Set the Wayback Machine for 1914

N28562_-_Fonograf_-_Edison_-_foto_Dan_JohanssonEdison Standard Phonograph (Photo by Dan Johansson, Creative Commons)

r

The idea is ridiculously simple. Make Kurt Andersen sound like he’s hosting Studio 360 in 1914. Carrying out the idea? Not so simple.

In June, Studio 360 rolled back the clock for an hour of arts and culture stories from a hundred years ago. David Krasnow, the program’s senior editor, says when he looked at the major cultural events of 1914, he noticed several major pop culture trends of the 20th century started that year.

“Animation was, sort of, arguably born in 1914,” David said. “The blues for the first time becomes a really big national thing… Charlie Chaplin invents this tramp character and really at that point becomes the first movie star…

“We kind of put all those things together and said what if we did a show that was about all the exciting stuff that was happening in culture — which is what we do on a week to week basis on Studio 360 — and said what if that show was actually being made in 1914 and we were reporting on those things as though they were happening at that moment.”

They accomplished that conceit, primarily, by altering the sound of Kurt Andersen’s narration. And, it’s quite an accomplishment.

On this edition of HowSound, the staff at Studio 360 walks us through the metamorphosis of Kurt’s voice. Senior Broadcast Engineer John DeLore dissects the production process including the use a cone from an Edison Standard Phonograph. David talks about writing in the diction of 1914. And, Kurt describes narrating in a stilted and formal voice.

Beware. After listening to this episode, I predict you’ll imitate Kurt at random moments throughout the day much to the annoyance of your family and friends.

Cheers, Rob

 

 

Play

3rd Grade Audio

David Green - Hot Chocolate House

David Green is the third grade teacher you wish you had in elementary school. For ten years, David has taught eight and nine year olds at the North Shore Country Day School in Winnetka, Illinois how to produce radio stories — short lists, audio tours, documentaries, and more. Frankly, what David accomplishes with “3rd Grade Audio” is remarkable.

On this edition of HowSound, David talks about working with young people and his process for teaching kids how to be curious with microphones. Along the way, we hear stories about drawing, getting old, stuffed animals, and what you should do when you get a magnet stuck up your nose. “3rd Grade Audio” is proof that we need more youth radio on the air!

Cheers,

Rob

 

 

 

Play

Five Things

On this episode of HowSound, a story prompted by my daughter, Gwen.

Gwen’s only ten but she’s already a freak for good radio stories. She and I listen to lots of shows together: This American Life, 99% Invisible, Radiolab, The Moth. Gwen occasionally attends my classes at the Transom Story Workshop. She even comments about student work — after class. She hasn’t quite found the courage to talk in class yet. Soon, I hope.

The other day Gwen asked what my favorite student stories are. Prompted by her questions, I rifled through a slew of old work and came across Matt Largey’s story “Five Things.” If I had to pick a story for a “Top Ten Favorite Student Features,” this would be one of them because of its incredible intimacy.

I featured this piece on the very first edition of this podcast, back when it was called Saltcast. Even though I already featured the piece and even though it’s ten years old, it still a remarkable story and well worth the listen.

I don’t want to give the story away in this blog post. I’d like you to listen to “Five Things” cold. It’ll be more surprising. So, after you listen to the podcast, watch this video from 2013 that has an update on the story’s main character, Bill Picard.

Ciao, Rob

 

Play

Bringing Wes Home

Wes

Wes Vose, two years before his death in an automobile accident. (Photo courtesy the Vose family via Jakob Lewis.)

r

Wes Vose was well-loved by his family and by the community where he grew up in Woods Hole, Massachusetts on Cape Cod. Everyone was stunned when Wes died late at night in an automobile accident in 2012. He was twenty-two.

Wes’ burial was moving and memorable. The family prepared his body and built his casket. Dozens of people walked along side the pick-up truck carrying Wes and his mother as they made their way to the funeral. Hundreds of people attended — an overflowing crowd. When Wes died, a part of Woods Hole died, too.

