Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Art of Sound

          The difference between good television and good radio is as simple, and as complex, as the difference between sight and sound.
          Many of E:60’s stories make the jump from video to audio on “The Sporting Life”, a weekly one-hour show (Friday, 10 p.m. Eastern, Saturday 5.a.m and 7 a.m, Sunday 5 a.m.) hosted by Jeremy Schaap.
          Some don’t.

          “Cheese Rolling” did not.  That was the 2009 piece about a medieval   race in England where people tumble down a steep hill in pursuit of a bounding round of cheese. 
          “You had to see the participants on that hill - I don’t know that the audio translation would have cut it,” said Peter Ciccone, program director.
          Most E:60 stories do well on audio, though some require slight tweaks.  Subtitled dialogue on television needs voice-over identification on radio.  Lisa Salters’ report on a girls’ soccer team in post-earthquake Haiti required voice-over.   ESPN Radio anchors Christine Lisi, Marc Kestecher and Doug Brown often do the voice-overs.
          “We want someone with no inflection - some of our anchors are so distinctive you want to stay away from them,” Ciccone said. “You want a flat matter-of-fact translation of the speaker.  The idea is to leave the speaker’s original voice in a way that the listener can gauge the emotion of the speaker.  It’s something NPR (National Public Radio) does well.”
          More tweaks:  TV can abide by silence if the visual is good.  Audio does not like silence, unless it’s a dramatic pause in someone’s oratory.  A mood-enhancing specialty shot for TV tends not to help an audio broadcast.  Audio producers inject sound whenever possible.
          “If we think sticking with the sound of a crowd in a gym or on a field a bit longer would help we encourage that,” said Ciccone.  “Sometimes an additional play-by-play highlight - especially if it’s a profile of a well-known athlete.  We might suggest something extra in the way of narrative in setting up a scene.  Anything to lend texture.”

          In April 2011 E:60 aired “Hero: The Paco Rodriguez Story”.  It told of a boxer who died from ring injuries but whose donated organs allowed several others to live.  Schaap was the on-air talent, so it was a natural to bring to “The Sporting Life”.
          Conversion of “Paco” to audio required that it be split into two segments.
          “We look for the climax, we want to find the conflict - we use that to close segment one,” said producer Bill Ennever.
          The break came at the bite from Paco’s widow, Sonia Rodriguez, who said, “He wanted to be a hero and he would always tell me that, and so I said you know, if that was his goal in life then, you know, we’re going to do it for him.”
            Schaap re-tracked the audio to provide identifications for the numerous speakers.  Producers had a difficult decision on an emotional scene - subtitled in the video version - in which the mother of an organ recipient whispered into the ear of Paco’s mother, and thanked her.
          “It was tricky - I believe we left the whisper even though it was inaudible,” Ennever said.  “You could hear that they were talking to each other in a solemn tone, so the meaning wasn’t completely lost to our listeners.”
          Producers also grappled with a couple of visuals of women as they cried, but did not speak.
          “The visuals were incredibly compelling,” Ennever said. “On radio it was still important to let it breathe, allowing the listener to be in the moment.  But we felt that listeners would eventually get lose or grow tired of the sobering silence, so we shortened those parts.”
          In June 2012,  “The Sporting Life” won a prestigious Edward R. Murrow Award, for Outstanding Audio Sports Reporting for its version of ‘Paco’.  The award cited producers Vin Cannamela and Frank Saraceno, and editor Josh Drake.
posted by Steve Marantz on July 16, 2012

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