Writer, Broadcaster

Tag: Richard Waugh

Captain’s Away!

Random Science Fictiony Looking Pic

Once I finished producing The Cold Equations for our science fiction radio show pilot Faster Than Light, I turned my attention to the second radio play in the show, an original called Captain’s Away! (Which I always wrote with an exclamation mark in the title because I liked the look of it. According to Goodreads there are 758 books with exclamation marks in the title, most of which are kids’ books, including a bunch by Dr. Suess.)

I didn’t intend Captain’s Away! just for kids but it was something I thought kids would enjoy. It was based on an idea I’d had several years earlier that had stuck with me. Roy Orbison once said if you had to write an idea down to remember it, it probably wasn’t worth remembering. I’d written the idea for Captain’s Away! down somewhere but I hadn’t needed to. It was an idea that had definitely stuck with me over the years. 

The premise was pretty straightforward. A waitress is approached by a crackpot who refers to her as “Captain” and implores her to return to her ship in space to lead her crew on a dangerous mission.  Except that the stranger isn’t actually a crackpot and there really is a spaceship and circumstances force our hero to assume the identity of the captain with no idea what she’s doing as all the while the question lingers: is she the captain or isn’t she? And if so, why can’t she remember being the captain?

Intending the piece to be a serial, to be aired in ten minute episodes during each instance of Faster Than Light, I set out to write the first ten minutes for the Faster Than Light pilot. I wound up writing the first three episodes, but we only ever produced the first one. I wrote it as a light, comic piece with plenty of opportunities for cool sound effects.

I got into a bit of trouble during the writing of it. When I gave what I considered to be the final draft to James Roy, he pointed out that this was not the way it was done. I was supposed to have written an outline and then a first draft and then a second draft and then a third draft and a polish, with feedback at every stage to inform the next stage. I don’t think I actually knew that. I was used to writing fiction on my own. Writing with the input of others was an alien concept to me. But James was right. I was stomping all over the way things were supposed to be done. He accepted the piece just the same, though.

As I mentioned in an earlier post about The Cold Equations, we cast the actors for both The Cold Equations and Captain’s Away! at the same time. Casting, I discovered, is quite difficult. It was so hard to make up our minds. So many great actors to choose from. I really liked a fellow by the name of Julian Richings for the part of the crackpot stranger named Choki. Julian has a wonderful British accent that I thought would work nicely (I was delighted to see him turn up in both Orphan Black and The Expanse years later), but we opted for Sergio Dizio instead (whom we also cast in The Cold Equations), after Sergio wowed us with a faux Italian accent. Later, after hearing Sergio’s comic Italian accent in the production, Damiano Pietropaulo, Director of Radio Drama at the time, of obvious Italian descent, expressed some dismay at the accent. Until he brought it up, it hadn’t occurred to me that it could be seen as offensive. That certainly wasn’t my intention. But nobody else complained.

We cast Kristina Nicoll as the lead and Richard (Rick) Waugh of Muckraker fame as her boss (he also doubled as a bus driver for a couple of lines). Both were terrific.

I contracted Wayne Richards to contribute original theme music and he came up with a fabulous piece that I called the Ah Oooh song (I don’t know if it has an actual name). I finished the play with another original piece of music by Rod Crocker called Turnaround, which I also love.

Turnaround (Rod Crocker, artist, composer)

Making Captain’s Away! was a lot of fun and I was disappointed we didn’t get to make any more. To make up for it, I’m hard at work on my second novel, working title Captain’s Away (this time without the exclamation mark). It’s not quite the same story as the radio play version—it’s a lot less silly and there’s a lot more to it—but it has a bit of the same spirit.

And maybe one day we’ll make a radio version of it.

Captain’s Away! (Well, the first ten minutes, anyway)

Just for fun, here’s the script for the first five episodes:

CAPTAIN’S AWAY!

By Joe Mahoney

KARIN KUDELKA, waitress, thirtiesh

ENSIGN CHOKI SUNERIN, early twenties

LEONARD SNODGRASS, Manager of the Pickled Onion, fortiesh

MIRIEL, female, thirty-five, hint of the islands

STREETCAR DRIVER

EPISODE 1: SCENE 1 — KARIN’S APARTMENT

1. MUSIC:                                AH-OOH THEME

2. KARIN (NARR): Kudelka’s Log, Tuesday, July twenty-seventh.  It’s been almost a month since… the accident.  I still can’t believe he’s gone.  It’s so lonely without him.  I hear him all the time, but when I turn around to look for him, he’s not there.  What I wouldn’t give to see that handsome little face one more time.  The guilt is almost more than I can bear – it was my fault, after all.  If only I hadn’t left the window open!  Maybe I should just replace him, but – I don’t think I deserve another gerbil.  Sometimes I think I don’t deserve any pet at all.