Then Jakob Lewis showed up, about a year and a half later. A stranger with a microphone.

Jakob was a student at the Transom Story Workshop in Woods Hole in the spring of 2014. He learned about the funeral soon after he arrived. Jakob was simultaneously fascinated by the way the Vose’s and the community grieved yet wary of trespassing on the family’s privacy.

Ultimately, Jakob’s curiosity won out and the result is “Bringing Wes Home.”

Jakob’s approach to the story offers valuable insight for others “parachuting” into a community to report on a traumatic event. He says he “walked with” the Voses into their fear and sadness and anger. “I felt like a counselor or pastor.”

After listening to this edition of HowSound, listen to Jakob’s podcast, “Neighbors.”

Best, Rob

Play

Love Is A Battlefield

Alix Spiegel’s stories about human behavior on NPR stand out from the pack. Why? Well, they’re stories not reports.

The difference is this. A report moves along from one idea to the next: Something new happened. And, this person or group sees things this way. This other person or group sees things that way. Often a third point of view comes, typically an expert. And so on. That’s an over simplification but it’s not far off.

A story, on the other hand, has characters who move through a sequence of events. This happened. Then this happened. Then this happened…. Eventually, they run into trouble and attempt to work their way out of the predicament — sometimes successfully, other times not.

Alix says producing a story as a sequence of events requires a significant amount of planning. In other words, the story doesn’t just unfold in front of a microphone magically (though there are exceptions). Instead, a producer needs to diligently prepare. They have to think everything through and craft a series of questions that will prompt specific answers from an interviewee — answers that, later, will allow a reporter to fashion a narrative not a report.

Alix, by the way, is a science reporter for NPR. Her stories focus on human relations. Prior to working at the network, she was a staff producer at This American Life. And the piece featured on HowSound today — Love Is A Battle Field — was produced while she was at TAL. Her tips on preparing and conducting interviews will, without a doubt, help you with your next interview. So, listen closely. Take notes.

Ciao,

Rob

PS – Alix and producer Lu Lu Miller are launching a new program about human behavior for NPR. It’s called The Intangibles. Listen for it this October.

 

 

Play

Moulty

photo 1

Victor “Moulty” Moulton, drummer for The Barbarians. (Photo by Alex Kapelman.)

As an instructor at the Transom Story Workshop, I’m not supposed to have a personal interest in a student’s work. That’s crossing a professional line. But, I must admit, I was rooting for Alex Kapelman to bring home gold.

When I was a teen in the late 70′s, I fell in love with a 60′s, garage rock band called The Barbarians. They had a “Top 100″ song called Moulty which told the tale of the band’s drummer, Victor “Moulty” Moulton who played the drums with a hook on his left hand. In the song, Moulty lamented for a girl, “a real girl, one that truly loves me.” And, for over 35 years, I’ve wondered what ever happened to Moulty. Did he find his love?

Enter Alex who, with the help of a fellow classmate, found Moulty and interviewed him with one question in mind.

I won’t tell you the answer. You’ll have to listen. But none other than Jay Allison said the piece had “one of the best endings in the business.”

When you finish listening, be sure to listen to Alex’s podcast Pitch, especially if you dig rock ‘n’ roll.

Onward!

Rob

Play

Criminal

Criminal_Closet

The “Criminal” voicing closet lined with blankets and yoga mats. Phoebe Judge, exiting. Eric Mennel noodling. (Photo by Lauren Spohrer.)

r

Criminal is off and running — hard. As of this writing, the podcast has only five episodes, but it sounds like it’s been produced for quite some time.

Maybe “Criminal’s” early success with solid storytelling and production values can be attributed to the experience of the three producers — Phoebe Judge, Lauren Spohrer, and Eric Mennel. All of them work in public radio and met while producing The Story (which, sadly, is no longer on the air).

