Showing posts with label radio. Show all posts
Showing posts with label radio. Show all posts

15 October 2023

Prohibition Peepers part 1 —
How to create book trailer audio

Prohibition Peepers cover
Gorgeous cover!

Trailer Perq

Last time, I introduced my 12yo detective heroes, Penrod and Sam, taking on Chicago mobsters at the height of Prohibition and the depth of the Great Depression. That article revealed inspirations for characters and the story, one of fourteen tales in Michael Bracken’s Prohibition Peepers. This week I’ll describe how I created the audio for a book trailer (a preview) and next week we’ll discuss the associated video.

I grew up with antique radios and still have a few. I built a crystal radio at age 8, just a few odd parts. Unsurprisingly, radio plays a major role in Dime Detective. Penrod, my little hero, nightly tunes in a homemade crystal radio. That sparked an idea…

Different anthology editors devise different promotions, so I wasn’t sure what Michael might have in mind after Prohibition Peepers hit bookstores. A book trailer by James Lincoln Warren initiated a desire to create a preview for Dime Detective built around an old-time radio broadcast. Like many solitary writers, I’m used to doing things on my own, but the anthology is Michael’s project and we had another dozen contributors to consider.

We sent out a request for participants with stories fitting the time and place of Chicago 1932. With a half dozen participants and their stories, I mapped out a script centered around a newscast.

   © 2023 Prohibition Peepers


We begin with homage to early radio, tuning in a half million watt Mexican ‘X-band’ border station, a radio evangelist (with hints that a listener has a romantic interest), and a patent medicine ad, before launching into a Clyde McCoy rouser. McCoy is considered the inventor of the wah-wah mute, a technique imitated by electric guitarists.

The nightly news intersperses fictional and factual items. The Chicago Bears playoffs must have been one hell of a game, one that set the stage for the Super Bowl, as hinted by the commissioner.

Items that didn’t fit the December 1932 Chicago setting I cast as wire stories, a historical reflection, or an ad. For the same reason, Penny Mickelbury led sports with an advertisement, a break from the rapid string of news.

crystal radio

The schematic following the newscast accurately depicts a real, operational crystal circuit. The video ends in a reversal of how it began, culminating with Benny Goodman playing through the credits.

How It’s Done

I’m a rank amateur when it comes to videos and some decisions reflect that. One example: Would recording the news in one or two long continuous takes be preferable to recording each segment separately? A single take could provide simplicity and consistency in sound quality, but I chose to manage about two dozen segments separately. It gave me more flexibility in article arrangement and sound effects.

But I made mistakes. I deliberately purchased an inexpensive microphone. Duh, you might say, you get what you pay for… but not what I hoped for. Early microphones suffered tinny, attenuated audio ranges and I was seeking that sound. Instead, the surprisingly solidly made cheap mic didn’t attenuate as hoped but merely responded dully. I bought a Snowball, which exhibited excellent range for the price and I thinned the voice by restricting frequency range after recording.

Macintoshes ship with iMovie video and Garage Band audio programs. Although most Mac users prefer Garage Band, I opted for Audacity. I had experience with the program, plus it’s cross-platform if for some reason Windows became a factor. I didn’t entirely abandon Garage Band;  as mentioned a moment ago, I created the tinny newscaster effect by tweaking Garage Band’s ’telephone’ filter.

Back on Track

In Audacity, I laid out three sets of tracks, two monaural tracks for voice and sound effects, and a pair of stereo tracks for music. The project didn’t require stereo, but imported sound came in stereo and I left it.

Audacity sound tracks

I edited three musical segments.

Music Excerpts
Sunny Side of the StreetTed Lewis
Sugar BoogieClyde McCoy
Let's DanceBenny Goodman

Listening to the trailer, you may easily miss ‘On the Sunny Side of the Street’. It plays quietly in the background of Dr Cruikshank’s breathy advert.

To give the illusion of complete songs, I edited out the middles of Sugar Boogie and Let’s Dance, reducing the pieces to 20 seconds and 45 seconds respectively.



Static, tuning sounds, and a teletype constitute primary sound effects. A telegraph key beep-beeps in the introduction of the news that overlaps the telex. The music track quiesced emptily at that point, so I placed the Morse clip there, allowing me to maintain it separately without adding a track.

During my consulting career, I communicated by telex to offices in Europe. That oddly hypnotic clatter stuck in my head. I entered the project wanting to match that distinct teletype sound in my ears.

