Tale of the Tape

In my attic, I have an old, broken tape player I can’t throw away. It’s a Sony reel-to-reel from the 60’s, handed down to me by my older brother. I can’t bring myself to put it out for the trash because I remember the fun I used to have with it.

My cousin and I were a creative combo when we were young. Among the many things that spurred our imaginations was that old tape player. Because it had two speeds, we found that voices recorded at the slow speed would sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks when played at normal speed. That our mental wheels turning. I remember one afternoon when we taped an interview with the World’s Smallest Man. The high-pitched, rapid giggle of our laughter on that tape cracked us up.

To follow up my article, Adventure on the Air, about listening to the radio, I spoke with Marshal Younger, producer of Adventures in Odyssey, the audio series I mentioned. I asked him for tips for kids who might want to make their own taped adventure. He suggested two things.

Try not to think visually. “The rule of thumb is,” he said, “your audience is blind but you can’t make them feel that way.” Listeners can’t see that someone is entering a building; they have to hear it. In their series, Odyssey writers try to avoid big action sequences, because listeners can quickly get confused about what’s going on. Instead, an audio story must be told by dialogue.

To write realistic dialogue, record people talking. In real conversation, people overlap each other and talk in incomplete sentences. It’s sloppy. It’s choppy. It’s much different than you think it is. The best way to hear it is to simply record people talking -– hey, how about your next dinner as a family!

The extra element to making an audio drama come to life is the sound effect. Adding sounds to your recording session can be an adventure in itself. Sometimes, I’ve played a special-effects CD in the background. But it’s more fun to find things that can make the sound you need and do it while you record. I’ve posted a page of insider tips for making sound effects.

So, if you’re looking for some kid-friendly indoor activity this winter, find a boom-box and a cheap microphone and invite your kids to create something. Sounds like fun!

Bruce Van Patter

all material ©2006 Bruce Van Patter