Mist Nets And Long Ears

diagram of echolocation
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I came to this story because of echoes. I love them. There’s something almost magical about sound that lingers in the air. Plus there are tons of cool sound design things you can do with a good echo. But echoes are more of a flavor than a story. And so Rob and my Transom group had to help me take this word and actually find a story that fit it. I think this can be a fun way to approach creating a piece. But it’s also difficult.

Rob told me about some biologists on Martha’s Vineyard who were studying bats. Since bats use echolocation he thought it was a perfect match. I wasn’t so sure. I didn’t want to do a science story. They can be boring if not done right, the research on them takes forever, and scientists aren’t afraid to call you out if you mess up one little fact. Basically I was intimidated. Instead, I went looking for a story that used the idea of echoes as a metaphor for memory. I tried a few things out but nothing really worked.

So I came back to bats. And it was kind of amazing. All of the scientists that I interviewed were women, which is pretty rare in the science world. And they were powerhouses. Especially Liz. She spends her nights in bogs catching and counting bats by the light of the stars. She even drafted me in and I became an honorary field biologist for the night! Getting to do that hands-on work right next to her helped me understand the story better. I put up and took down the mist net that the bats are caught in, I wrote down the bat’s weight, and took pictures of its wings.

The moment in the car with the UV light actually made me fall in love with the story. I had been looking for the poetry hidden underneath all of the science, and there it was. Deadly points of light scattered across the bat’s wings. That image became a kind of a token. Something beautiful I could look back on when I was getting overwhelmed by all of the science.

That’s my main advice to other newbie radio producers. Find something about your story that really pulls at your heart strings: an image, a sound, a feeling. Something to remind you why you liked that story in the first place. Because there are going to be a lot of times during production when you hate absolutely everything about your piece.

Also don’t be afraid to do what scares you. There is a certain level of freedom in pursuing a story that is way outside of your comfort zone. I think it makes you look at everything with wonder. And that’s always a good thing to bring to a radio piece.

Finally, don’t be afraid of letting go of the reason you were drawn to the story in the first place. I spent so much time asking about bat sounds and echolocation that I started to lose track of what was unfolding in front of me. I was still chasing the echoes when they’re no longer the most important part of the story. And I ended up cutting them out of my piece completely. That was a really hard decision to make. But the final product was better because of it.

About Rebecca’s Sonic ID

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Listen to “Rebecca’s Sonic ID”

Before I settled on a topic for my final piece I was interested in exploring the fleeting nature of memory. I went to a Memory Cafe, which is a support group for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia, and microphone in hand went to cast for characters. Augustino was really animated and outgoing. He wouldn’t stop talking to me, even though he only spoke Portuguese and I couldn’t understand anything he was saying. When he broke into song I thought ‘YES! Radio gold!’ It was such a beautiful and spontaneous moment. But it was also really chaotic, and hard to mic.

Listen to more pieces from this Story Workshop class here.

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