Writer, Broadcaster

Category: Radio (Page 3 of 12)

Nora’s Mental Tune-Up

Here’s another fun bit I got to produce on the summer replacement show NEXT with host Nora Young and producer Alison Moss.

We hired actor Andrew Gillies (Orphan Black) to do these bits. I’d worked with Andrew before on my adaptation of Tom Godwin‘s The Cold Equations. Andrew had played the captain of the Stardust for us. Now he played a Scotsman trying to tune up Nora’s brain.

I’ve pasted the script below, with the actual produced bits at the bottom of each one.

Photo by David Cassolato from Pexels

Part One

NORA: It’s easy to spruce up your body… okay, well maybe not easy, but you do have the option of going to the gym and hiring a personal trainer.  But what about your brain?  What if you could give your brain a tune-up too?

SFX: WOOSH! INTO NORA’S BRAIN

SFX: GRINDING, SQUEALING GEARS OF A BRAIN OUT OF WHACK

McSCOTT: (THICK SCOTTISH BROGUE) Och! Listen to that.

NORA: What?  What is it?

 SFX: OBNOXIOUS WHIRRING

McSCOTT: It’s nae wonder you cannae do arithmetic in a brain like this.  Your neural net… it’s all gummed up.  Och, and that basil ganglia. (BLOWS ON SOMETHING)  Tsk tsk.

NORA: Oh my.

McSCOTT: But dinnae you worry, lass, I’ve seen worse.

NORA: You have?

McSCOTT: Aye.  This monkey once.  Couldn’t count to two if its life depended on it.

NORA: What did you do?

McSCOTT: Lipid soluble molecules past the blood brain barrier.  Before you knew it that monkey could count to five.  Nae… you leave it to me, lass…

SFX: Power Tool Roars to Life

McSCOTT:    You’ll be doin’ math in nae time.

SFX: EVERYTHING OUT WITH A WOOSH

 

Scottish Brain Guy Part One

Part Two

SFX: POWER TOOL SHUTTING OFF

SFX: BRAIN ONLY SLIGHTLY OUT OF WHACK

McSCOTT: That should do it.  Tell me, lass: are ya feelin’ at all perspicacious?

NORA: Excuse me?

McSCOTT: Peripatetic?  Cogitative?  Erudite, scholarly?  The least bit sagacious?

NORA: I’m sorry?

McSCOTT: Are ya feelin’ any smarter, lass.

NORA: Uhhh…

McSCOTT: I’m guessin’ that’s a “nae,” then.  Nae worries, got a few more tricks up me sleeve yet…

SFX:      SWOOSH OUT

Scottish Brain Guy Part Two
 

Part Three

SFX: BRAIN HOPELESSLY OUT OF WHACK

McSCOTT: Och!  It’s nae use.

NORA: No?

McSCOTT:    I kin make ya smarter…

NORA: Uh huh?

McSCOTT: But… but not without changin’ the fundamental chemistry of your brain.

NORA:      I see.

McSCOTT: But if you dinnae mind me sayin’ so…

NORA: Uh huh?

McSCOTT:     I think you’re just fine the way you are…

SFX: BUMPER

End

Scottish Brain Guy Part Three

A Host of Data

Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels

I worked on a summer replacement radio series called NEXT once with host Nora Young and producer Alison Moss. They were so great to work with, and indulged my passion for high production radio with bits like this one, which introduced one of the episodes.

Boy I loved making stuff like this.

Here’s the script, with the actual produced version at the end.

NEXT: A Host of Data

SFX: OFFICE AMB BG

NARR: Indefatigable Nora Young surfs the net, quietly sipping tea.

NORA: (LOUD SIP)

NARR: She is thinking furiously:

NORA: Hmm… I wonder what today’s show should be about? 

NARR: Friend and colleague Alison Moss appears in the doorway.

ALISON: Hey Nora!

NORA: Oh!

SFX: KNOCKS OVER TEA CUP

NARR: Startled, clumsy Nora knocks her tea onto the computer.

SFX: COMPUTER SHORT CIRCUITS

NORA: Dag nabbit!

SFX: OFFICE AMB BG OUT

SFX: WOOSHING DATA STREAM

NARR: A freak chain reaction occurs.  Our hapless host is drawn inside the computer!

NORA: Noooooooo!

SFX: NORA LANDS WITH A THUMP INSIDE COMPUTER

NORA: Oof!  (GRUNTS IN PAIN) Where am I?

NARR: Nora is trapped in a virtual landscape of ones and zeroes.  Drowning in a sea of binary information, Nora comes face to face…. with herself.