3. MUSIC: UP AND OUT

4. SOUND: TELEPHONE RINGS.  CREAKING OF BED AS OUR HEROINE PICKS UP TELEPHONE

5. KARIN: (SLEEPY) Yo.

6. SNODGRASS: (TREATED) Who’s this?

7. KARIN: You first.

8. SNODGRASS: It’s me, Leonard.

9. KARIN: Leonard…

10. SNODGRASS: Leonard Snodgrass!  That you, Kudelka?

11. KARIN: Omigod, M-mister Snodgrass, what time is it?

12. SOUND: KARIN SCRAMBLES OUT FROM UNDER THE COVERS

13. SNODGRASS: It’s late, is what time it is.  Do you not think, Kudelka, that it’s time you bought a clock?

14. KARIN:   I have one, it just doesn’t –

15. SOUND: SNODGRASS HANGS UP, DIAL TONE

16. KARIN:     — work, is all.

17. MUSIC: GETTIN’ THE LEAD OUT

SCENE 2: BUSY SIDEWALK IN DOWNTOWN CORE

18. SOUND: STREETCAR ARRIVES, BELLS CLANGING, KARIN STEPS IN, DEPOSITS COINS ONE BY ONE

19. KARIN: Hi, how ya doin’?  Okay, seventy, eighty, ninety, ninety-five, ninety-six, ninety-seven… uh oh.

20. DRIVER: Well?  You gettin’ on or not?

21. KARIN: Uh, do you have change for a twenty?

22. SOUND: CHOKI CLAMBERS ABOARD BG

23. DRIVER: We only take exact change.

24. KARIN: Oh.  Darn.  Uh, gee — 

25. DRIVER: Look lady, what’s it gonna be?  On or off?

26. CHOKI: (MOVING ON) Hello, hi, excuse me… maybe I can help.

27. SOUND: CHOKI DEPOSITS COINS

28. CHOKI:  There.  Is that enough?

29. KARIN: Yes, thank you.

30. CHOKI: You’re quite welcome, Captain.

31. KARIN: Captain?

32. SOUND: STREETCAR STARTS UP, KARIN SITS DOWN

33. CHOKI: Mind if I sit beside you, Captain?

34. KARIN: Be my guest.

35. SOUND: CHOKI SITS DOWN

36. KARIN: So, do you call everyone Captain?

37. CHOKI: Just Captains, Captain.  Excuse me.

38. SOUND: A TUNEFUL ELECTRONIC BLEEP SOUNDS

39. CHOKI: (DISCRETELY) Choki to Kimay (KEE’MAY), I’ve found the Captain, she’s assumed the identity of a human female, brunette, with quite a smattering of freckles about her face. A clever disguise.

40. KARIN:   Uh…

41. CHOKI: I’ll keep you posted, Choki out.  (CHUCKLES) You’re asking yourself, why am I talking to my watch.

42. KARIN: Well yes, actually.

43.  CHOKI: You see, it’s not just a watch, it’s also a communicator.  We had them specially made.  Clever, eh?  Here, I’ll show you.

44. SOUND: WATCH PRODUCES NEAT SOUND

45. CHOKI: You see?

46. KARIN: Oh, I get it, it’s a toy.

47. CHOKI: Noooo Captain, it’s no toy, it’s as real as the Kimay.

48. KARIN: The Kimay…

49. CHOKI: The Kimay… the starship that brought us here.  You’re a little confused, aren’t you?  I didn’t realize –

50. KARIN: You think I’m the one that’s confused?

51. CHOKI: Thank heavens I found you in time, before the enemy –

52. KARIN: Oh boy.

53. CHOKI: When the psionic link went down, I –

54. SOUND: “STOP REQUESTED” SIGNAL SOUNDS, KARIN GETS UP TO LEAVE

55. KARIN: Gee, is this my stop already?  (MOVING OFF)  Thanks so much for your help, I’ll just be getting off now, thanks, excuse me?

56. CHOKI: (CALLING AFTER) But Captain, you don’t understand, we need to – the mission, it’s in jeopardy… Captain, the Kimay needs you!

57. MUSIC: WHIRLWIND STING

SCENE 3: KITCHEN OF THE PICKLED ONION, A RESTAURANT

58. SOUND: DOOR BURSTS OPEN,  RESTAURANT KITCHEN SFX

59. KARIN: (BREATHLESS) I’m so sorry –

60. SNODGRASS: Third time this month, Kudelka.  Third time.

61. KARIN: Sorry, Mr. Snodgrass, won’t happen again, getting a new clock soon as I can afford one.  Then on the bus, there was this, this guy –

62. SNODGRASS: You’re on thin ice, do you hear me?  And it’s melting, just like the polar ice cap.  (BEAT)  Be sorry to see it go.

63. KARIN: (BEAT)  What go?

64. SNODGRASS: The polar ice cap!  All those polar bears – won’t be a one left.  Punctuality and polar bears – I shall mourn their passing.  Okay, get out of here, table twelve’s waiting, what’s the matter with you?  Take his tray, weirdo’s been waitin’ half an hour already.

65. KARIN: Like I said, Mr. Snodgrass, I’m really sorry about –

66. SNODGRASS: Out!

67. KARIN: (MUTTERING) Okay, okay… this his tray here? (GROANS PICKING UP TRAY) Fella’s got an appetite…

68. SOUND: PICKS UP LARGE TRAY OF FOOD, OUT THROUGH SWINGING KITCHEN DOORS

SCENE 4: THE PICKLED ONION

69. SOUND: PATRONS EATING, CHATTING BG

70. KARIN: (MOVING ON) Table twelve, table twelve, here we are… morning, sir, sorry to keep you waiting, I must say, this is one heckuva a big breakfast for just one per – (GASP) – you!

71. CHOKI: A ploy to remain seated, Captain, no time to eat.  Now listen: The enemy, they’ve affected your brain, I think.  We must get you back to the ship —

72. KARIN: Are you stalking me?

73. CHOKI: Captain, please —

74. KARIN: Stop calling me that!  I’m not your Captain, or anyone’s Captain, I’m a waitress, and you, sir, need help —

75. SOUND: CHOKI TAKES A DEVICE FROM HIS POCKET – THERE IS A HUMMING SOUND

76. KARIN: What’s that?  What’ve you got there?  What are you-

77. CHOKI: P.T.A, Captain – personal time accelerator, for use in emergencies only.  It’ll buy us the time and privacy we need.

78. SOUND: BLEEP OF PTA; RESTAURANT CHATTER VARI-SPEEDS DOWN, THEN STOPS

79. KARIN: What the – my god, what have you done?  It’s like, they’re all frozen!  Everyone!  Not cold to the touch, but –

80. SOUND: WOMAN TOPPLES OVER

81. KARIN: Omigod!  I just touched her and she fell over, I didn’t mean to — 

82. CHOKI: ‘S’okay, Captain… (STANDS UP), it’s not a problem, I’ll just get up and (GRUNTS WITH EXERTION) stand her back up, like so…

83. KARIN: Watch her head!  The table!

84. SOUND: SICKENING THUD

85. KARIN: Ooh!

86. CHOKI: That’s gonna leave a mark!  (BEAT)  Shame, too… it was such a nice table.

87. SOUND: MORE EXERTION FROM CHOKI

88. CHOKI: There!  Except for the big lump on her head she’ll never know what happened.

89. KARIN: What exactly is happening?

90. CHOKI: (RAPID-FIRE) The personal time accelerator, it speeds us up, we’re moving much faster than everyone else, too fast for them to see or hear us.  Got it?  No.  Okay, doesn’t matter, not important.  What is important is this:  You are Captain Karin Kudelka of the Kimay, you’re not from here, you’re a T’Klee, you’ve been hurt in some kind of accident, that’s why you can’t remember who you are.  Mighta been enemy action, maybe you just slipped on a banana, hard to say.  Thing is, we‘ve got to get you back to the Kimay before the damage becomes irreversible.