Or, maybe “Criminal” has had such a strong start because of Phoebe’s enthusiasm. She was so excited talking about the podcast for HowSound, I thought she might start vibrating.

This edition of HowSound will give you a good sense of what Criminal is all about and how they produce the podcast. After listening, subscribe.

And, if you’re in the mood for other podcasts, these are some of the new one’s I’ve been listening to lately. I’ve thrown in a few old ones, too, but they’re somewhat new to me.

Why Oh Why?

Audio Smut

The State We’re In

The Greenpeace Canada Podcast

Ideas

And, of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Radiotopia, the podcast network from PRX. More podcasts than you can shake a stick at.

Cheers, Rob

Play

Risky Reporting at Fukushima

 IMG_4909

Anthony Kuhn suited up to report from a radioactive reactor at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant. (Photo by Chie Kobayashi)

The contrast was sharp one morning — me, eating breakfast in my kitchen, and Anthony Kuhn, on my radio carefully making his way through an irradiated nuclear power plant. I couldn’t help but think about and even feel the risks reporters take to “get the story.”

Anthony is a foreign correspondent for National Public Radio based in Beijing. He’s reported on the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant several times after the plant was struck by a tsunami in 2011. Anthony’s most recent visit to the plant was last February to document the clean up of the plant.

In the photo, Anthony is “dressed to the nines,” as he put it in his story, with several layers of gloves, a radiation suit, and a respirator. “Not a sliver of skin showing anywhere.”

His recorder is wrapped in cellophane. So is his camera. “My microphone I could not (protect),” he told me. “If I wrapped that in cellophane it would affect the sound obviously, so that was unshielded. And, all I could do is measure the radiation before and after and it did not show any significant amounts of radiation.” Indeed, Anthony says he is still using all of his equipment.

On this HowSound, Anthony talks about risk taking and he’s surprisingly matter of fact. “I like the physical challenge of it and the mental challenge of it. Some people would not accept this level risk. Some people would not accept the crazy life style and all that. I find it a welcome challenge.”

Best, Rob

 

Play

Typewriters Are Unpleasant

remingtonstandard

Remington Standard, photo courtesy Rabbit Ears Audio.

Michael Raphael sent me a slew of files for the production of this HowSound…. No, make that a heaping pile of files…. No, actually, I think you could call it a mountain of audio.

Here’s a list of only a few of the recordings of typewriters he sent. Notice the variety of mic locations, typewriter actions, and repetition. Talk about meticulous.

