I didn’t set out to make a slow, meditative, non-narrated piece for my second story. I had some other ideas in mind. In fact, Mark and Patti McGrath weren’t even my second, third, fourth, or fifth choice for the story. I probably had seven stories fall through or hit a total road block before I found Mark and Patti. I even started reporting and interviewing on some of these stories before they fell apart. These dead stories include:
- A capsized boat in the Cape Cod Canal where fishermen clung to buoys until rescue arrived.
- A story on a mixed faith marriage inside the Mormon community.
- A follow up on a homeless man who performed CPR on a man and saved his life, whose family later took the homeless in as one of their own family members.
- A story about an actor playing the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous in a play, who had his own history with recovery (gathered approximately 3 hours of tape before that story died).
- A controversy regarding a road widening project in Falmouth (gathered approximately 5 hours of interview and town hall meeting tape).
- A profile of the most famous Santa Claus impersonator on the Cape (gathered an hour-and-a-half of interview tape).
For a variety of reasons, each one of these stories was killed. But after everything, I’m so happy those other stories fell through. Both Mark and Patti are delightful. They’re witty, animated and opinionated — everything you want in interviewees. Much to my embarrassment, I was halfway through the editing process before I realized that I had found diamonds in the rough. They just needed some polishing. Part of the polishing included me getting my voice out of the piece entirely. They are strong storytellers on their own, so that seemed achievable. I just had to go back for a brief second interview to get them to say some additional things in their own voices and shift my interviewing tactics a little bit to allow them to tell their own stories. Working on this story put me on a path that moved from discouragement over dead stories to resignation about doing a piece with what felt like low stakes, to giddy excitement that I’d found two people with great insights on relationships, aging, and shared adventures.
If I were to crystallize some of the lessons I learned from producing this piece, they would sound overly simplistic and maybe a bit like platitudes, but they’re accurate to my experience, so get ready for some overly simplistic platitudes, people! Rob told me at one point that he has a sign on his wall at home that reads: “Life is hard, radio is harder.” When you first start working in the field you’re most passionate about, there is nothing more exciting. But when you start that journey, you quickly find that you’ve also tapped into a seemingly endless well of frustration. You want your story to be perfect. You want everything you produce to wow everyone and fundamentally alter their worldview. I still kind of want that. And it’s still frustrating. I don’t expect that frustration will ever go away nor do I necessarily want it to. But it’s accompanied by a deeper well of enthusiasm and gratitude that I get to make freaking radio! When you get to do what you love, logging 21 pages of tape for two days straight is both a chore and a treasure because you’re participating in the art that’s changed your life.
Sometimes plan A doesn’t always pan out. Sometimes plans B through G don’t work out either. That can really suck, but do not panic. Keep working, keep collaborating, get feedback and you’ll eventually make good radio. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other.
About Brandon’s Sonic ID
Here’s an idea: grab your microphone and gear and walk up the Cape Cod Canal from Sandwich on a quiet Monday morning. That’s what I did, and it took me very little time to find some of the most animated, talkative fishermen I’ve ever met. An interested ear and a microphone were the only excuse they needed to start telling me about multiple ex-wives, the ethics of trolling in the canal, and somehow the Kavanaugh hearing. I got multiple sonic IDs just from talking to this one group of old fishermen waiting to chat up anyone who would listen.