Alien Nation


Alien Nation - 10 week documentary series CBC National Radio

Atlantic Journalism Award | Silver Winner: Feature Writing - Radio


"Alien Nation was a remarkable, brave and intimate series of radio programs. It is truly amazing to hear the stories that were part of the show, all presented without judgement, shock or hyperbole. The kids got to speak for themselves, mostly unmediated, something we hear so rarely on radio or tv. Judith Mackin did an amazing job weaving together her personal experiences with the stories of others. It made for a brave and very compelling listening experience."

Chris Boyce, Toronto
Programming Director CBC Radio

To listen to Alien Nation episodes,
please click on the image above.

A journey into the lives of Canadian teenagers through the lens of a mother. The show is driven by Judith Mackin, a 40-year-old mother trying to keep a connection to her son, Robyn, as he struggles to find his way in a complicated world.

Alien Nation features dozens of teens from a wide range of backgrounds, speaking frankly and often surprisingly about spirituality, family, technology, friendship, love, sex and altered states.

The series begins with Judith and Robyn in crisis. He has run away from home and Judith fears she's about to lose him altogether. What follows is an in-depth exploration of a misunderstood and often maligned generation.

The crisis that starts the show also inspired the creation of the series. Judith began looking for programs that reflected the struggles of raising teens. When she couldn't find one, she decided to make one. She pitched an idea to the CBC Radio Program Development Committee, which helped her shape it into a summer series for 2008.

The show draws on hundreds of interviews with teenagers in their own spaces - from the bedroom to the classroom. It examines that seemingly fleeting moment when children change into young adults. It explores the challenges of hanging on when it's time to let go.

Alien Nation has a rich, vibrant, youthful sound. Associate Producer Mark Tunney mixes narrative and music in unpredictably pleasing ways. He creates dynamic shows sweetened with gentle confessions and bursts of jokes and laughter. Producer Rachel Cave Bauer joined Judith in the early days of show development and helped her transform inspiration into provocative and confessional radio.

Alien Nation aired June 23 - August 27, 2008: CBC National Radio 1 - Mondays 9:30 am and again on Wednesdays at 7:30 pm Sirius Satellite 137 - Tuesdays at midnight NPR (National Public Radio) – USA’s Public Broadcaster – Sundays at 12:30 pm

Episode 1 - Leaving Home: Listener Feedback (via CBC website email)

I was so happy to see someone doing a documentary on this subject. I feel Judith could interchange the names and be speaking of my life with my son - the details are so similar it is uncanny.  It has been the most isolating and difficult experience of my life. It is helpful to know you are not the only one living this.
I think your show is fantastic. The idea alone is one that is truly inspiring. I'm 19 and only just coming to terms with what it means to be an adult, clinging desperately to teenagedom, wishing for less responsibility and the feeling that I still have time to make all those important decision, which as of late, seem to be creeping up unexpectedly. It's great to finally have a program that actually looks at teens and the issues we have to deal with…
I listened to the first show this week, and I was wowed. Excellent! It really encouraged me to hear the voices of these kids; their humour and insight made for great radio. The story of the girl who reconciled with her newly remarried Mum and who reclaimed her own sobriety and dignity touched me deeply and I found my self drying tears as I worked away in my studio.  I also loved the tape of the kids imitating their parents voices; my husband does THAT EXACT THING!! They really nailed it.  I will make sure I catch every episode, I want to know how Robyn and Judith make out. As the parent of 2 teens; 2 wonderful, infuriating, precious, irrational and endlessly surprising kids; I need all the help I can get!


Episode 2 - High School Drama: Listener Feedback (via CBC website email)

I'm so sick of the constant dumbing-down of the CBC (Radio/TV) and the new programming that seems like a desperate grab for the youth demographic. Young people do not need pandering - they just need to hear their stories, produced in a sophisticated and professional way. So it's terrific to hear this new series about kids. The job of the CBC is to reflect Canada back to Canadians, and Alien Nation does a beautiful job. I hope Judith Mackin stays with us for a long time to come. Thanks!
Congrats on an excellent program. I sat next to my radio for the entire show, completely engrossed.  Beautiful production and story-telling. It's great to hear CBC taking some risks and getting away from typical radio narrative structure!


Episode 3 - Altered States: Listener Feedback (via CBC website email)

Dear Judith Mackin:  I can't describe how lucky I am to have caught your show the first morning it aired.  I have been catching up on line since & I so get what you are saying - it is so refreshing to listen to a mom being real with the struggle of parenting an unmotivated teenage boy - I seem to be surrounded by parents with children who are perfect: …I've read every book on parenting teens & adolescent brain development but no where have I heard the frank anguish in your voice that resonates with mine.   Thank you, thank you, thank you for this program.
Commendation for discussing the issue of teen depression/mental health issue and substance abuse. As a Family Doctor I see this daily in my practice.