DRONING NORA VOICE: Nora Esmerelda Young, born nineteen sixty-four, daughter of Clem and Doreen, brothers John, Alfred, Immanuel, postal code L2N 3G5, (CONTINUES BG) 

NORA: (OVER VOICES) All this information… about me!

DRONING VOICE: (CONTINUING) Favourite food: schnitzel, last purchased July 28th, 2004 at Loblaws on the corner of Dufferin and Brock…

NARR: Clever Nora can only to come to one conclusion:

SFX: OFFICE AMB BG

NORA: That’s it!  I’ll make the show about data!

END

Nora Young: A Host of Data

Trouble Report Follow-Up

Text Box:  Saturday May 15/04
The boys in Master Control circa 1990: Joram Kalfa, Joe Mahoney, and Peter Chin in Radio Master Control, Jarvis Street, Toronto

Whenever I was responsible for an on-air radio production fault, I was required to fill out a form called a Trouble Report Follow-up. Here’s one for an issue I was responsible for on Stuart McLean‘s The Vinyl Cafe. As you will see, the consequences of making such a mistake on air were quite dire.


Please answer the following questions providing as much detail as you can.

PART A – For the person responsible.

Which fault are you reporting on?

Saturday May 15/04 9:05 out of Toronto MCR The Vinyl Cafe

What caused the fault? Please be specific.

The Toronto MCR tech considered the show levels a tad low, maybe 2dB low I believe he said.  He boosted the levels using an analog DA before the show aired. 

Have you experienced a similar fault recently? What was the cause?

Nope.

Is the supervisor aware of the fault?

I expect so.

What can be done to correct the cause of this fault?

I will ensure that future show levels are a tad hotter. Also, as punishment, the boys in master control will not allow me to consume any master control cake for the week of the fault.

A.E. van Vogt (1912-2000)

“…others write about the future…van Vogt writes from the future…”

Unknown, Mid-Twentieth century

 

A. E. van Vogt

Ah, it’s the missed opportunities that bug me most. Here’s another one.

I pitched the following to my friend and colleague Bill Lane, master dramatist, who joined forces with me to pitch it to the radio drama department. In this age of podcasting, I believe it remains a solid, valid pitch:


It’s hard to make a living writing fiction in this country.  It’s even harder to do it writing science fiction. Manitoba native Alfred Etan van Vogt did so and became one of the most respected SF writers of his day, on a par with Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein. His work remains enormously popular in the U.K., France, Brazil and Sweden, and yet few Canadians have ever heard of him.  We are lousy at celebrating our own.

And this is a Canadian whose work should be celebrated.  His work profoundly influenced the entire field of speculative fiction.  He once successfully sued the makers of the movie Alien for $50,000 US for ripping off his work. And without Van Vogt and his tales of the Space Beagle, there would have been no Star Trek. 

With typical Canadian modesty, he once described himself as “a bright but simple fellow from Canada.”  Others hold him in higher esteem.  He possesses, according to Charles Platt: “…a compelling presence, an intensity, a slightly mad gleam in his eye, and when he writes he comes up with eerie powerful journeys into symbolic depths of the psyche. When you open one of his novel you open the subconscious. He writes dreams.”

van Vogt… was not hard and cold and unemotional, in the manner of Clement, Asimov and Heinlein. He could balance his cubic light years and the paraphernalia of super science with moments of tenderness and pure loony joy.

Brian W. Aldiss

…van Vogt had…nothing less than the ability to deliver (a) total alienness within (b) a hugely panoramic background that (c) seemingly lacked reason and yet came together to (d) end by making total if terrifying sense.

Barry N. malzberg

Let’s wield what influence we possess to increase the Canadian public’s awareness of one of our own, a giant in his field, whose work deserves to be celebrated.


Slan

After many years of creating well regarded but relatively unlucrative short fiction, van Vogt turned his attention to the full-length novel.  His first, and by some accounts his most famous, was Slan.  Written while Vogt was living in Ottawa, Slan recounts the maturation of a mutant with telepathic powers and enhanced intelligence in a world hostile to his kind.

(It) was a paralleling of Ernest Thomson Seton‘s The Biography of a Grizzly: the pattern of Grizzly was: his mother is killed at the beginning, and the cub is on his own. He doesn’t find an old lady to help him, but he manages to find a place where he can hide for his first year or so. By then he is the equivalent of Jommy at nine — stronger than all the lesser animals of the forest; but he’d better stay away from full-grown black bears, etc. Finally, he comes to what Seton called in his heading: “The Days of His Strength.” He is a full-grown grizzly bear, king of the forest and mountains. For the most part I didn’t need parallels like that, but that one struck me as being interesting, and I used it automatically.