Dozens of ‘TTY’ clips were available on the internet, but that particular tone eluded me except for one YouTube video in which the owner incessantly talked all the way through it. And talked. And talked. I wanted to scream, “STFU!” which in Bulgarian means, “Please be quiet.”

Listening to the clip a few more times, I found a little less than 15 seconds where he actually fell silent. I captured those few seconds and replicated them several times for my purposes. The resulting teletype runs in the background under the news reader.

Voices in Secret

I’d planned for a professional stage presenter to handle the ballroom announcer, but he was on vacation in Europe and, unfortunately, he didn’t return in time to complete his part. Michael called time. He said, “Go with what you got, Sparky.” I’m pretty sure he said that.

Here’s a secret: I had created vocal placeholders with Macintosh-generated voices. In fact, Mac text-to-speech appears throughout, and I admit a couple I considerably liked. I wasn’t as keen about the big band ballroom voice, but without a professional announcer, we went digital.

Audacity blended all the clips together. Michael and the gang approved the audio draft, but then what? Next week: I inveigle the video.

Before departing today, I’ve created a timeline and jotted notes of our hearty pioneers settling the Great Plains and the role of radio in that lonely landscape. A bit backward, yes, but feel free to skip.

18 July 2023

Five Red Herrings: 12

1. Sounds of Suspense.  If you are a fan of Alfred Hitchcock you might want to head over to BBC Sounds and listen (for free) to Benny and Hitch, a radio play by Andrew McCaldon about the highly productive and finally explosive relationship between the director and composer Bernard Herrmann. They collaborated on eight movies, including some of the Master's best.  (He said Herrmann deserved one-third of the credit for Psycho's success - although, as the play points out, he didn't share the profits with him.)  Tim McInnerny and Toby Jones star and the BBC Concert Orchestra performs Herrmann's music. 

2. The Customer is Cussible.  If you have a few thousand hours to spare I highly recommend Not Always Right, a website designed for people in retail to complain anonymously about customers.  They have since added: Not Always Legal, Healthy, Family, etc.

So far I have collected three short story ideas from the website.  Here is an example of what they offer:

I work at a musical instrument store. A customer is trying to buy something when the checkout shows me a code indicating that the card is registered as stolen.

Me: “Sorry, the checkout is buggy today and it’s locked. I just need to fetch my manager to fix it.”

I tell my manager, and he and the salesman stall long enough for the cops to get there. Three or four officers come in, ask the guy a few questions, and then arrest him.

The best part is that, as the guy is being hauled out in handcuffs, he starts shouting back at us.

Thief: “The service here is terrible! I’m going to tell everyone I know not to shop here!”

3. Play Free Bird. This next piece is off-topic but it is certainly about publishing. In November 1951 a group of friends went hunting in Ireland.  One of them, Sir Hugh Beaver, fired at a golden plover and missed. This led to a debate over which was the fastest game bird in Europe. 

Unable to find the answer easily, Beaver realized that a book which provided this sort of information would be hugely popular (and profitable) to settle arguments in pubs.  So he convinced the brewery for which he worked to publish one: the Guinness Book of World Records has been selling millions ever since.  So a failed hunting trip  was one of the most profitable expeditions in publishing history...

4. Definitely not me.  Do you ever vanity google yourself? No? Liar.  

I had a nasty shock recently when I did that.  In 2019 Salvatore Lopresti and his son Robert Lopresti of Bristol England, were accused of Modern Slavery for forcing a disabled man to work in their ice cream shop.  Nasty story.

5. Is the Rule Forgotten?  Take a look at the photo here.  Does that actress (Nicola Walker) have blond hair? If not then ITV has violated the international rule I have pointed out in the past: All police shows about cops who investigate cold cases must be headed by blond women.   

Whaver their hairstyle the show is worth watching, although Season Four was, well, forgettable.  I hear Season Five is coming soon.

17 March 2023

Il Grande Lebowski—and beyond

My fellow SleuthSayer Bob Mangeot recently shared a marvelous post about a film that is currently celebrating its 25th Anniversary. It’s the only cult film that I can say I truly obsess about, but I will admit that my experience of it is a little strange. Or shall I say, un po’ strano.

The year was 2003. I had left the United States to live overseas with my new fiancé, who covered soccer for ESPN abroad and had an apartment in Rome. My Italian was so rusty that local television was an exhausting blur. Luckily, Denise had bought a number of DVDs of popular American movies at a local DVD shop, and we spent our evenings watching those—again and again and again—after switching off the subtitles and reverting the audio back to the original English dialogue. No matter what we did, however, we could not shut off the Italian subtitles of a film called Il Grande Lebowski.