91. KARIN: Okay look you, I don’t know what kind of shenanigans you’re up to or how you know my name, but I’m not going anywhere.  I am not a whatever you said, I’m a waitress.  You, this, this thing you’ve done, I’m just delusional is all, it’s… the gerbil!  The stress of his death, it’s getting to me, the guilt, I’m, I’m losing my mind –

92. CHOKI: Captain.  There’s far too much at stake here.  If I have to, I’ll sling you over my back… 

93. SOUND: INSISTENT BLEEP OF PTA DEVICE

94. CHOKI: Drat, time’s up.  Grab on to something, quick.

95. SOUND: THERE’S A WRENCHING SOUND AS TIME IS TORN IN HALF.  RESTAURANT SFX SUDDENLY RETURN TO NORMAL

96. KARIN: Oh!

97. SOUND: KARIN DROPS THE TRAY OF FOOD SHE WAS HOLDING ONTO

98. SNODGRASS: (STORMING ON)  Kudelka… Kudelka, was that you?  Did you drop your…  what’s got into you?  Look at this mess!  As far as the eye can see, nothin’ but scrambled eggs.

99. KARIN: Mr. Snodgrass… you were frozen, all of you, just like statues, you came back to life and I musta – (SNIFF; SHE’S TRYING NOT TO CRY) jumped, I didn’t mean to — (SNIFF) I’m just having a bad day (SNIFF SNIFF)…

100. SNODGRASS: Oh, Karin, Karin, Karin, there there, it’s okay, here’s a handkerchief.

101. KARIN: (SNIFF) Thank you.

102. SNODGRASS: It’s drugs, isn’t it?

103. KARIN: Huh?

104. SNODGRASS: You disappoint me, Kudelka.  Didn’t think you were the type. 

105. KARIN: No, no!  No drugs!

106. SNODGRASS: You’ll consider this an act of kindness some day — you’re fired.  Get help if you have to.  Now get your things and get out.

107. KARIN: Fired?  No… you can’t!  The rent, how will I… Mr. Snodgrass, please –

108. CHOKI: (APPALLED) Captain, please, the dignity of your station, begging before a mere human —

109. KARIN: You stay out of this!

110. SNODGRASS: Sorry, mind’s made up.  Oh, and Kudelka – if you wouldn’t mind, just, cleaning this up before you go?  Hmm?

111. MUSIC: AH-OOH THEME

End of Episode One

EPISODE 2: SCENE 1 — OUTSIDE THE PICKLED ONION

THEME:       AH-OOH THEME

2. SFX:       CHOKI & KARIN EXIT RESTAURANT

3. CHOKI: (BREATHLESS, MOVING ON) Captain, we have to get back to the ship.  The crew… you’ve been gone a long time, they’re restless.  I can’t blame them, the enemy, closing in —

4.  KARIN: “We” must not get “me” anywhere.  I’m going home.  Alone.  (MOVING OFF)  Taxi!  Taxi!

5. CHOKI: Captain!  Home is an awfully long way from here!

6. KARIN: (ON) What am I doing, I can’t afford a taxi.  (MOVING OFF)  Bus!  Bus!

7. CHOKI: Half way across the galaxy.  Remember?  No?

8. KARIN: (ON) Hypnosis.

9. CHOKI: Captain?

10. KARIN: Hypnosis.  That whole slowing down time thing in there.  It was a trick, wasn’t it?  You’re some kinda loony hypnotist.  Well thanks for the show, pal, but you’ve gone and got me fired!

11. CHOKI: Captain, you’re not well.

12. KARIN: (DERISIVE SNORT) I’m not well! 

13. CHOKI: Come with me.  Back to the ship, I implore you.  We’re in danger, all of us, great danger.  The mission… you want to go home?  Captain — there will be no home, not here, not there, not — not anywhere, unless you and I get back to the Kimay, back where we belong, and finish what we came for!

14. KARIN: Look you — wait a minute.  What’s your rank, young man?

15. SFX: CLICK OF BOOT HEELS

16. CHOKI: Ensign Choki Sunerin, at your service, Captain.

17. KARIN: Ensign.  So I’m your Captain, am I?

18. CHOKI: Yes.  Yes, that’s right.  Captain Karin Kudelka of the Kimay, Marauder Class Starship of the Imperial Republic of T’Klee.

19. KARIN: Of what?  Never mind.  Okay.  If I’m your Captain, then you have to follow my orders.  That’s right, isn’t it?  Ensign?

20. CHOKI: Uh…

21. KARIN: (STERNLY) Ensign!

22. CHOKI: Yes Captain.  But —

23. KARIN: No buts!  I order you to go away!  Far, far away!  Vermont, at the very least!  And leave me alone! 

24. CHOKI: (GENTLY) Captain, with all due respect, you are not fit to command.

25. KARIN: That’s a direct order, mister!  You can’t disobey a direct order!  (BEAT) Can you?

26. CHOKI: I’m afraid I must.  We’re running out of time.  I’m sorry, Captain, but…

27.  SFX: CHOKI WITHDRAWS A WHIRRING OBJECT FROM HIS POCKET

28. KARIN: Okay, what’s that, what’ve you got there –

29. CHOKI: S’okay, Captain, won’t hurt a bit.  Well not much.  A bit of pain, maybe –

30. KARIN: Hey!  Whattaya…  don’t you dare stick me with that thing!

31. SFX: THEY STRUGGLE

32.  CHOKI: It’s for the best, Captain.  You’ll go to sleep, you’ll wake up on board the Kimay, and everything’ll be juuusssst fine.