001 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Paper Feed,Carriage Return,Close x2.wav
001 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Paper Feed,Carriage Return,Distant x2.wav
001 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Paper Feed,Carriage Return,Under Keyboard,Close x2.wav
001 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Paper Feed,Carriage Return,Under Typebars,Close x2.wav
002 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Paper Pull,Close.wav
002 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Paper Pull,Distant.wav
002 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Paper Pull,Under Keyboard,Close.wav
002 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Paper Pull,Under Typebars,Close.wav
002 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Single Key,Close x9.wav
002 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Single Key,Distant x9.wav
002 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Single Key,Under Keysboard,Close x9.wav
002 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Single Key,Under Typebars,Close x9.wav
003 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Jammed Keys,Close x17.wav
003 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Jammed Keys,Distant x17.wav
003 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Jammed Keys,Under Keyboard,Close x17.wav
003 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Jammed Keys,Under Typebars,Close x17.wav
004 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Shift,Close x6.wav
004 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Shift,Distant x6.wav
004 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Shift,Under Keyboard,Close x6.wav
004 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Shift,Under Typebars,Close x6.wav
005 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Shift+Key,Close x8.wav
005 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Shift+Key,Distant x8.wav
005 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Shift+Key,Under Keyboard,Close x8.wav
005 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Shift+Key,Under Typebars,Close x8.wav
006 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Spacebar,Close x5.wav
007 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Spacebar,Double,Close x6.wav
008 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Backspace,Close x4.wav
008 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Backspace,Distant x4.wav
008 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Backspace,Under Keyboard,Close x4.wav
008 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Backspace,Under Typebars,Close x4.wav
009 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Backspace,Repeated,Close x8.wav
009 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Backspace,Repeated,Distant x8.wav
009 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Backspace,Repeated,Under Keyboard,Close x8.wav
009 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Backspace,Repeated,Under Typebars,Close x8.wav
010 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Tabulator,Fast,Close x11.wav
010 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Tabulator,Fast,Distant x11.wav
010 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Tabulator,Fast,Under Keyboard,Close x11.wav
010 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Tabulator,Fast,Under Typebars,Close x11.wav
011 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Tabulator,Slow,Close x7.wav
011 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Tabulator,Slow,Distant x7.wav
011 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Tabulator,Slow,Under Keyboard,Close x7.wav
011 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Tabulator,Slow,Under Typebars,Close x7.wav
012 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Tabulator,Slow,Distant x6.wav
012 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Tabulator,Slow,Under Keyboard,Close x6.wav
012 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Tabulator,Slow,Under Typebars,Close x6.wav
013 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Tabulator,Slow,Distant x5.wav
013 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Tabulator,Slow,Under Keyboard,Close x5.wav
013 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Tabulator,Slow,Under Typebars,Close x5.wav
014 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Bell,Carriage Return,Close x3.wav
014 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Bell,Carriage Return,Distant x3.wav
014 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Bell,Carriage Return,Under Keyboard,Close x3.wav
014 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Bell,Carriage Return,Under Typebars,Close x3.wav
015 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Typing Slow,Close.wav
015 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Typing Slow,Distant.wav
015 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Typing Slow,Under Keyboard,Close.wav
015 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Typing Slow,Under Typebars,Close.wav
016 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Typing Medium,Close x2.wav
016 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Typing Medium,Distant x2.wav
016 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Typing Medium,Under Keyboard,Close x2.wav
016 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Typing Medium,Under Typebars,Close x2.wav
017 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Typing Fast,Close x2.wav
017 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Typing Fast,Distant x2.wav
017 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Typing Fast,Under Keyboard,Close x2.wav
017 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Typing Fast,Under Typebars,Close x2.wav

That’s just the Remington Standard files. It doesn’t include all the audio files he sent of the Royal Standard, Woodstock Standard, Corona Sterling, Royal Companion, Smith Corona Classic, and the Olivetti Lettera 22 typewriters. And then there’s the files of trolleys and rockets and winter sounds and city scapes and…

Michael records sound effects. He makes careful, detailed recordings of all manner of sounds for his company Rabbit Ears Audio. They’re used in radio — Radiolab, for instance — but mostly in movies and video games.

On this edition of HowSound, Micheal talks about his work, he offers a few tips on recording, and he explains why recording typewriters can slowly destroy your soul.

Listen hard.

Rob

Play

Southern Flight 242: Bringing My Father Home

I28RRaNyuHDs-RN8GLWVoYvvIfKD4oi1tmH-b0--7b4

On this HowSound, a gift. A gift from producer Will Coley and editor Viki Merrick.

Frequently, what takes place between a producer and editor during production is private, behind closed doors. As it is in many fields, their creative process is not intended for the public.

So, I was ecstatic when Will and Viki agreed to talk about what happened between them during the production of Southern Flight 242: Bringing My Father Home. While they had a solid, amicable working relationship, they faced Will’s on-going reluctance to, as Viki puts it, get in the “emotional ditch” in order to fully tell the story. And Viki says, months later, she remains “mortified” at the incident that surprisingly created a breakthrough.

There’s much to learn from this HowSound for both producers and editors. Listen close. And, thank you Will and Viki.

Rob

PS. For more on interviewing victims of trauma, listen to HowSound episode 100%. It features an interview with Bruce Shapiro of The Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma.

PPS. Our friends at Unfictional, who have very good taste in radio storytelling, were the first to air Southern Flight.

Play