I remembered seeing the film in a US theater when it arrived in 1998. And while I’d enjoyed it, I did not rush to see it again or acquire the DVD when it was released to the home market. As a result, I never really comprehended just how much a debt the film owed to Raymond Chandler.

But now I did, and in my new temporary home, this very American film unwittingly became my window to another culture. I boned up on my Italian by ceaselessly watching the same Coen Brothers film and slowly associating the English words I heard the actors say with the Italian phrases printed at the bottom of the screen. Over time, my Italian got good enough that I could spot when an American idiomatic expression was rendered poorly in Italian. For example, the nickname of Jeff Bridges’s stoner character, the Dude, is somewhat mistranslated as Il Drugo, but that monicker sorta, kinda makes sense. (As do the other nicknames Drugo suggests in the film: Drughetto, Drugantibus, or Drughino.)

When we returned to the states and settled in the American south, we were delighted to find that we lived not far from Louisville, Kentucky, which hosts an annual LebowskiFest, featuring lookalike contests, bowling tournaments, live music, and two days of tempting merch. One year, we booked travel and lodging, only to cancel when a crop of unexpected freelance work popped up on our radar. Similar fan events are held in other cities, but we’ve never gone. It’s something I hope to do one of these days, but it’s not like I haven’t had my fill of accumulating Lebowski-themed swag.

For many years, the official artist of the Fest has been the LA-based Bill Green, whose style is truly inventive and wonderful. A signed poster of Maude Lebowski (played by Julianne Moore) hangs prominently in our living room, flanked by three bowling pins that Mr. Green has lovingly decorated with a hand-drawn image of the characters. (Three points to the astute reader who can tell me why Maude Lebowski is depicted upside down on one of these pins.) You can find more of Mr. Green’s artwork at his website.

A few years ago, the organizers of LebowskiFest released I’m a Lebowski, You’re a Lebowski, a book of interviews with the actors from the original film. And when some college profs approached them, saying they’d like to present some academic papers about the film at the next fest, the organizers accommodated them, though they admitted that they had no idea this was something brainier fans of the film did in their spare time. The result of these papers is a book entitled The Year’s Work in Lebowski Studies. Before you run out to grab this title, understand that it is a collection of truly academic writing. I love Il Drugo with a passion, but I could not keep up with the writing that flowed from the pens of deconstructionists. Turns out, I don’t need to know the meaning of the word metonym. I passed the book along to a friend with tenure in an English department.

Another writer, Adam Bertocci, later weighed in with a much more palatable book entitled Two Gentlemen of Lebowski, in which every line of the Coen Brothers’ script has been rendered as if penned by the Bard. When two thugs burst into the Dude’s shabby apartment and stumble across his bowling ball, the exchange goes like this:

Thug: (extracting bowling ball from a bag): What the f— is this?

The Dude: Obviously you’re not a golfer.

In Shakespearese, the dialogue goes this way:

Thug: Villainy! Why this confounded orb, such as men use to play at ninepins; what devilry, these holes in holy trinity?

Dude: Obviously thou art not a colfer.

The pages of this book are liberally sprinkled with footnotes and etchings that shed light on Elizabethan phrases, history, and culture. I really enjoyed it, and I rooted for a local theater group in our city that wanted to mount this as a production one year. They were put off the plan only when no one could figure out how they could get the performance rights.

Somewhere in my basement is the ultimate prize—a giant one-sheet movie poster of the Italian film. I dream of showing it off someday. I just need a hunk of wall big enough to display it.

Until I buy a new house, until I demo a corner of the living room, until I build a new wall, I’ll have to make do with my assortment of tiny Lebowski bumper stickers.

As the Dude might say, until then, Il Giuseppe abides.

* * *

See you in three weeks!


Bowling Pins by artist Bill Green.

Swag by artist Bill Green.

01 March 2023

A Policeman's Lot is Now an Appy One

Last year I wrote here about my discovery of BBC Sounds, a free app that allows you to listen to shows and podcasts from across the pond.  I recently discovered a program on it which is right up our alley and well worth a listen.  

It's A Fair Cop stars Alfie Moore, a comedian who spent decades as a constable in a city in the north of England.  ("Scunthorpe is like Jupiter.  Everyone knows where it is, but very few have plans to go there.")  In each program he tells a live audience about a real event from his experiences as a cop  and asks them how they would have handled the situation.  