33. KARIN: Oh no you don’t…!

34.  SFX: MORE STRUGGLING.  CHOKI IS STRUCK OVER THE HEAD WITH A FRYING PAN AND COLLAPSES

35. CHOKI: Ooof!

36. KARIN: Mr. Snodgrass!

37. SNODGRASS: To the rescue, it would appear.

38. MUSIC BRIDGE: SHORT AND SNAPPY

SCENE 2: SNODGRASS’S OFFICE

39. MUSIC: CLASSICAL MUSIC PLAYING QUIETLY BG

40. SFX: SNODGRASS POURS DRINK

41. SNODGRASS: A little something to help you relax.

42. KARIN: Thank you, Mr. Snodgrass.

43. SNODGRASS: (SITTING DOWN) Where was I… oh yes.  When I saw the weirdo hadn’t paid his bill, I went after him.

44. KUDELKA: With a frying pan.

45. SNODGRASS: Naturally.

46. KARIN: Did you – did you have to hit him so hard?  I mean – I know he was crazy, but —

47. SNOGRASS: He was assaulting you with a deadly… with a deadly… thing, you know.

48. KARIN:    I know, but… he was kind of sweet in a way.  Calling me “Captain” all the time.  Captain!  Usually it’s “Honey where’s my baloney sandwich?”

49. SNODGRASS: Yes.  “Captain.”  Curious that.

50. KARIN: You’re being awfully sweet too, Mr. Snodgrass.  To tell you the truth, I didn’t —

51. SNODGRASS: Think I had it in me.  Yes, I know.  You all think I’m some kind of “monster,” don’t you, heh heh.  Well there’s a lot you don’t know about me, Kudelka.

52. KARIN: Um… Mr. Snodgrass… seeing as how you’re being all nice to me and all now, um…

53. SNODGRASS: No.

54. KARIN: No?

55. SNODGRASS: No.  You can’t have your job back. 

56. KARIN: But – but Mr. Snodgrass…!

57. SNODGRASS: This may sound harsh, Kudelka, but… well… jobs are for people who show up on time.  They’re for people who don’t drop things, and… who aren’t about to die horribly.

58. KARIN: That aren’t about to… huh?

59. SNODGRASS: Kudelka, I’m gonna to show you something I haven’t shown anyone in years.

60. KARIN: Oh, I’m not so sure I wanna see that —

61. SFX: SOUND OF FALSE FACE RIPPED OFF

62. SNODGRASS:    (TREATED AS AN ALIEN) My true face!

63. KARIN: (GASPS) Mr. Snodgrass!  You’re hideous!

64. SNODGRASS: (TREATED) I beg your pardon!  I’ll have you know I’m considered quite the catch back on Necronia Prime.

65. KARIN: Necronia…

66. SNODGRASS: (TREATED) Prime, my dear Captain.  My homeworld.  Yes, that’s right: I know who you are, even if you don’t.  I heard every word your ensign said.

67. KARIN: (WEAKLY) Homeworld?

68. SNODGRASS: (TREATED) Oh, how I long for those crimson skies, those sulphurous seas!  Here everything’s so… bright and… fuzzy, I – I simply can’t stand it any longer.  Fortunately, once I’ve extracted what I need from your feeble brain, I won’t have to.  What have you to say to that, Captain Karin Kudelka of the Kimay?

69. KARIN: Uhhhh… help?

70. MUSIC: “HELP” FROM THE BEATLES, SEGUING DIRECTLY INTO:

71. MUSIC: AH-OOH THEME

End of Episode Two

EPISODE 3: SCENE 1 — SNODGRASS’S OFFICE

1. MUSIC CLASSICAL MUSIC PLAYING QUIETLY BG

2. KARIN: (UNDER HER BREATH) This is not happening.  It’s not happening!

3. SNODGRASS: (TREATED) We’ll have to be quick about this, Kudelka.  Come over here.

4. KARIN: No…! 

5. SFX: SNODGRASS GRABS HER ROUGHLY.  SHE STRUGGLES FUTILEY

6. SNODGRASS:   I just insert the…

7. SFX: SUCTION DEVICE PLACED ON HEAD

8. KARIN: (GASPS)

9. SNODGRASS: Turn it on, and…

10. SFX: WHIRRING, SUCKING SFX

11. KARIN: Oh…!  Oh, it hurts! 

12. SNODGRASS: Yes.  Yes I’m sure that it does. 

13. SFX: BUTTONS, WHIRRING BG

14. SNODGRASS: But you mustn’t think me cruel, Kudelka. Merely expedient.  You see, the truth is, I’ve always been rather fond of you.

15. KARIN: Right!

16. SNODGRASS: We have much in common, you and I.

17. KARIN: What could I possibly have in common with a monster like you –

18. SFX: BUTTON PUNCHED HARD, SFX OUT

19. SNODGRASS: (BEAT) Monster?

20. KARIN: Have you looked in a mirror, pal?  I mean, you know, since you ripped off your face?  A little something to consider: Instead of a gaping hole in the middle of your face?  How ‘bout some kind of, oh, I dunno, nose

21. SNODGRASS: Show me your true face, Captain.  Talk to me then of monsters.

22. KARIN: My true face…? What do you mean my true face?

23. SNODGRASS: (CHUCKLES) Never mind, Captain.  No time for that now.  Now —

24. KARIN: I’m warning you, I’ll scream.

25. SNODGRASS: Oh good. I was rather hoping you’d scream.  Soundproof walls, Captain.  Scream to your heart’s content.

26. SFX: BUTTON.  PAIN MACHINE ON

27. KARIN: (CRIES OUT)

28. SNODGRASS: Time to find out what you know.

29. KARIN: What I know?  I don’t even… know about what?

30. SNODGRASS: (WARNING) Captain…

31. SFX: PAIN INCREASED

32. KARIN: (SUFFERING) Wait!  Wait…I know…

33. SNODGRASS: What?

34. KARIN …pain…

35. SNODGRASS: My dear Captain.  We all know pain.  Tell me something I don’t know.

36. KARIN: Okay!  Okay!  Just don’t… I’ll tell you something, something I know…

37. SNODGRASS: Hmm?

38. KARIN:     I know…

39. SNODGRASS: What?

40. KARIN: (BABBLING, DESPERATE) What do I know?  Uh… well, I’ll tell you one thing, I know that this is really a bad day, ‘cause Mr. Snodgrass I have to tell you I thought that yesterday was a bad day, I mean, you’re gonna laugh, but I got my little finger caught in a cheese grater, trying to get it out I thought I’d rip it clean off, man did it hurt  — but compared to today that was nothing

41. SNODGRASS: (INTERRUPTING) Captain, Captain.

42. KARIN: What?

43. SNODGRASS: The Apple.

44. KARIN: Apple…

45. SNODGRASS:    I need to know about The Apple.

46. KARIN: (HASN’T A CLUE) The apple.  Yes.  Yes, of course.  The apple.    

47. SNODGRASS: It’s the entire reason you’re here, isn’t it.  To find The Apple.  Bring it back to your people.  Win this silly war with it.

