Radio Silence

Radio Silence - Lineup (wide)

Radio Silence explores the silent moments of talk-radio, combining eight AM broadcasts into an expanded conversation based on the “negative spaces” between words.

A pause in conversation might indicate the end of a thought or an opportunity for reflection and response. A pause in a radio broadcast offers different potentials: As radio listeners, we can’t respond but we might exercise our only form of interactivity: changing the station. On commercial radio, moments of silence are minimized to avoid losing listeners. Broadcasters use digital time-compression to shorten their programming and leave more time for advertising, and some have experimented with tiny “blip ads” to monetize every last second of the broadcast day. In Radio Silence, pauses are treated as opportunities to probe the neighboring airwaves in search of other conversations. Over time, it surveys the spectrum of viewpoints currently on the air, weaving them together through the intersections of a shared linguistic device.

How it Sounds

Stereo Excerpts from Devotion Gallery, July 2010
These excerpts are not hand-edited. Everything was done live by the Radio Silence software.

“try it before you buy it” …

“and of course tomorrow never comes” …

“Can I give you my suggestion Steve?” …

“until they burn the bill of rights” …

“fear of death” …

“you know I used to work for Steven Hawking?” …


How it Looks

Radio Silence - Radio Sculpture #1Radio Silence - Radio Sculpture #2Radio Silence - Radio Sculpture #3Radio Silence - Radio Sculpture #4

Radio Silence - Radio Sculpture #5Radio Silence - Radio Sculpture #6Radio Silence - Radio Sculpture #7Radio Silence - Radio Sculpture #8

The 8 wire-frame radio sculptures

Radio Silence - Control Panel WideRadio Silence - Control Panel Circuit

The control panel with 8 radios, computer, and audio amplifiers

Radio Silence - See-ThroughRadio Silence - Lineup with Control PanelRadio Silence - Artist Talk - wide

Installation views at Devotion Gallery, July 2010 (Artist talk photo by Phil Stearns)

How it Works

Radio Silence Diagram 1

Eight talk radio stations are received by portable AM radios. Their audio is fed into custom computer software which makes real-time decisions about what will be heard in the exhibition.

Radio Silence Diagram 2

The software detects the silences between words (yellow). It also notices when two or more broadcasts share a moment of silence (green lines).

Radio Silence Diagram 3

8 wire-frame radio sculptures are arranged in the exhibition space. (One for each of the real radios that feed the computer software.) The software allows one sculpture to deliver its broadcast while the others stay mostly quiet. When a moment of shared silence occurs, the conversation seamlessly shifts to the neighbor before the next word begins. Paradoxically, in order to be heard in the conversation created by Radio Silence, every broadcast must be momentarily silent.

Exhibition History

Radio Silence was created in 2009/2010 with the support of free103point9, (now Wave Farm Transmission Arts) via their AIRtime fellowship program. Also see the Radio Silence page on their site.


  • Silence Opens Doors is an online magazine about the culture, politics, and science of silence and noise. They published an interview with me about Radio Silence:

    Read the full article: When Radio Goes Silent.