Episode 4 - Blend: Listener Feedback (via CBC website email)

I am listening to your show again tonight. Wow!  I am a gay man, 47, no kids, but the stories that you share resonate so deeply with me. I feel that this show is so important for so many people for so many different reasons. Thank you.
I am a licensed family therapist who has been in practice for 24 years both Montreal and a hospital in Vermont.   I was also a freelance radio documentary maker for CBC for over 10 years (in the golden days of radio! when there was lots of work!) I was known for my social issues programing- such as "Behind closed doors" or Child Prostitution.  So I feel I am writing you with some degree of expertise.  Judy - your series is the best radio that I've listened to in years. It addresses so many of the issues both adolescents struggle with as well as their families and you do it in a highly educated yet approachable way. I love the way you gave the kids their voice. Good job!  Thank you.


Episode 5 - Teens and Screens: Listener Feedback (via CBC website email)

I have continued to follow your show and wanted you to know how much I admire your candidness. As I mentioned in an earlier e-mail, the situation with my son is extremely similar to your own and it has been going on for more than 6 years – he is now 20 and has been living with us again since March of this year.  I remember when things first started to go bad, I was in denial and would not discuss the problems I was experiencing with my friends.  They all seemed to have over achieving, successful children and I was embarrassed by my situation – “what have I done wrong that made my child turn out like this?”  In recent years, I have come to the conclusion that if I can’t discuss my life with these “friends” – they were never really my friends anyway so I really had nothing to lose.  I now talk openly about the difficulties and struggles we are experiencing and I find it really helps me deal with life on a day to day basis. Your episode about blended families made some very good points that really hit home for me – particularly about sons with a father they didn’t choose and visa versa.  I am looking forward to hearing more of the shows and am hoping to find that things have improved for you and Robyn.
Hi, I was listening to your program this week on the radio, when you had interviewed a few teens in relation to the Boys In Red tragedy. As a parent of one of the boys I would like to give a few comments on "Facebook."  Firstly, my wife and I were able to read tributes and see pictures of our son that we might otherwise not have been privy to; there were pictures posted by friends of his that showed small parts of his life that we had only heard in conversation before as well as comments that allowed us to see what his peers' opinions were of him. (There was one incident that occurred where someone posted nonsense remarks but this was quickly rectified by the site administrator.) My wife found that Nickolas' home page became a tribute to him and remains so (we had access to his home page prior to his death). I feel that through "Facebook" many youths who lost friends and teammates were able to express their feelings as well as convey thier condolences. The only problem we have is the potential for the misuse of information, pictures, etc. that have been posted as they have then become public domain. While this is my opinion that of other parent's vary greatly and I do not wish to speak for all. Thanks
Hi, I'm working as a radio producer at CBC Toronto, and I just want to let you know how much I enjoy this program. I think you capture the world of teens in a wonderful way and the show sounds great. Thanks for making such engaging radio.


Episode 6 - Hyper Sexed: Listener Feedback (via CBC website email)

I just finished listening to the most recent addition to the series. I am seventeen, live in Toronto, and will be heading off to university in September...It is a great pleasure to listen to your program as a kind of summary and preview of the last couple years and the culture and social fabric that are found in them. I won't be in that demographic for very much longer. I don't know if that is a sad thought or merits a sigh of relief. Not yet anyway…
I have been religiously listening each week - again, I am astonished when I listen to some of your examples, such as your husband's comments, or your son's, our situations are so very similar… You have quite the courage to open your life to "us."  It was fate that I happened upon the program in my car the first week, and has given me a lot of strength knowing I am not alone.


Episode 7 - Starting Over: Listener Feedback (via CBC website email)

I am a retired CBC and am here just to say congrats to all hands in producing and airing this most illuminating series of programs. This is really radio at its best, concise and contemporary wrapped up in a lot of common sense. Thanks
First I would like to mention the atmosphere created during the program is very well done.  The music, the background sounds, the interviews and especially Judith's speech and tone create a feeling of bleakness; perfect to simulate the world of a teenager.  Further into Judith's speech and delivery, she speaks with so much raw emotion its almost impossible to not listen in awe.  About the genre of the program, I like to think of it as reality radio.  Everything I find wrong with reality TV you have avoided using radio media.  There is no superficiality involved, no faces of bodies to judge or critique as well as no sense forced "drama" incited by producers to make show more interesting.  No doubt their is plenty of drama in high school already.  The approach into the world of a high schooler is really well done too.  No judgment is ever passed on to how these kids live there lives.  They just tell their story plan, simple and raw; quite frankly I'm impressed by the openness and the maturity displayed by the interviewees. Kudos to the production team, Kudos to the interviewees on the honesty and bravery and Kudos to Judith and Robyn for allowing a window into their lives.


Episode 8 - Does Parenting Matter? : Listener Feedback (via CBC website email)

I just wanted to let you know how much I truly enjoy listening to Alien Nation.  I listen to it Monday mornings on my bike ride to work at a community centre in Montreal where I work with kids and teens as an Intervention Worker. Your approach to talking to teens is refreshing and honest. I love that you give your subjects the space to really expose themselves but also give something of yourself in the process. 'Your' Saint John teens often remind me of 'my' Montreal teens who often get a bad rap from the rest of society who miss out on their sincerity and deeper thinking.  Judging teens is the easy way out, people often write them off because they are not willing to invest in knowing them. You've really delved deep in your program and I really appreciate the effort, it's an important conversation to be having.