48. KARIN: (TRYING TO FOLLOW) Win the war with the apple…

49. SNODGRASS: So what I need to know, Captain…

48. SFX: SHOT OF PAIN MACHINE

50. KARIN: (GASPS)

51. SNODGRASS: …is… where is The Apple?

52: KARIN:  I don’t know!

53: SNODGRASS: Maybe you have it already.  Do you?  No?  How close are you to finding it?

54. KARIN: Mr. Snodgrass, please…

55. SNODGRASS: ‘Cause it’s here, somewhere.  Oh yes, I know it is.  Has to be.  So close I can practically smell it.

56. KARIN: (BEAT) Without a nose?

57. SFX: ANOTHER SHOT OF PAIN

58. KARIN: Oh…!  Oh, Mr. Snodgrass.  Why are you doing this to me?

59. SNODGRASS: Make no mistake, Kudelka, you’re doing this to yourself.  Tell me where the Apple is and all the pain will stop.  It’s as simple as that. 

60. KARIN: It is?

61. SNODGRASS: It is.  I promise.

62. KARIN: You do?

63. SNODGRASS:     I do.  I really do. 

64. KARIN: Umm…

65. SNODGRASS: Mmm?

66. KARIN: Uh… what about the fridge.  Have you looked in there?

67. SFX: PAIN, TERRIBLE PAIN

68. KARIN: (CRYING OUT)

69. SNODGRASS: Tsk tsk tsk.  Why do they always insist on dying horribly?

70. SFX: MORE PAIN GENERATED 

71. KARIN: (MORE CRYING OUT)

72. SFX:     DOOR SPLINTERING OPEN

73. SNODGRASS:  What the…?

74. SFX:          SHOT OF FUTURISTIC BLASTER

75. SFX: SNODGRASS FALLS TO THE GROUND

76. SNODGRASS: Oh!

77. MIRIEL:   Hello, Captain.  Long time no see.

78. MUSIC: AH-OOH THEME

End of Episode Three

EPISODE 4: SCENE 1 – INTERIOR CAR

1. SFX: INT. CAR SCREECHES AROUND CORNER, DRIVING FAST

2. KARIN: (IN SCENE): (FRANTIC) Gotta… gotta get a grip.  Gotta think!

3. SFX: PURSE RUMMAGING FOR PEN, PAD

4. KARIN: Have ta… organize my thoughts… maybe, maybe write things down…

5. KARIN (NARR): (STILL FRANTIC) Kudelka’s Log, Wednesday, July… July…

6. KARIN (IN SCENE): What’s the date today?

7. CHOKI: Human calendar, Captain?  Or T’Klee?

8. KARIN: (BEAT) Never mind.

9. KARIN: (NARR): They’ve taken me in some kinda — some kinda car.  Who?  I don’t know. Why?  Dunno that either.  My… my job — gone!  Eggs!  Everywhere… boss some kinda – freak! Nose! Gone, all gone.

10. CHOKI: Captain… Captain, are you okay?  Sir, she’s shivering.

11. SFX: SCREECH OF TIRES

12. MIRIEL: (FROM FRONT SEAT TO BACK) Don’t worry, Ensign — we’ll get her looked after as soon as we can.  Get her seatbelt on — I’m gonna take a shortcut.

13. CHOKI: Yes sir. 

14. SFX: SEATBELT CLINKING

15. CHOKI: Captain, if you could just–

16.  KARIN: (IN SCENE) Don’t –! Touch me.

17. CHOKI: Captain, your seatbelt.

18. KARIN: I’m not your captain.  And I may be crazy, but I still know how to…

19. SFX: GRAPPLING WITH SEATBELT BG

20. KARIN: … how to… how to get a…! Arrgh!  How do you get this thing to —

21. CHOKI: Just… you just have to –

22. SFX: SEATBELT ATTACHES PROPERLY

23. KARIN: (BIG SIGH) Thanks.

24. CHOKI: You’re welcome, Cap – you’re welcome.

25. SFX: DRIVING GETS REALLY BUMPY

26. KARIN: (SHAKY) Look, Ensign – whatever your name is – maybe – maybe it wasn’t such a good idea me coming with you.

27. CHOKI: No, no, Captain, don’t say that—

28. SFX: OVER PARTICULARLY BIG BUMP

29. CHOKI: (PAIN) Oh!

30. KARIN: What? What’s wrong?

31. CHOKI: Nothing… it’s nothing…

32. KARIN: It’s your head, isn’t it? Where he hit you —

33. CHOKI: My head’s fine. Really. 

34. KARIN: Really?

35. CHOKI: Absolutely. My real head, anyway.  But this one? Hurts a lot!

36. KARIN: (BEAT) Could you sound any more like you have a concussion?

37. CHOKI:      I just need to get back to the ship, Captain.  I’ll be fine then. We all will. (SOTTO VOCE) I think.

38. KARIN: Oh yeah.  The ship.  The – what did you call it?

39. CHOKI: The Kimay. You – you do remember her, don’t you, Captain?

40. MIRIEL: Ensign.

41. CHOKI: But – but sir, she’s got to remember! If she doesn’t even remember the Kimay, how can she can possibly –

42. MIRIEL: Ensign! 

43. CHOKI: Yes sir.

44. KARIN: Look you… people – or whatever you are — what if – and just, just go with me on this, um, what if I don’t remember anything because, you know, call me crazy, but, ah, because there isn’t anything to remember! Eh? And – and — and – and maybe it isn’t me that’s crazy at all but, but – and, don’t get mad — ha ha! so to speak — but, but, but it’s you that’s crazy, and not me!  Eh?  Or, or, or this is all some kind of a joke, some kind of really, really horrible, mean joke —

45. MIRIEL: Karin —

46. KARIN: (WEAKENING) A joke that… that Mr. Snodgrass put you up to… except – except that – you guys – it really hurt the stuff he did to me, you know…? 

