Who said “Radio is the theater of the mind?” Was it Orson Welles? Regardless, it’s true. A recent edition of 99% Invisible proved the point.

Alex Goldman produced the story I’m talking about called “Heyoon.” It’s about Alex’s teenage hideaway – a mysterious, hard-to-find building in Ann Arbor, Michigan that he and his friends hung out in back in high school.

Alex interviewed many of his old buddies about the place. Then, when it came time to produce the story, he did what most producers might do: in an early draft, he put together a montage of quotes at the start of the story to paint a picture of Heyoon and establish the mystery.

Over at 99% Invisible headquarters in the Bay Area, Sam Greenspan and Roman Mars were editing the story when Sam had a eureka moment — recreate a visit to Heyoon in Roman’s back yard! A well-acted and recorded dramatization would tap into radio’s capacity to be the theater of the mind.

Sam rustled up a few non-actors who performed an excursion to Heyoon based on the recollections of Alex and his friends. The result is a lively, visual, radiophonic telling of events from many years ago. While a montage of quotes would have worked well, the dramatization definitely takes the story to the next level.

Listen to what Alex and Sam created and how they did it on this edition of HowSound and then, because I don’t feature the whole story, listen to all of Heyoon over at 99% Invisible.

Stay rad.





5 comments to Heyoon

  • Southside

    I have no issues with radio being the theatre of the mind. But I have to disagree with Rob here – I think this segment sounds RIDICULOUSLY contrived and acted. Do Americans feel the same? Perhaps because I’m not one of you, it sticks out to my ears. I thought the description of the process was kind of ridiculous and self-satisfied. Not to be a hater, but I think it’s important to call these things as you see them. I have enjoyed plenty of 99% Invisible (and of course, I love How Sound) but this isn’t the moment I’d have picked to celebrate.

    • rob

      Yo Chatty,

      Thanks for writing and your comments. I’d love to hear recreations that you think pass muster. Can you provide links to work you like?


  • […] teenage visits to “Heyoon,” as it was known to the locals. As How Sound’s Rob Rosenthal explains, “[t]he result is a lively, visual, radiophonic telling of events from many years ago. While a […]

  • Kyle

    Interesting episode – especially because I’m surprised Rob enjoyed the recreation so much. For me it set off my ethics radar since it’s a lil bit misleading. Now there’s no obvious harm done, but the problem is that it’s never explicitly stated as being a recreation. You feel there’s something off, because how could he have tape of this? After all it’s unlikely that he would have tape of something that happened to him in high school. Knowing this, it makes you question all of the other interviews in the piece and makes the line between fact and dramatic reenactment fuzzy.

    I think recreations are fine – but you need to signpost them. Radiolab has a few good examples. In one episode they read out newspaper articles using an actor and they processed it in such a way that it sounded like an old radio recording. At first I thought it was a radio recording, but then I tuned in that they put in some typewriter sounds behind the dialgoue, which cued me into that this was newspaper article. It was neat because it kept up the period theme and they didn’t need to spot the show to have the Robert or Jad tell you, “this is a reading by an actor.”

    Another good Radiolab example was from the episode on Mortality where they were speaking to a scientist about a conference they attended. In the background you started to hear what sounded like audio from the conference, but it was obviously a recreation because a) it’s unlikely they’d have tape of an old confernece and b) there’s nothing significant said and it’s all generic dialogue along the lines of “now on the matter of cell replication you’ll see here that…” It does however serve as a nice bit of scene setting.

    • Hi Kyle, Thanks for your thoughtful note. Toward the end of this episode, I raised the issue of there not being a signpost indicating this is a reenactment **until the end** of the episode. I asked Alex about that and this is what he had to say:

      “Alex – I think that it’s mostly in the service of the story. Not saying it’s a reenactment keeps the action pretty swift. And, I feel like it’s along the lines of someone leaning over to you during the movie and saying “Hey, that’s fake blood.”… I like the idea of it just existing in the moment and that at the end we get the credits that say this is a work of art and there are some parts of it that are staged and there’s a bit of stagecraft to it.”

      So, I guess I would ask you, Kyle, how do you feel about the disclaimer coming at the end of Heyoon rather than some point earlier in the piece? I haven’t decided yet myself. I recently listened to “Superchat”, an episode of Love and Radio (http://loveandradio.org/2014/01/the-superchat/) where there’s a subtle indication at the end that the entire episode may have been an act. That disappointed me. I felt tricked. Somehow, with Heyoon, I was okay with learning about the recreation later. Maybe I’m okay with it because the entire story wasn’t manufactured, just the active tape. And, presumably, Alex, who was on location at the time of the actual events, thought the recreation sounded accurate. Whereas, with that episode of L+R, I’m left to believe the whole thing was fiction despite my understanding going in that they tend to tell true stories.

      Thanks again for writing.

      — r

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