A Trip to the Dentist

Not Larry’s actual tooth (as far as I know).


On this edition of HowSound, set the “Way-Back Machine” to 1977 for a legendary story — Larry Massett’s psychedelic “A Trip to the Dentist.”

The piece is legendary in public radio circles for two reasons. One, it was assembled on three, reel-to-reel tape decks — a process Larry says pushed the limits of the studios at NPR where it was produced and aired on All Things Considered.

Second, “A Trip to the Dentist” represents a time gone by, a time when NPR and public radio in general experimented a lot more with sound.

Maybe with the advent of Radiolab and 99% Invisible along with the popularity of the Third Coast International Audio Festival (which sold out this year, by the way), we’re seeing a return to risky, experimental story-telling. That would be a good thing, if you ask me. But I’m not quite sure we’ve reached the halcyon days of the 1970s and early 1980s when flagship public radio programs and stations encouraged and broadcast sonically challenging work.

If you’d like to hear more of Larry’s work, visit HearingVoices and Larry’s collection of pieces at PRX.

Best, Rob




4 comments to A Trip to the Dentist

  • Love the image of the tooth, lol. I’m a Toronto Dentist and really enjoyed your blog.

    Eric Rouah

  • Mark Anderson

    Really loved this piece and am fascinated about the paradigm shift that happened in NPR and public radio in the 1970’s, moving away from more experimental and sonically challenging audio pieces to a more uniformed and strictly journalistic sensibility. I am a college student studying radio/documentary and am actually writing a thesis about how podcasting culture has allowed more experimentation with radio as a craft, highlighting the emerging experimental aesthetic so many of my favorite shows (Love+Radio, 99%Invisible, Here Be Monsters, Snap Judgment, Radiolab, etc.) employ. It’s wonderful to hear stories like this that are representative of the sound I’m interested in as a radio producer/listener/critic currently, but produced almost 40 years ago! And on reel-to-reel!!

    I’m curious if you have any more resources or thoughts on the abandonment of experimental audio in public radio that happened in the 70’s and now it’s re-emergence? I find so much value in highly produced, artful, and innovative storytelling, but am discouraged by it’s absence on the air. Any thoughts?

  • Mark Anderson

    Wow Rob, thanks a lot! That’s really helpful!

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