47. MIRIEL: Karin, listen to me. You’re going to be okay — 

48. KARIN: No, no I don’t think so.  I am anything but okay! —

49. MIRIEL: You’re scared… confused. I don’t blame you – all you’ve been through.  Hang on.

50. SFX: BIG BUMP, THEN SMOOTH DRIVING

51. MIRIEL: I’ve no idea what happened to you, Karin – why you can’t remember who you are. I know it must’ve been something bad.  But we’re going to figure it out, you and me – all of us, together. You have my word on that. We’ll sort it all out just as soon as we… uh… (SHE’S SAID TOO MUCH)… as soon as we…

52. KARIN: (RECOVERING COMPOSURE) What?

53. MIRIEL: Um… as soon as we, ah, soon. We’ll sort it out soon.

54. KARIN: As soon as what? What were you going to say?

55. MIRIEL: (SIGH) As soon as we cross over.

56. KARIN: Cross over.  I don’t even want to know what that means.

57. SFX: SEATBELT UNBUCKLED

58. KARIN: Stop the car.

59. CHOKI: Captain…

60. KARIN: Stop the car.  I mean it! I’m getting out.

61. SFX: DOOR OPENS, HIGHWAY IS LOUD

62. CHOKI: Captain no!

63. KARIN: You’re got three seconds and then I jump!

64. MIRIEL: Karin –

65. KARIN: One!  (BEAT) Two!

66. CHOKI: Sir — I think she means it, sir!

67. MIRIEL: Of course she does, Ensign. She rarely bluffs, our Captain.

68. KARIN: Three!

69. SFX: CAR SCREECHES TO A HALT

70. MIRIEL: (FACING BACK SEAT FOR FIRST TIME) Well? Karin. Go if you’re going.

71. CHOKI: (AGHAST) Sir? You’re not going to just –!

72. MIRIEL: That’s enough out of you, Ensign.

73. SFX: CAR PASSES, HORN DOPPLERING

74: KARIN:      I just… it’s just —

75. MIRIEL: Mm?

76. KARIN: It’s all just so… insane!  I mean… isn’t it?

77. MIRIEL: Oh yes, Captain, quite insane, I assure you.

78. SFX: LONG BEAT AS CAR PASSES ON COUNTRY ROAD

79. MIRIEL: We have a long ways to go yet, Captain — if you would be so good as to close the door?

80. SFX: ANOTHER LONG BEAT.  DOOR CLOSES.

81. MIRIEL: (SIGH OF RELIEF) Yessirree… a long, long ways.

83. SFX: CAR STARTS OFF

End of Episode Four

EPISODE 5:  SCENE 1 – CLIFF

1. SFX: WIND WHISTLES, BIRDS CRY, WATERFALL CRASHES ONTO ROCKS BELOW

2. KARIN:    I was afraid of this.

3. CHOKI: What, Captain?

4. KARIN:    I don’t see it.

5. CHOKI: What are you looking for?

6. KARIN: Your ship. The… the Kimay. I thought you were taking me to the Kimay. (DERISIVE SNORT) You know, you almost had me convinced. 

7. CHOKI: No… no, Captain — we are taking you to the Kimay, really!

8. KARIN: So… what.  Is it down there?  Under the water?

9. CHOKI: Noooo….

10. KARIN: Wait! Don’t tell me: it’s in a cave in the cliffs.

11. CHOKI: Noooo….

12. KARIN: (SARCASTIC) Is it a cloud?  A tree? No, no wait, I got it — it’s a bug, isn’t it.  A ladybug, or — or a bee!  And we have to shrink to get in it. Right? Am I right?

13. CHOKI: A good guess, Captain —

14. KARIN: But?

15. MIRIEL: No. The Kimay is not a bug.

16. CHOKI: You see, the thing is, Captain, the Kimay is not actually here.

17. KARIN: (ASIDE) Why am I not surprised? (LOUDER) All right, then — where is it?

18. MIRIEL: Tell her, Ensign.

19. CHOKI: Yes… well, you see, Captain, it’s difficult to say exactly where the Kimay is at any one time.  We have to keep it out of harm’s way, you see, because of the, ah, well the war and all… and — um, should I be…?

20. MIRIEL: It’s okay, Ensign, she has to hear about it sometime.

21. KARIN: The war… Snodgrass said something about a war. Kept asking about… an apple?  Can that be right? Maybe I didn’t hear him right.

22. MIRIEL: We are at war, Captain.

23. KARIN: Over an apple?

23. MIRIEL: No.

24. KARIN: Well that’s good. (CHUCKLES) Be a pretty silly war, over an apple.

25. MIRIEL: Wars have been fought over less, Captain. 

26. KARIN: Yeah? Like what… grapes?

27. CHOKI: There is an apple involved.  But it’s not a real apple – we just call it an apple.

28. KARIN: Let me guess – it’s really a grape.

29. MIRIEL: Ensign. Tell her about the Kimay.

30. CHOKI: Yes sir. You see, Captain, the thing is, we don’t actually know where the Kimay is.

31. KARIN: You don’t.

32. CHOKI: No.

33. KARIN: So… what. This is some kind of a game, then?

34. CHOKI: Oh no, Captain.  By no means.  You see, we may not know where the Kimay is…

35. SFX: A TUNEFUL ELECTRONIC BLEEP

36. CHOKI: But we know how to get there.  Choki to Kimay.

37. SFX: FUNNY HIGH PITCHED SQUEAKING

38. CHOKI: Kimay, we have the captain.

39. SFX: SQUEAKING MANAGES TO SOUND LIKE “YOU HAVE THE CAPTAIN?!”

40. CHOKI: Yes.  We have the captain.  Standing by to cross over.

41. SFX: MORE FUNNY SQUEAKING 

42. CHOKI: Understood.

43. SFX: TUNEFUL ELECTRONIC BLEEP

44. SFX: A LOW, OMINOUS SOUND BG

45. KARIN: (AFRAID) What’s that?

44. CHOKI: Psionic field.  It’s up, sir.

45. MIRIEL: Good.  That gives us… what.

46. CHOKI: Seconds, minutes… hard to say.

47. MIRIEL: (CONCERNED) Hmm.

48. KARIN: A sonic what?  What do you mean by “cross over… you’re not talking about beaming up, are you?  Know what I think? You guys watch too much television.  You should listen to the radio more!

