Class Notes: Week 2, Inside KLCC, Tech and Radio Theatre (Orson Welles, Sherlock Holmes, The Message)

KLCC — On Monday we visited our local NPR station, KLCC, meeting with reporter Rachael McDonald and General Manager John Stark. Our gracious — and insightful — hosts were Program Director Don Hein and KLCC News Director Tripp Sommer.

Tech — UO’s Tom Lundberg walked us through setting up an H4 recording device. In case you need it, here’s the operating guide.

And here’s some further tips on how to use the device, including setting the all important audio levels.

Meanwhile, if you want to avoid bad audio, here’s some useful tips.

Listening — our focus in class was to sample some more creative ways of telling stories. Radio drama, or theatre, has been doing this for years; going beyond traditional interviews and discussion formats to transport us into new worlds.

The most famous example of this is Orson Welles’ broadcast of “War of the Worlds” a show which many listeners assumed was real. Listen to the original 1958 to see why this show entered broadcasting folklore.

It’s also interesting to contrast Welles’ delivery of this iconic opening textwith Richard Burton’s version in Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds. You may not know this 1978 concept album, but your parents probably do.

(According to Wikipedia, it’s sold more than 2.5m copies in the UK where it spent 290 weeks in the album charts. It was a top 10 hit in 22 countries around the world, and has spawned live tours, games and more.)

For a more modern audience, The Message has helped to showcase some of the creative potential which podcasts have yet to fully unlock.

Using a model akin to the “found footage” phenomenon used in a number of movies (most notably The Blair Witch Project,) it was interesting to see how many of us wondered if it was real or not.

If you don’t know the answer, then I won’t spoil it for you. But, if you want to know more about the background to the podcast, then this piece in The Atlantic has some useful background about this “Serial with aliens” story.

The show reminded me of many of the story telling techniques used in The Black Museum, an old Orson Welles show (yes, another) which I used to listen to in the early days of BBC Radio 5, before it became the 24/7 News and Sport service, BBC Radio Five Live.

The incidental music is a little old, and some of the acting a bit hammy for modern tastes, but the storytelling remains first-rate, and a reminder of how little the radio drama format has changed.

Want more? Then the Old Time Radio Researchers Group has captured 53 of these stories on their website. Oh, and in case you wondered, it turns outthis Museum is real — even if the stories Welles told may not have been — with it’s primary purpose being as a resource for police training.

There’s lots of pictures of artifacts from the Museum in this Daily Mail piece.

For a more up to date version of some classic stories, then you can’t go wrong with Clive Merrison as Sherlock Holmes. This extract from A Study In Scarlet gives you a great example of Merrison’s wonderful voice.

It also showcases how you use sound — and good mic technique — to create a sense of both space and intimacy.

There’s also a longer extract from this story here, and if you’ve got 400 bucks to drop, then why not buy all 60 stories (the complete Conan Doyle canon, with Merrison as Holmes and Michael Williams as Watson)?

5 x Takeaways

  1. Audio storytelling techniques haven’t evolved as much as you might think. They owe a lot to the Golden Age of Radio, and students can still learn a lot by listening to material from that period.
  2. When listening to Orson Welles, Richard Burton, Clive Merrison et al. pay attention to their language, as well as their voices. They each have incredible voices, but the scripts they’re working off are fantastic, with wonderful evocative descriptive language. Don’t overlook your script.
  3. The Message is a great contemporary example of audio storytelling deploying tried and tested techniques. Episode 1 ends with a great hook that makes you want to immediately listen to the next one. It also trails the hook halfway through too, but still keeps you hanging.
  4. Make use of different audio and mic techniques to keep your audience interested. The Message uses studio narration, down the line phonecalls, in-room recordings etc. as well as music, FX etc. to keep you interested and to suggest authenticity. It’s very smartly done. The Black Museum and the Sherlock Holmes examples here also very quickly create a sense of place through language, reverb and general mic technique.
  5. I’m the only one old enough to know who Jeff Wayne is…

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