Making Radio

Most of my work days look like this:

I sit for hours cutting a word from here and a phrase from there; deleting the sound of swallows and licked lips (you’d be amazed how loud they are in a microphone – and perhaps once you do know, how self-conscious you become about them); searching for the perfect music and then fitting it in to complement but not overpower the voice, to emphasize a point and then fade away; and trying to make sentences I’ve cut from 10 different places sound like they flow naturally from one into the next. It’s the glamorous world of radio.

But if maybe not glamorous – there’s nothing stylish about the enormous black headphones strapped to my head – it’s certainly magical. Even after hours listening to the same paragraph over and over and over… and over… to the point that I have memorized the entire essay or interview answer (or more recently, a song), it never fails to excite me when it finally falls together. It’s just like writing the perfect sentence or finding just the right word to describe a moment, a scene, a person. It just feels… right.

Creating radio is an intimate experience, too. Radio is itself the most intimate of mediums – a voice talking to you, the listener, over the airwaves. Voices you know in a second but couldn’t identify the face of its owner. And yet you somehow feel connected. You feel that you know her.

The same thing happens in my headphones as the subject tells me a story, over and over, that I just have to get right. I owe it to her, I think, as I make the painful decisions of what is essential and what can be left behind. The soundwaves may not look so personal on my screen but most special things are hard, if not impossible, to see.

I can’t imagine the day when this will ever get old – when I’ll stop getting excited about someone’s story and determining how to share it. Sure, my ears throb after hours encased in headphones and my pointer finger aches from endless mouse clicking, but even so, the end result always sounds like magic to me.

Here a few recent radio pieces I’ve produced* for Wisconsin Life on Wisconsin Public Radio:

Count This Penny – songs based on letters of Wisconsin Civil War soldiers (love them, love this)

Stand-Up Paddleboarding (I can’t wait to try it!)

Distill America (I did the recording for this one, too)

Sugaring Season

* Many people ask me what a producer actually does. Good question. In radio, producers do a variety of things but generally book guests for talk shows, find music and sound clips, sometimes write questions for interviews, conduct interviews, and edit audio. Essentially everything but take to the microphone themselves.

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