Ghost Stories – A Lesson in Listening

Hello DS106 subscribers, these are my thoughts on Radiolab’s production called Ghost Stories. The production starts off with a story by Mary Roach. Some of the sound effects were hit or miss for me. I thought the newscast spliced in about the death of Thomas Bradford worked very well. There was a lengthy moment of silence (aka dead air) during this story and it kind of annoyed me. When I did college radio way back in the day the rule was no dead air for more than two seconds. I’m probably in the minority about being annoyed with silence but I am entitled to my opinion.

The next story was related to the creation of a CPR mannequin. The CPR sound effects they used worked well with the theme of bringing someone back to life. The story is about someone floating in the sea back in 1954, a man named Osmond (spelling?). This story was a little dry until they reached a portion about death masks. There many sound effects and music layered together under the dialogue that helped keep me interested in the story. Sometimes though there were two different sets of dialogues going which were a bit confusing. What I mean is the story tellers were speaking while there was different dialogue underneath their track. It was a little tough to follow.

On a side note the commercials were well edited/produced.

Next up is a story by reporter Steve Volk and his story is about a figure in his dreams. Spooky music is used right away to give listeners the sense of dread. The music continues and escalates until there is a fight between Steve and the guy in his dream. There are multiple horror/suspense sounds used effectively until Steve wakes up from the dream. There are significantly less sound effects used after the dream and it took me out of the story a bit. There are so many effects up front that all the dialogue after the dream paled in comparison and it became really hard to stay interested until the end. Steve has another dream with the guy and musical & sound  effects are used similar to how the story started. I was interested in the story again and chuckled at all the Superman and Neo references. Strong start, weak middle and a strong ending based just on the use of audio.

The last story takes place over 500 years ago. This was a little dialogue heavy to start and did not grab my attention. Listening to Radiolab’s productions it’s obvious they have access to a vast array of sound effects and should use them to grab the listener’s attention right away. Effects were not used until later in the story. Everything has been well produced although sometimes the Radiolab people talk over each other a little.

The broadcast was a little long clocking in at almost 60 minutes and I sometimes had trouble staying involved. Some of this could have been edited down a bit and the overall length should have been 40-45 minutes. There are some dry spots I could have done without and there were some very exciting parts via effects so I know the potential is there.

2 thoughts on “Ghost Stories – A Lesson in Listening

  1. S. gupta

    I like how you wrote about the podcast–it sounds like it was really interesting based on what you’ve said, but you also managed to counterbalance it with some interesting criticisms. In particular, I appreciate that you actually mention that the broadcast could be more engaging if they had done specific things like shortening it, editing more, eliminating dry spots, or adding more sound effects in the beginning. What made the for the “strong start” and “weak middle” you described? What exactly did you mean with respect to the sound effects though? Why would putting sound effects at the beginning be more effective? Should the sound effects later in the story stay as they are? And what sound effects do you think they should have used and why? There’s a lot you could discuss there that could help us all improve our audio storytelling.
    Also, I’d like to mention that there are a few places where your post would read better with commas to break up the sentences. For instance, I think you could put a comma between “long” and “clocking” in the first sentence of the last paragraph, and then between “minutes” and “and” in the same sentence. I remember in school they gave us a really easy rule: if you would naturally take a breath somewhere, that’s usually where you need a comma.
    Overall it was a great post though. I’m tempted to go back and listen to it. Maybe it will be inspiration for the storytelling challenge.

    1. richbarnes106

      The strong start had a lot of sound effects and a great build up. The middle was a lot of talking only and I started to lose interest. That may have also been because it was the last story of a 60 minute podcast and my mind tends to wander. I worked at Geico for nine years and all of the acronyms, shorthand, etc I used has really damaged my writing ability…