For example, a man found an intruder in his garage and hit him with a blunt object.  Was this a legitimate use of force?  In the course of this episode Moore points out that if you cover your garden wall with, say, bits of  glass, and a potential burglar gets hurt, you are liable, but if you plant abrasive foliage and he falls in them, that's an act of God, "and further proof that God also hates  burglars."  He notes that the Met (the London police) even put out a list of the 30 best anti-burglar plants.

And that's an unusually kind remark from Moore about the Met.  He is from the North, remember, and he manages to insult the capital's coppers in almost every show. "The Met is so overworked now that they are asking you to tamper with your own evidence."

We learn a lot about the rules of British police work, some of which seem pretty odd to me.  For example, if a beat constable thinks a parked car looks suspicious he can observe it while approaching it very, very, slowly, but he can't stop.  That would be surveillance, which requires authorization.

As I said, Moore is a comedian so the show is funny.  A few examples:

"Anyone who says the police are corrupt can kiss my Rolex."

"The last time [that security guard] chased an old woman around the store, she lapped him."

And in the inevitable grim humor of the police: "He said: 'God told me to kill my wife.' I said: 'Too bad he didn't tell you to dig a deeper hole.'"

Oh, you will also learn why Moore says "punching an innocent young man in the face" is the best thing he ever did as a cop.  Highly recommended.

Slightly off-topic: In my earlier piece about BBC Sounds I mentioned the serial Party's Over, about (fictional) Henry Tobin, the worst Prime Minister in British history, kicked out after eight months in office.  I wonder if they will consider him redundant now that Liz Truss has beaten him by six months?

17 February 2016

The Two and Only

by Robert Lopresti

NOTE: I wrote the first paragraph BEFORE Justice Scalia passed away.

I am sure you have noticed that a lot of celebrities have died so far in 2016.   I mean no disrespect to the rock stars and actors who have passed, but the death that meant the most to me was that of a 92-year-old comedian.

Bob Elliott was one half of Bob and Ray, who made a lot of people laugh for 40 years.  (Ray Goulding died in 1990.)  Dave Letterman once said that if you wanted to know if someone had a good sense of humor, just ask them if they like Bob and Ray.

While they occasionally dabbled in TV, movies, and even Broadway, radio was their natural habitat.  They were sketch artists (like Key and Peele, or Nichols and May) as opposed to persona comics (like Burns and Allen, or the Smothers Brothers, who always played the same characters).

Here are videos of a few of their best bits:
Most Beautiful Face
Slow Talkers of America
The Komodo Dragon Expert (Okay, it's audio only.  But it's my favorite.)

Each of those is in interview format, which is easy to do on TV (or Broadway) but on the radio they used to do dramas as well, including their own versions of some familiar crime shows.

For example, anyone who remembers a certain series that was very popular on radio, then TV - then a decade later again on TV - will recognize the summing up at the end of  "Squad Car 119."
...The suspect apprehended in that case at Rossmore and LaBrea was convicted on three counts of being apprehended and one count of being a suspect.  Apprehended suspects are punishable under state law by a term of not less than five years in the correctional institution at Soledad.

And there was "Blimmix," about a tough private eye who gets beaten up in every episode, by people such as this:
I'm with Rent-a-Thug, Incorporated.  A lot of the syndicate people are letting their regular hoodlums go and utilizing our service for machine-gunnings and roughing up and things like that.  It saves all the bookwork that goes with having full-time employees.

Or "Rorshack," about a hard-as-nails New York police lieutenant.  In this case he has misplaced ten cents:
Steinberg, search every customer in the store.  If you find one concealing a dime, kill him.  Lopez, put out an A.P.B. for anybody trying to pass a coin with Roosevelt's picture on it.  Caruso, you take the bus stations, airports, rail terminals.  Nobody goes in or out of this city until I give the word.

Bob and Ray were invariably described as low-key.  (Bob once said they were both both straight men) but I liked them best when they went, well, surreal, like in this episode of "Fern Ock Veek, Sickly Whale Oil Processor," about an Eskimo co-ed from California hiding out in the Alaskan bush:
FERN: I suppose I could go back to U.C.L.A. and hide out for a while.  So many of the students there are on the lam that they'd never notice one more.
OFFICER WISHMILLER: That's a great idea.  And even if they did find you, you'd be in another state and could fight extradition.
FERN: No.  If I recall, I fought him once and he knocked me cold in the third round.  I certainly don't want any more of that.
OFFICER WISHMILLER: Fern, I think you have extradition confused in your mind with Muhammad Ali.

