‘On Being’ Host Krista Tippett on Emergence, Learning and Why She’s Having More Fun Than Ever Before

February 21, 2023

The last time Krista Tippett and On Being joined us at On Air Fest, something extraordinary and unprecedented happened following the appearance: The entire world shut down. 

The speed of life-as-we-know-it slowed to a standstill as our human collective plunged into a global pandemic that would change everything about the way we related to ourselves and each other. It seemed fitting (and bittersweet) that the recording — a live conversation with author Ocean Vuong touching on survival, loneliness, community — became one of On Being’s most beloved and most streamed episodes ever. 

It’s also fitting that now, as On Being returns to our stage and curates an immersive installation as part of our first-ever On Air: The Podcast Experience, Krista and her team are hyperfocused on the concept of emerging. Of moving forward while staying open, getting creative about possibility, and of approaching the world with excitement and grace. 

Ahead of her live conversation with US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy on Day Two of On Air Fest 2023, we sat down with Krista to talk the shift from public radio to podcasting, incubating new ways for On Being to show up in the world, and why she’s having more fun recording than ever before. 

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On Air Fest:
We are thrilled to welcome On Being back to On Air Fest this year — and to welcome you back to the landscape with a new season, no less! On Being’s latest season is focused on emergence — can you share a bit of what is emerging for you and the team after coming back together again to work on this new season?  

Krista Tippett:
It’s true that we took a pause in producing the show, and I was able to get a sabbatical last summer. But ending the weekly show was a way of making space for other ways On Being shows up in the world. We spent the fall incubating our Lab for the Art of Living, and seeding gatherings we’ll be rolling into in the coming summer and fall. That said: it is fantastic to be back in production. It’s been really fascinating to return to something that is 20 years old — but with enough variation and new freedom of form that it also feels fresh and surprising. Someone who’s been listening to the show forever said to me, of the new episodes, “I’ve never heard you having so much fun.” And it’s true. 

On Air Fest:
On Air Fest is a gathering designed to celebrate audio in all its creative splendor. Since your last appearance on the show, On Being has relaunched in podcast-only format. How did this switch impact the way you create, and has it shifted the way you experience the process of creating? 

Krista Tippett:
It was of course a lovely thing to be on public radio for 20 years - but the move to podcast only has been a great liberation. There was a lot of admin that went into tending that system. Most dramatically, we've been freed from the tyranny of the radio hour clock. I generally do a rambling 90 minute conversation, and we spent an inordinate amount of our creative energy chiseling out nearly half of that to get the show to time. Now we can edit for clarity and beauty and narrative flow while also letting the conversation breathe. I would say the other energizing new experience of this concentrated run of a season is the way the episodes get into conversation with each other. That has always happened with On Being — the theme of “emergence” was itself emergent across the last year of the weekly show. But there’s a different way we’re able to build now on the larger questions of all that we’re carrying from these last years, all that we’re learning, (or re-learning) in so many disciplines about being human, and all that we’re called to in the world ahead. And to be listening and creating at that intersection is an honor and a thrill. 

On Air Fest:
In addition to The Podcast Experience, On Being will also be back on our mainstage this year in conversation with US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. What are you most looking forward to experiencing at On Air Fest this time around?  

Krista Tippett:
Well, the energy and camaraderie is terrific. And I have such a powerful and bittersweet memory of On Air Fest 2020, with Ocean Vuong being prescient in ways none of us could fathom. We all walked out of that room and into a world that was about to utterly shift on its axis. My colleagues and I spent a lot of time wrangling the right voice for On Air Fest for now. I’ve had a few experiences of Vivek Murthy across the last few years, all on Zoom. He is wise and thoughtful in a way we no longer expect public servants to be. And he’s a careful, caring observer of the mental and emotional distress that is a legacy of these years, yet that we scarcely know how to name, much less work with. What is happening, from where he sits, I want to hear. And what would it take to move out of this entrenched crisis response mode and into a proactive attention to mental flourishing – human wholeness?