For the zero of you who care, I figured I’d post a little update on what I’ve been up to for the past five weeks. Here it is in one mellifluous word: radio. Here it is in another slightly less aurally pleasing word: suffering. Yes, radio is suffering. But the good kind of suffering, the kind that comes after a long, hard run. Which I wouldn’t know anything about since running is dumb, unless you’re running away from the cops or running towards a million dollars.
Anyway, radio storytelling is hard work. Normally, I am averse to anything that even has a whiff of hard work. But radio is a different animal altogether. It allows one to tell other people’s stories while throwing in a little masturbatory performance of your own into the mix. Unless you do non-narrated pieces, which I won’t be attempting because one, I want to hear the sound of my own voice, and two, they seem way too hard.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. You might recall a few months back that I unabashedly begged you for money to help me attend the Transom Story Workshop in Woods Hole, Mass., a little spit of a village on upper Cape Cod. Or lower. I haven’t yet gotten the geography of this disgustingly beautiful place down yet. At the beginning of April, I hopped in the sweet-ass Vibe and drove down to the cape to begin my new life as a huge radio star. But, as I mentioned a paragraph ago, radio is hard. Considering that I am barely able to turn on my recorder without electrocuting myself, the chances of me becoming a huge radio star are pretty slim.
The first week of radio camp went something like this — get new toys and figure out how the fuck to operate them. About the only part of this I mastered was how to put my headphones on. I am really good at this. The rest of it — plugging in the microphone, turning on the recorder, recording, getting the track off the recorder and onto the computer, turning off the recorder — I pretty much totally beef every time I pull the stuff out of my bag. During our first outing with our gear, I succeeded in interviewing four people about dumb stuff. I did not, however, succeed in recording the interviews. You might think that all one needs to do is press record, but you’d be wrong. Clearly, you need to go to radio camp. That first real-world gear test ended with me pouting on my walk back to class. Great way to kick things off.
The whole “learning how to do new things” situation has gotten better as the weeks have worn on. But I still can’t get over all this gear. Before when I was a print reporter writing stupid stuff that people threw in the garbage after reading, the only gear I needed was a pencil and a notebook. Never did those two trusty implements fail to work, unless of course I forgot to bring them, which was a frequent occurence. Occasionally if I wanted to get fancy with it, I’d bring a tape recorder. But considering that I was going to make the story up anyway, it seemed stupid to carry on with the recording charade, so the device mostly stayed in my pocket. In radio, you can’t just show up with a pencil and a notebook and expect to get the hot scoop, unless your pencil is a secret spy recorder and your notebook is actually some sort of classified attaché. I don’t know where I’m going with this. Let’s just say the gear is confounding.
To wit: In addition to the problems just pressing record, I have been driven to distraction by the obscene amount of cord pouring forth from my headphones and my microphone. It must be about 50 feet of cable — enough to cat’s cradle my shit up something fierce. Literally, I have plenty of cord on my headphones to hang myself and have enough left over to wrap up a festive package. Then there’s the whole issue of jamming a microphone in someone’s mouth and trying to act like it’s normal. Like, don’t mind me holding this cudgel-like baton nanometers from your fat gob; it’s all part of the job, madam.
Needless to say, I’ve had some missteps. I had to use the internal mic in my recorder while “out in the field” (read: in some lady’s living room) because I thought the external mic had shit the bed. Turns out it was just operator error — I forgot to flip some switch. Because nothing says real professional like not knowing how to use your equipment. But I think I have it dialed, which is key, because unlike in print, if you don’t record it, it ain’t really making it into the story.
So apart from the technical difficulties and the anxiety of having to learn a computer program, ominously named Hindenburg, the program has been bitchin’. The instructors are the jam and care more about radio than they do about breathing or money or wearing pants. Which I guess is good, since there isn’t a lot of money or pants-wearing in radio apparently. Also, radio people are damn nice. Or at least the Transom and WCAI, the Cape and Islands NPR station (represent!), folks are nice. I can’t speak to the non-doucheyness of other radio people like granddaddy Ira Glass or the teleportational, pan-African journo Ofeibea Quist-Arcton or that dude from Radiolab who won a half million bucks for being a baby genius. But I can say that newspaper people could learn a thing or two about being awesome from this weird, headphoned tribe.
I can’t tell you what stories I’m working on because they’re top-secret. But you can rest assured they’re not about sand dollars or cedar shingles or anything with shells. As I’ve learned during my time here, Cape Cod is more than that — like $10 ice cream cones and ticks the size of toddlers and terrible off-season service at restaurants (I kid — don’t spit in my food). And I kind of like that. I’m considering staying here for a bit after my two-month tenure ends, if only temporarily to rock out a few more stories that do not involve salty sea dogs, sea shanties or other topics that have the word sea in them. We’ll see. If I can master turning on the recorder and dealing with the excess headphone cable, I might make a go at this radio thing.
P.S.- The Transom Story Workshop is beyond worth the investment. If you’re wondering whether I’m getting you’re money’s worth, I am. Thank you.
Top photo credit: Whitney Jones