49. MIRIEL: Get a move on, ensign.

47. CHOKI: (OFF) Yes sir. 

48. KARIN: What’s he doing?  (PANIC) Where’s he going?

49. CHOKI: (OFF) It’s okay, Captain!

50. KARIN: No!

51. SFX: WATERFALL & OMINOUS SFX LOUDER

52. KARIN: No… no, Choki, what are you… don’t do it! Don’t jump!

53. SFX: THEY STRUGGLE BG

54. CHOKI: Let – go, Captain!

55. KARIN: But – but Choki – it’s gotta be a hundred feet down there! There’s rocks – you could hit a rock beneath the surface!

56. CHOKI: (STRUGGLING TO FREE HIMSELF) Captain, there’s — no time —

57. KARIN: But – but Choki!  You’ll drown! Or – or wind up a quadriplegic! Or worse!

58. CHOKI: Captain, it’s – it’s how you do it!  How you get to the Kimay!

59. KARIN: Choki…!  Choki… You! Help me!

60. MIRIEL: (OFF) He knows what he’s doing, Captain.

61. KARIN: Choki… Choki damn you!

62. SFX: THEY STRUGGLE; CLOTHES RIP, ROCKS, PEBBLES FALL

63. SFX: SILENCE ENSUES, UNTIL:  

64. KARIN: Choki! Omigod… omigod Choki!  I – I can’t see him!  Where’d he go?

65. MIRIEL: (APPROACHING) He’s on board the Kimay, Captain.

66. KARIN: (URGENT) I don’t see him on the rocks… he must be in the water! Quick! Call 911!

67. MIRIEL: I’ll go next.  You need to come right after, Captain.  No dawdling… the field won’t stay up forever.

68. KARIN: Whattaya you guys… in some kinda cult?

69. MIRIEL: See you on the other side, Captain.

70. SFX: SCRAMBLE OF ROCKS; SHE JUMPS

71. KARIN: Noooo!  Oh no… I – I can’t believe this… omigod, there she is!  In the water! Can’t… just… gotta, gotta do something!

 72. SFX: RUSTLING AS SHE TAKES OFF SHOES, CLOTHING

73. KARIN: Maybe – maybe can’t save both of them… but… but gotta try at least!  Wasn’t a syncronized swimmin’ champ for nothin’!  All right.  Here goes! (TAKES A BIG BREATH)

74. SFX: SCRAMBLE OF ROCKS; SHE JUMPS.

PSIONIC FIELD KICKS IN, RIPS KARIN’S PSYCHE FROM HER BODY

76. KARIN: (CRIES OUT IN SHOCK) Oh! Ohhh!

77. MUSIC: AH-OOH THEME

End of Episode Five

Muckraker

The first radio drama project that I worked on regularly was a weekly half hour sketch comedy called The Muckraker. The Muckraker aired every Saturday morning at 11:30am, and promised to “take you behind the headlines for the real story on the latest news.”

The Muckraker was a fictional online newspaper staffed by five intrepid reporters, a device that allowed us to set up actual news stories from the previous week. Once the stories were set up, the show segued into comedy sketches about those stories, with the cast assuming the roles of various colourful characters poking fun at Canadian and International news.

According to the internet, The Muckraker was created by a fellow by the name of Gary Pearson. I never actually met Gary. I knew who he was because I’d once seen him perform an excellent impression of Captain Kirk in a live comedy sketch show, but I don’t remember ever seeing him set foot in the studio.* That doesn’t mean he was never there. Nor is it a bad thing, as the writing team was ably represented by head writer Jerry Schaefer (whom you might remember as Possum Lake animal control officer Ed Frid on the Red Green show).

Gary Pearson
Gary Pearson

Searching the net, I see that a fellow by the name of Chris Earle also wrote for the show, but I never met him either. It’s possible that others wrote for the show too, but if so I have no idea who they were.

The Executive Producer of The Muckraker was Anton Leo. Anton also directed most episodes. Anton apparently achieved modest fame in the seventies as “Waiter With Tray” in a series of beer commercials, but I had no idea about that until I looked him up just now.

I took turns recording and mixing episodes of The Muckraker with fellow recording engineer Wayne Richards, alternating weeks. Anton Szabo (not to be confused with Anton Leo) did the sound effects for most if not all shows.

The Muckraker cast was a talented bunch. I liked them all. Peter Oldring (currently featured in This is That) did an old man voice that is the funniest old man voice I’ve ever heard. It should be considered a national treasure. Every now and then I would get him to do it just for me. I don’t know why he doesn’t talk in that voice all the time.

I enjoyed Richard (Rick) Waugh’s performances so much that I wrote a part just for him in a pet project I did a few years later (more about that in another post). You know Rick, you just don’t know it—you’ve heard him many times doing commercials on private radio.

Richard Waugh
Richard Waugh

Mag Ruffman is well known as her alias Debbie the Tool Girl. Mag was a pleasure to work with.
Deann Degruijter was a ball of positive energy. Looking her up, I see that she recently finished a stint as the voice of Mayor Goodway on Ryder and the Paw Patrol. According to a website for the show, Deann is both “female” and “alive.” It’s great to have the former confirmed and I’m happy to hear about the latter.

Glen Gaston, according to the internet, has appeared in both movies and theatrical productions since Muckraker. Sadly, I can find no web sites confirming his gender.

