Woman Crush: Jessica Alpert, WBUR Producer

2015.10.22_Jessica.Alpert.Headshot-0074Photo by Kristin Chalmers

We are NPR and podcast junkies ’round this office. Naturally, we flipped when we heard that WBUR (Boston’s NPR News Station) was partnering with the New York Times on a weekly podcast series of famed Modern Love columns. We even decided to underwrite the series. (Listen weekly to hear love notes from customers like you!) Long story short: we were destined to love Modern Love’s producer, Jessica Alpert, before we’d even met her. She’s thoughtful, kind, and a mom of twins (so she’s basically a superwoman). If you aren’t listening already, add Modern Love to your list.

Name + occupation: Jessica Alpert Silber (I go by Jessica Alpert professionally), Managing Producer, Program Development @ WBUR + mother of twins

How did you get your start?
I’ve loved stories since I can remember. My parents entertained a lot and I used to sit with the adults at dinner parties and just listen. I did oral history for a while and spent a year in El Salvador collecting the oral history of that Jewish community (60 families strong). My first radio story was about a group of nuns living in Waterville, Maine. They were attacked by a schizophrenic parishioner. I was interested in how they continued their vocation after that event. Honestly, I’m just super curious and my job gives me an excuse to ask all the questions everyone wishes they could ask.

Talk to us about what it takes to produce Modern Love.
It’s a lot of moving parts. We are a really close production team and we each have our strengths. The podcast is divided into a few parts—the sound design behind the actor’s read, the interview with Dan Jones (editor of the column), and the interview with the original essayist. We do all of the recordings and then stitch everything together, so each episode is quite production intensive. Every minute is scrutinized. A breath here? An extra beat of silence there? Then comes the forward planning—I’m always looking for (and booking) new actors and trying to break new ground through our casting strategy.

What are your favorite Modern Love episodes so far?
Wow. That is hard. I love Sarah Paulson’s read on “Open Adoption: Not So Simple Math.” I mean, it just moves you beyond words. After she recorded it in New York, the engineer and I just wiped tears from our eyes. That was just the read—without any sound design! Once we added music and sound effects, it just sings. That piece touches everyone in a unique way and I love hearing about people’s individual reactions. I also think Colin Farrell’s piece on a quadriplegic finding love is incredibly breath-taking. But it’s hard not to think each episode merits its own standing ovation.

What’s the craziest Modern Love behind-the-scenes story?
Well, I have to admit that even though it was my job to book these celebrity readers, I couldn’t really believe it when it was happening. And sometimes, success is really scary. Good scary, but scary. I flew out to LA to direct some of these readers and the day before I was to meet with Judd Apatow, I stayed up late in my hotel room binging on articles and YouTube videos about directing….and his thoughts on directing. I mean, directing a director? Insanity. But I just decided to take a deep breath and be present. He did his first read and then looked at me. “So what are my notes?” He was so kind and responsive, and took my direction very seriously. It was a powerful lesson. The takeaway? If you believe you can do it, it’s pretty likely that you can.

Which ones are you most excited to air next?
We just recorded Angela Bassett and she totally blew us away. Tituss Burgess (of the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) just read for us and he has impeccable comedic timing. We have some major readers in the works and it’s always so fun to see/hear what they bring to the table.

What other podcasts do you listen to?
I love The Black List, Death, Sex, and Money, Invisibilia, the Mash-Up Americans, and Embedded. To name just a few. ☺

You have twin toddlers. How has being a mom changes how you approach your work?
After I came back from maternity leave, I put “work” into a totally different category. I’ve never been so challenged as when I was a new mother of twins. After figuring all of that out, work challenges suddenly seemed much less complicated. It was then I realized that nothing truly scares me—I’m seriously not afraid to fail.


Three things you’re most passionate about:
My family. At the end of the day, they are what matters most. But I’m also really passionate about my work and my team. I feel a huge responsibility to create an environment where producers can grow and flex their creative muscle. I also am passionate about finding and nurturing young professionals who work hard—especially young women.

Best habit – beauty or otherwise:
I really love to floss. That’s good, right?

Worst habit – beauty or otherwise:
I hit snooze way too much. It’s out of control.

First thing you do when you wake up:
Usually, I hear a toddler crying so I go in and give some big hugs. That’s the best way to start the day. A few days a week, I work out before everyone is awake, so I’m stumbling around in the dark looking for my sneakers.

What’s your typical beauty routine?
I don’t have time for a ton of maintenance but I definitely use product to make me look more pulled together. I love to sleep on wet hair and then wake up with luscious curls. Hello! I’m also a big fan of make-up. It’s just fun for me and I love trying new products and new tricks. You would NOT believe my collection of mascara.

Favorite Living Proof product:
Dry Shampoo. Took me away from the chains of the daily shampoo!

How often do you wash your hair?
3 times a week

Biggest hair regret:
Meg Ryan’s hair looked SO amazing in “Addicted to Love.” It did not look amazing on me. Short hair just didn’t cut it. Not going there again.

One thing you would never do to your hair:
That is a hard one. I think I’d never go blonde. Not my color. But I try to be open to experimentation.

Who is your role model?
Honestly, my friends who are working to balance family and high-stakes careers. We support each other and we share ideas and solutions. There’s no magic answer, but at least we are all trying to make it work. I feel like we’re in it together.

What about your Woman Crush? Name yours.
QUEEN BEY. ‘nuf said.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
You are responsible for your own happiness.

How do you act confident (even when you don’t feel confident)?
I just own it. I look in the mirror and remember that no one knows I’m nervous except for ME. A killer pair of heels doesn’t hurt either.

Most life-changing innovation:
Open-heart surgery. It’s the reason I’m here.

Favorite inventor/gamechanger:
Margaret Sanger—she gave women the tools to dream big.

What do you wish someone would invent next?
A cure for every single type of cancer.

What’s the next big thing?
Driverless cars.

More #womancrush profiles:

Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg, theSkimm Founders

Arianna Huffington, Media Mogul

Whitney Casey, News Anchor Turned Tech Entrepreneur