Active Sound: The making of a Murrow winner

May 21, 2018 11:00

Think of radio and you think of sound – maybe even listening, eyes closed – but that doesn't mean creating a rich radio story is easy.

One of this year's Excellence in Sound winners stood out in a stiff field. We asked Daniel Wanschura, the reporter behind Interlochen Public Radio's Excellence in Sound win, how "Tuning Pianos at Interlochen is a Job That Never Ends" came together in the latest of our behind-the-scenes looks at Murrow-winning work.

This award was for Excellence in Sound. Clearly that’s an important element for radio – but so is character, story, flow, etc. When approaching a story, where does sound fall in your process?

For me, the most engaging radio stories are the ones with plenty of active sound. As a listener, I’m much more drawn into the sounds of something happening rather than somebody just talking. I have to concentrate and use my imagination to follow along with the story as it’s being told, and because of active sound, I feel like I am experiencing the story myself, not just listening to it. Character, story and flow are all very important elements to have in any story but if it doesn't have great, active sound, I'm not as excited about telling it.


I first noticed how the piece started with the busy sounds of the camp and then focused in on a single piano when the interview began. Would I be right to think that was a conscious choice?

Yes, I would say that it was a conscious choice. The idea was to start big and include the cacophony of sounds as it is often heard on campus in the summer months, and then focus in on what Jessica specifically does. It also just seemed like the most logical flow for the story to be told.


For many parts of the piece, we hear piano under the dialogue. What was the process behind deciding how to piece that together?

I record my narration in a quiet studio. Whenever I put that narration in a radio piece, I usually don't want to bring listeners to that quiet studio space...because it's boring. Instead, I want to keep them in the location of the action. I’m careful not overdo it, but in general, when I come in with some narration, I like to just bring down the active sound rather than completely cut it. This technique also helps make smoother transitions between different parts of my story.


This story really lent itself to sound pretty well. What would your advice be for stories that don’t seem so audio-rich off the bat?

Not all stories are as sonically interesting as others. Still, there is always some sort of action that can be captured no matter the story. If you have time, focus on getting creative in order to capture that active sound. Look for ways to enter the subject’s world and don’t be afraid to capture them doing simple, everyday things. Establishing even a simple scene is better than having no active sound or scene at all.