spot broadcasts of the SpaceShipOne flights. Those programs even featured field reporters with you at the controls back home. Did I hear correctly that you might try another remote show, from a conference or convention, in the near future?

Livingston: I (actually) did the three SpaceShipOne flights: the two Ansari X Prize flights and the test flight in June. I also did a remote show from the Space Access Conference in Phoenix this past April. I am working on doing a live remote from the coming International Space Development Conference in May 2006 from Los Angles. Stay tuned for details.

I have also thought of taking the show on the road, first to a couple of hi-tech San Francisco Internet cafes. I intend to interview the highly-educated, affluent, and upwardly mobile young men and women there about their thoughts on space. They are the type of innovative, thinking, and “can do” crowd that can take us to space—but I bet they know very little about it, and don’t care that much. I want to wake them up to it, and I think my plan might do it.

[Young high-tech people] are the type of innovative, thinking, and “can do” crowd that can take us to space—but I bet they know very little about it, and don’t care that much.

It’s a big deal, requiring some heavy-duty equipment: a stable high-bandwidth Internet connection for streaming, multiple computers for recording the show, and more. Still, I would like to try it. With time and funding, I will launch this program in 2006. When the arrangements are in place, I will announce it on the show and on the website newsletter. It will start in the Bay Area and we will see what happens after a few tests.

TSR: Broadcasting The Space Show since June of 2001, your guest list reads like the who’s who of and space in general. With such a broad spectrum of viewpoints you must have come across some strongly opposing philosophies on how to do what, when and where, yet each show the only thing that comes through from you is your enthusiasm for the subject. Without naming names, have there been times you’d just like to reach through the phone lines and throttle a guest, or have you had a guest so surprise you with a response you are at a loss for words?

Livingston: Most of the desire to do what you suggest comes from those that pay no attention to reality and “drink the Kool-Aid”. Not paying attention to reality is a problem. and space development in general is fragile enough due to funding, safety, and regulatory issues, and probably more so on the margins because of the Kool-Aid crowd. However, Kool-Aid reality denial, even on the margins, has the potential to be more damaging to a developing industry than a mature or thriving industry.

I never want to throttle a guest, but what I do like doing is asking questions that reveal to the listeners the true nature, condition, or state of reality of the guest. I have confidence in the listeners that with their own discernment and discretion they can tell what is real or not. They don’t need me to spell it out for them. My goal on the show is to facilitate the guest in being what the guest wants to be: either a true expert or the biggest fool ever in the field. I will help the guest achieve either goal and I will do it respectfully and politely. Again, I trust Space Show listeners in their discernment and discretion. The listeners are the ultimate jury with any guest or topic.

TSR: What space development activities, either current or in the foreseeable future, tickle your fancy the most? Space tourism, whether it is suborbital flights or trips to a Bigelow-style hotel-habitat, lunar activities such as resource utilization, manned Mars missions, other robotic-planetary exploration, or “fill-in-the-blank” other?

Livingston: I relish the thought of space tourism. I am a big believer in it and want to see it happen safely, routinely, and commercially as soon as possible. I also want to see a manned permanence on the Moon and humans to Mars. There are so many answers I want about Mars that only people present on the ground there can provide. These are my most desired space projects, but space exploration, both manned and robotic, is also important and vital. So is the development of space transportation and finding ways to reduce the cost and difficulty of leaving Earth’s gravity field.

I relish the thought of space tourism. I am a big believer in it and want to see it happen safely, routinely, and commercially as soon as possible.

But it’s important to realize that without our ability to cost-effectively leave Earth’s gravity well, both with people and cargo, we are not going to be able to go very far in space or be able to do very much. We must find the path to low cost space access - it’s fundamental to becoming space-faring. Since The Space Show has started its Deep Space Communication Project, perhaps one of the questions I will send to deep space is a request to have the manual on low cost space access sent to me from out there someplace, by any entity that knows the answer to achieving low cost space access from a heavy duty and very penalizing gravity well planet.

TSR: If I were to look at your night stand or on the end table beside your favorite reading chair, what might I see that you are currently reading? A peek in your library of reading material would show what percentage of fiction to non-fiction?

Livingston: I’m currently reading management textbooks to use in my Space Management class for the spring 2006 semester at the University of North Dakota. I like to read everything from history, classics, fine literature, science, etc. I read lots of weekly and monthly magazines and journals and online materials. You might see a stack of online articles printed out, maybe eight inches high. They also go in my travel backpack which I often save and read when I travel. I read various newspapers as well: local, state, national, and space-related. I like to read. I took lots of speed reading classes when I was younger and can read very fast with decent comprehension. I know when to slow down to absorb more but in general, knowing how to read fast, how to speed read, has been one of the best tools I ever learned, developed, and used.

I urge space fans to read and read and read. Not just space, science, engineering, or sci-fi books, though: read literature, read the classics, read Harry Potter, books on politics, history, poetry, anything. Remember, we talk and think space and we want to make the case for space to people who are outside the space community. We need to communicate with them, not lecture them. We need to hear what they have to say. I mean really listen and hear, not go through the motions. Our society consists of teachers, plumbers, carpenters, contractors, office workers, medical personnel, artists, writers and so much more. They are all important and we need them to understand with us why space is a must. We are not always talking to scientists, engineers, or advocates. We need to be in the world at large and reading takes us there. This is important because it enables us to expand how we see space and relate it to others. It expands our vocabulary, how we can describe things, how we can connect with people. Maybe it will be through art or poetic metaphor or blue-collar common sense. Reading makes us part of the world and society, not just a space organization or an engineering professional group. We humanize ourselves through reading, the humanities, and science, and then how we related with others. So I say read everything, listen to everything, all points of view. By doing this, one develops their discernment and discretion skills to a high state. This is really important in space development.

For more information on how you can contribute to the funding needed to keep The Space Show on the air, check it out HERE.