Episode 9 - Feeding your Soul: Listener Feedback (via CBC website email)

Hi I am a Catholic priest who tonight is preparing a homily (sermon) to preach to about a 120 teens tomorrow.  After visiting with the group today I was driving home and listened to your program and was fascinated by the discussion that took place.  Having worked with teens in a Catholic setting over the past 4-5 years I really feel that many youth are looking for a spirituality that they can call their own.  Many have picked up the basics from their parents but in their teen years they are seeking to define it for themselves.   I have heard parts of earlier programs and found them interesting as well but this is the first one which has prompted me to contact you.  We have to pay more attention to our teens, they can teach us older folks so much.  I have been working with teens for the past several years and they have taught me a great deal and I look on my life and especially my spirituality differently since working with them.Would it be possible to obtain tapes or a CD of the programs? (Especially for parents of teens and others in my parish who want to give up on them).  I truly believe we have to pay a lot of attention to our teens. God bless

Episode 10 - Final Episode - Reasons to Believe: Listener Feedback (via CBC website email)

Thank you for airing such an amazing program.  Being the mother of a newly minted teen I looked forward to each new episode.  I applaud Judith Mackin for taking me on such an honest, brave and inspirational journey with her. Sometimes my son and I would listen to the show together and the conversations that followed were some of the most honest and interesting I have had with him. I would love to see this show used in Parent Council workshops for both parents and teens all over Canada. Thank you.  These shows are the reason I love CBC Radio.
Like most listeners I typically don't feel compelled to comment on what I've heard on the radio, but Alien Nation was so gutsy, so well produced, so incredibly (and at times brutally) honest, I found myself utterly riveted.  My ongoing challenges with my teenage son have been very similar to those you have so eloquently exposed. I am continually torn between the fears I have for him (and his peers), the almost unfathomable love I have for him, and the anger and frustrations I feel regarding some of his choices.  These are not easy times, either for them or us, and I thank you from my heart for not sugar-coating the issues, and for your ability to listen to your son, even when he would say things you wish were different.  Again, I thank both you and Robyn, as well as all the other kids brave enough to expose their hearts and fears.
Hi Judith. I just listened to the final episode of your series, and found myself tearing up several times. Thank you for making this program, and please, CBC, run it again sometime. I am mother to three boys... 22, 18 and 16... and there were so many moments in the series that spoke to the challenges, doubts and conflicts that we face in our home. There are no easy answers. One would think having once been a teenager would help, but like you said in your last episode, today's world is different in so many ways from the one we grew up in. I think that you and Robyn were very courageous to expose yourselves in such a personal way by making this show. And I loved hearing the voices of the many other teenagers who talked about their lives. We do hear young voices in the media, but often they are the super-achievers, and sometimes we can learn so much by listening to "average" teenagers, who are extraordinary in their own ways.  If you've not read The Film Club by David Gilmour, it's great, as is Yes Your Teenager is Crazy. Both books have helped me work my way through these last few years, and kept me hopeful. I was very glad to hear the hopeful tone that your series ended on. I wish you and Robyn the very best, and tell him thanks for being part of Alien Nation.  One final note. I loved the music in the last episode. Can someone send me a list of the songs and artists? I do actually have an Ipod!
I hardly know where to begin, but I have to let you know how special your show has been. I'm pretty sure I am not part of your target audience, being neither a teenager or a parent, but I am a huge fan of teenagers (I'm a retired juniour high teacher) and your show really touched me. I have found myself thinking about both of you from time to time, which surprises me, because I am not one of those who wastes emotions on people she doesn't know, such as celebrities or people covered in the media. I did not get to hear all the sections of Alien Nation this summer, but I am so glad I got to hear the ones I did, especially the final  one. The whole concept was really well-conceived, brave and exciting, Judith. At times you stunned me with your restraint and open honesty. I loved how you involved so many teens, on the most important aspects of their lives, what you got them to reveal, how you made them think things through, how you showed your interest in them.  But Robyn, you are the one who amazed  and impressed me the most. I cannot imagine how you were brave enough to agree to such a project, but wow, you did it. Yes, you are a smart kid, impressively articulate, and  although I do not know you, you made me think of so many boys I do know. Yesterday, when you talked about learning that it's not just you, that everyone has to go through a lot of the same stuff, my heart went right out to you. I hope you find your way back to caring about things and not feeling 'flat' about everything. No matter what you decide to do now, the fact that you were willing to let your mom in will be some kind of help for both of you. I'm sure of it. It sounds as though it already has. To both of you,  I bet your show has sparked some pretty important thoughts in the minds of other parents and teens. I hope so. Most of all, I am wishing hard for you two. Thank you.



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