A.E. Van Vogt on his work Slan

Although a fun story with plenty of action, Slan is permeated with themes of fear, discrimination and alienation.  Eminently suitable for adaptation to radio, the opportunities for creative, exciting sound design abound.   

“Yes, I said ´mob´. That´s all people are these days. A mob, a beast we´ve helped build up with our propaganda. They´re afraid, mortally afraid for their babies, and we haven´t got a scientist who can think objectively on the matter. In fact, we haven´t got a scientist worthy of the name. What incentive is there for a human being to spend a lifetime in research when in his mind is the deadening knowledge that all the discoveries he can hope to make have long since been perfected by the slans? That they´re waiting out there somewhere in secret caves or written out on paper, ready for the day when the slans make their next attempt to take over the world?”

Excerpt from A.E. Van Vogt’s Slan

City on the Edge of Forever

Photo from Memory Alpha

Once upon a time I tried to make a radio play version of the Star Trek episode City on the Edge of Forever, by science fiction writer Harlan Ellison. The Powers That Be at CBC Radio at the time were in favour of the idea. The Business Rights people contacted Harlan and attempted to negotiate with him. I can’t quite recall how it came about, but I wound up calling him.

I’d been a big fan of his work ever since reading his short story I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, which blew my mind (I actually wrote a version it for radio, since lost to time). I don’t think I even knew then that he’d written City on the Edge of Forever. Much later I discovered that he is considered by many to be, shall we say, problematic. Anyway, being a fan at the time, I was tickled at the opportunity to talk to him. We had a short conversation which focussed mostly on how much the rights to City on the Edge of Forever would cost. I informed him that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation was a public broadcaster and we’d pay what we could. Needless to say, it wasn’t enough for Harlan, so the project never happened.

If you’re wondering how we could ever even have conceived such a thing, here’s my original pitch, which lays it all out. The thing is, as far as I know, it all stills hold true today. You could not produce a version of Gene Roddenberry’s City on the Edge of Forever, but you COULD produce a version of Harlan Ellison’s. If you really wanted to, and if you had enough money to purchase the rights. And maybe changed the characters’ names.

The City on the Edge of Forever Pitch

There was a time when if you were a Star Trek fan then you were a member of a relatively small club.  This is no longer the case.  Now, just about everyone is familiar with Star Trek – it’s a cultural phenomenon. 

Arguably the best Star Trek episode ever made – in any of the ubiquitous franchise’s many incarnations – is City on the Edge of Forever.  City on the Edge of Forever features the original and most beloved characters in the Star Trek pantheon: Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, “Bones” McCoy, and so on.  The story is simple and poignant: Kirk travels back in time to 1930’s New York to prevent a shipmate from altering time.  There, he falls in love, but to fulfill his mission, he must allow the woman he has fallen in love with to die.

The episode spawned a famous feud between the episode’s original writer, Harlan Ellison, and Star Trek’s creator, Gene Roddenberry.  Citing cost overruns and other difficulties, Roddenberry and his staff (Gene L. Coon and D.C. Fontana, mainly) completely rewrote Ellison’s version of the episode before shooting it.  The two versions are quite a bit different, yet both have demonstrable merit.  Roddenberry’s went on to win a Hugo; Ellison’s won the Writer’s Guild of America’s Award for Most Outstanding Teleplay.  Just about everyone has seen Roddenberry’s version of City on the Edge of Forever — Ellison’s version has never been produced for film, televison or radio.

Harlan Ellison owns the rights to his original, award-winning version of the most famous Star Trek episode ever to air.  Paramount Studios owns the rights to the Star Trek franchise; they do not own the rights to Harlan’s script. What this means is that CBC Radio can produce a radio play version of City on the Edge of Forever simply by changing the names of the characters. 

The free publicity for CBC Radio likely to be generated by mounting a radio version of Ellison’s City on the Edge of Forever, coupled with the intrinsic entertainment value of the piece itself, is probably reason enough to produce the property.  Couching the production within the context of the issue of creative ownership (conversations with Harlan Ellison and other artists who perceive their work to have been mishandled by others) might justify the production further.

I believe this to be quite an opportunity.  Given Star Trek’s place in popular culture, it is possible – perhaps even likely – that a CBC Radio production of Harlan Ellison’s City on the Edge of Forever could be nothing less than a cultural event.

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