I could go on, but I'll restrain myself.  Write if you get work, Bob.  And hang by your thumbs.

14 December 2011

A Little Sound Advice

by Neil Schofield

I have chosen this winter scene to begin with, because I am nothing if not obvious, but also for two other - interconnected - reasons. The first is that it was painted by Claude Monet about 130 years ago and about 10 miles from where I live in Normandy. I know this road near Honfleur and it hasn't changed that much. Today, you'd be likely to see an abandoned Renault Five in the foreground and - given the season - a UPS truck fighting its way up the road. Seriously, do we really entrust our precious, fragile belongings to a carrier whose name looks suspiciously like Oops!?

The second reason is that as, you can just perhaps see, it is a Christmas card. More pertinently, it is a card I received some years ago from Dell Magazines. Within are kind messages from Janet and Linda. It is a seasonal and constant reminder of how lucky I have been. Without the help of those redoutable ladies, I wouldn't be here now.
So a painting by Monet finds its way onto a Christmas card which in turn finds its way back to where it was painted. Is that synchronicity or co-incidence? Or simply a proof of the interconnectedness of all things? Whichever it is, it still pleases me.
Christmas is now ten days away, and grizzled and grumpy though I may have become, I still feel that same anticipatory prickling in the soles of my feet as the 25th approaches.

France is another country and they do things differently there. For instance, the celebration and heavyweight eating happen on Christmas Eve. Turkey is becoming more and more popular but the dish of choice has always been a leg of lamb - the Christmas gigot. So since living in France, I have had to change my habits a bit. For example, the Queen's speech on Christmas Day is not the same here. For one thing, the President of France speaks very little English. Perhaps that's because he is very little.

One habit I have never changed, and never will. What I shall be doing on Christmas Eve afternoon, is listening to the Nine Lessons and Carols  from King's College Chapel in Cambridge. And this via BBC Radio. Phew, made it.
Radio is what I really wanted to talk about. I am a radio man, and always have been. Very often, I prefer it to television. As that legendary small boy once said, "On radio, the pictures are better." And in the BBC's case, the small boy was right on the money.
The BBC - or "the Beeb" as we sometimes call it, or "Auntie" as we used to call it, has many different stations, both television and radio. I want to tell you about Radio 4 which is the station of the spoken word, or more particularly about Radio 4 Extra, its offspring, which is devoted to comedy and drama. Especially drama, and readings.
Here are some of the things I have listened to in the past several months on Radio 4 Extra. This is not an exhaustive list.
  • The Complete Smiley - all eight books featuring George Smiley, dramatised and serialised with Simon Russell Beale superb as Smiley
  • The Philip Marlowe Novels - with Toby Stephens - the megaheavy in 'Die Another Day' - as Philip Marlowe. Included, interestingly, 'Poodle Springs'.
  • The Tom Ripley novels - also dramatised and serialised.
  • Rogue Male read by Michael Jayston - who was Peter Guillam to Alec Guinness's George Smiley
  • Busman's Honeymoon
  • A Margery Allingham Albert Campion novel, again beautifully dramatised
  • Deadlock by Sara Paretsky, with the amazing Kathleen Turner as a convincing Vic Warshawski
  • The House of Silk by Antony Horovitz - the only new Sherlock Holmes novel to be authorised by the Conan Doyle Estate
  • The Return of Inspector Steine - a comedy crime series by Lynne Truss (the very same)
I have also heard two  excellent series of short stories called 'Pulp Fiction' which included 'A Candle for a Bag Lady' (Lawrence Block), 'Forever After' (Jim Thompson) 'A Really Nice Guy'(William F Nolan) and 'So Fair, SoYoung, So Dead(John Lutz) All read by Peter Marinker who is a superbly talented American reader. I have more recently been listening to short stories by Bradbury and Colin Dexter.

Dear oh dear, how I am wittering  on. I know a list would lead to trouble.
What I really wanted to say to you is that you can dip into this trove anytime on

Its extremely easy to find your way through the site. Just bring up the day's schedule, click on whatever takes your fancy and the player will pop up. (I think you will have to download the player but that's easy; the guidance is excellent)
If you're a born listener like me and like to read with your ears, I'm sure you'll find something to suit your criminous tastes.

So that, my beloved 'earers, is my Christmas present to you. If you already knew all about it, then pass it on to a friend.
That's the end of the radio commercial. We're handing you back now to your regular programme schedule.

And a very, very happy Christmas to all of you.