Look Ma! I am listening to NPR. No really…

Pick examples from the episodes below to use as a basis for a blog post with your observations of the audio methods, techniques you can identify.

After listening to the sound techniques and layering that can happen in production, I was ready to test how well I was going to catch everything. As part of our assignment this week we had to listen to an audio program and practice. Now to be fair I actually do listen to NPR but not since I gave up my car about six years ago and left NC. So my mom would be proud to see me listening to NPR. Anyways, I listened to This American Life and specifically their episode 477 titled “Getting Away With It

In the Prologue Ira is on a flight with a travel writer named Ken Hegan who happens to be over 6 foot tall. The story revolves around him trying out a new gadget called the Knee defender.

Knee Defender Site

Knee Defender Site


I liked how they used the sound of the plane to give you a sense of placement and the act of this happening live. Instead of it being a post discussion the sounds clue you it is real time. They use the use of music as well to clue you into a new part of the story which helps you to know the next part is a new paragraph. Additionally they use layers of sound by having their voices happen over the plane sounds but also total quiet background while Ira is talking. It helps to keep the listening interesting and when there would be talking with no sound my ears would perk up. I really found myself wanting to listen to the story because I felt like I was in the seat next to them and getting to ease drop. That’s how I felt listening and I could sense his desire to not be a dick using the device that prevents people from reclining. However, the woman could not recline but he also did not want his knees to suffer so You feel bad for both parties.

Act One “Take Your Kid to Work Day” has me very interested in what I have gotten myself into with this episode. Here I thought I would be listening to vacation or travel blogs but instead it really is about people getting away with it. Guess I should have read closely that the title had “with it” and not “away from it”. Guess that shows my mind wants a vacation. Okay back to the story about a family that had to turn trucking illegal drugs from Mexico to USA. The theme of music to note paragraphs is used again to help booked thoughts as we move through this segment. As he tells the story of his parents at the witch doctor the music slowly turns to give a sense of almost magical but a little happier. I noticed with this piece the music choice fits the more country rural landscape you can imagine them driving through. Additionally, it even makes me think of a simple life outside of the city. So the use of the music genre is also setting the tone for me and helping me imagine them. As the story starts to climax the music changes to match but in a much calmer sense as if to draw you into the impending danger that the father can now not avoid since they are next at the check point. I find myself reacting with fear for them and wondering how this will turn out. Then the music stops as the main point of the story comes through on how risky this all was and how they almost have no hope of getting through the checkpoint. The clarity of the moment in time is laid bare by the silence of music and raw voice as he speaks. A small piece of my childhood just popped into this story because they ate at Whataburger which I was obsessed with as a child visiting family in Texas and Oklahoma. Sorry, I couldn’t let that moment pass without mentioning.
Whataburger Logo
So I find myself relieved that it all worked out and also still coming down from the anxious feeling you have as you watch a thriller on the TV.

Act Two let’s listeners call and tell stories of how they got away with things. The fact they play the voicemail messages kind of surprises me since you would expect them to give a general list of what people said. But now that I am thinking the entire idea of this show is to give folks the opportunity to speak about it with their own voice. The music is very hip and airy as we listen to the voicemails layered of it. Odd choice but does keep it light and moving through them all. I liked how Ira introduces the last and final story to alert us this will be long but the last. So it is a good set up for the ending coming and they even stopped the music to focus us.

Act Three tells us about Molly Shannon and a friend that take a trip half-way across the country but only twelve years old. And as if that isn’t enough to get your attention they do this while wearing tutus. The feeling of this segment is a lot more cheerful and fun. They mix in a laugh track (or live audience laughing) to the story as it is told. You find yourself smiling or laughing as you imagine these kids sneaking onto a plane. The banter back and forth between Marc (host) and Molly as the story carries forward just adds to how funny it is and shocking. He plays the conscious we all are thinking inside on the wild story.

Act Four has us listening to Producer Alex Blumberg tell a story of how education in Oklahoma made a huge turn around. The use of different voices to tell the story, the absence of music when they want you to pay attention, and the music being used to bookend the paragraph kept this segment going. You felt like you were getting a big secret and you needed to pay attention.
Oklahoma Flag from Wiki

I am sure I missed some of the key elements that they used in the production of these segments but I can tell you that I was picking up more. They use a mix of music, interviews, paragraphs, and layers to tell the story. I found I was drawn into the stories and excited to hear the outcomes. The music would break up the voices and then the voices would break up the background noise. It was well done.

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5 responses to “Look Ma! I am listening to NPR. No really…”

  1. CogDog says :

    This is a favorite episode, and demonstrates what This American Life does well; each act is its own story shape/spine, yet supports the over arching theme, the “So What?” of each. What is it about “getting away with it” that we identify with?

    You’ve a great job of noticing the cues and tones set by music, and as well , I think that sounds of things like planes, cars, etc are there to help suggest the place. That layers is what audio stories need/ought to do since we cannot “see” the settings, they have to be suggested.

    And you noticed a key approach of the show, that a majority of the important statements are made by the people who are the subjects of the story- we hear it in their own voice

    I heard Glass give a talk about the Knee defender episode; they were actually required by law not to say the word “dick” more than twice; there are rulings that more than that was considered “dwelling” on the word. Laws can be funny.

    But that episode is a great example of taking an observation, of something we know if as ordinary experience (cramped airline seats), and extrapolating to a larger statement of our lives. This means you are surrounded daily by these nugget ideas tat could be developed into more in depth stories.

    I like seeing your use of images as relevant interludes in your writing, It helps as well to paragraph the paragraphs! (Go What a Burger!)

    • ctwilker says :

      Yes the hearing it in their own voice was a nice touch and I think I will have to catch this show more often. Glad you liked my additions of images to help with breaking up my paragrahs as well. 🙂

  2. CogDog says :

    And I hope to find out if Ma is proud of you 😉

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