We packaged Muckraker on a pretty tight schedule. The writers produced scripts for us late Thursday afternoons just in time for recording sessions Thursday evenings. While the cast read through the script a couple of rooms over, I’d peruse my own copy to determine the best way to block each scene. By blocking, I mean arranging how the actors moved through the scene with respect to one another and the microphone.

Sometimes, as I’ve written elsewhere, the blocking was as simple as having the actors stand next to one another facing the microphone. Other times it was more complicated. I’ve also written about that, but it won’t hurt to provide another example:

A mother is shouting out her window at her son, who’s climbing a tree outside on the front lawn. She’s afraid he might fall out of the tree and break his neck. How do you make a scene like that sound convincing on the radio without recording it on location? (We didn’t have time to visit all the locations in our script. Even if we did, they might not have sounded convincing. In the world of audio, with no pictures to help your brain figure out what you’re hearing, stuff doesn’t always sound like what it actually is.)

In Studio 212, I might have placed the son inside the Dead Room (no hard surfaces for his voice to reflect off, simulating an outdoor environment), and his mother in the main studio within some artfully placed soft-sided baffles. There was a window between the Dead Room and the main studio to allow interaction between the actors. By tweaking the actors’ proximity to the microphone and one another, and by adding the appropriate ambiance in post, I could make a scene like that sound pretty convincing. Studio 212 really was brilliantly conceived, designed to give production teams maximum flexibility to recreate just about any environment, internal or external, that they could conceive of.

It was arguably the director’s job to do this kind of blocking, but not every director had sufficient experience or interest. Wayne and I usually helped Anton Leo block the scenes. This is not a slight against Anton: his expertise was comedy, not blocking radio plays. Directors such as Gregory J. Sinclair, James Roy, Bill Lane, and Bill Howell, on the other hand, who were profoundly interested in the medium of radio drama, were constantly pushing the boundaries, and often surprised me with their innovative blocking. Most of what I know about the craft of making radio plays I learned from them.

Despite assisting with the blocking, I was still pretty green when I was working on The Muckraker. And I was pretty much flying without a net. Recording during the evening, there was no one around to help me if things went south, apart from Anton Szabo, who, though resourceful, had not been trained on the Neve Capricorn.

I was so green, in fact, that I didn’t even know how to hard reboot the Mac Computers if they froze.

“Press the power button for five seconds until it restarts,” John McCarthy told me shortly before my first evening shift, courteously refraining from rolling his eyes.

In my defense, this was 2002. It was my first exposure to Apple computers. I didn’t like Macs at all back then. I’d been a hard core PC guy since I’d bought my first IBM XT 286 back in 1991. I knew the PC operating system. I was familiar with DOS. I didn’t know anything about Macs. There was a lot about them that drove me nuts.

For example, on the Mac Quads we used to run our editing software, it was not possible to eject the CD tray from the Mac computer itself. You had to do it through a button on the keyboard. The problem with this was that the computer was not located in the control room with us. Because the computer was noisy (not good when you’re working with sound), it was housed in a completely different room down the hall, connected to the monitor, keyboard and mouse in the control room via extremely long cables amplified by range extenders (I think). I’d go to the Mac in the other room to insert or remove a CD only to discover that I’d forgotten to eject the tray from the keyboard, forcing me to go back to the control room to hit eject.

Then there was the spinning wheel of death. When a Mac computer hung, it hung real good. It would display a colourful little wheel on your monitor that would spin forever and ever, and God help you if you forgot to save your work before the Spinning Wheel of Death showed up.

Back to The Muckraker. During each take, I would sit in the control room, hunched over the console, listening closely to each take. I was listening to make sure there were no issues with the sound, but I was also listening to see if I could help make the scene any funnier (I fancy myself a writer with a particular interest in humour). Sadly, the Muckraker team wasn’t the least bit interested in my input. Only once did they ever accept one of my suggestions. It was for a sketch that concerned an incident with Jean Chretien. Back in Aug 16th 2000, then Prime Minister Jean Chretien was touring an agricultural show in PEI when a twenty-three year old protestor shoved a pie in his face.

“You have developed a funny way of serving pies these days,” Chretien told supporters later. “I’m not that hungry.”

This sort of thing was right up Muckraker’s alley. The resulting sketch related the broad details of the incident: the Prime Minister getting pied in the face, and the protestor getting arrested. There was a line: “I’m taking you into custody.”

I suggested we change the line to, “I’m taking you into custardy. Uh, custody.”

Hey, I’m not saying it’s the funniest line ever. But of all my suggestions during my time with The Muckraker, that’s the one they took. It was Rick Waugh who agreed to deliver the line. Thanks Rick.

The infamous Chretien Pie Incident
The infamous Chretien Pie Incident

We usually finished recording the cast around eleven pm. The cast and crew would bail, leaving Anton Szabo (not to be confused with Anton Leo) and me to clean up. Afterward, I would race home as quickly as possible to hit the sack because I would have to be back in bright and early the next morning to edit, assemble, and mix the show. Neither Wayne Richards nor I were particularly fond of this quick turnaround. Once, rushing home on Highway 401, I got stopped by a cop for speeding.

“Do you know how fast you were going?” he asked me.

“No,” I told him honestly.

“There are jets that fly slower than you,” he said.

Keen to get home, I’d been doing over 140 k/hour without realizing it. Luckily, I was only fined fifty bucks and didn’t lose any points. Except with my wife, that is.

During our Thursday night recording sessions, Associate Producer Tracy Rideout kept track of the good takes. (Tracy would go on to become the Executive Producer of CBC Radio comedy). Friday mornings when I came into edit and assemble the show, we worked off Tracy’s notes.

Fridays were as annoying as Thursday evenings were fun. It was a pretty intense day. For a while, the show aired on Friday nights as well as Saturday mornings, so there was a lot of pressure to finish mixing by eight pm.

The mixing process was essentially the same as any radio play except that instead of mixing it in studio 212, where it had been recorded the previous night, we mixed it in Studio 213, otherwise known as Sound Effects 3, or SFX3. SFX3 would quickly become my favourite studio. Mixing in SFX3, I had access to ProTools, a Digidesign Pro Tools Control 24 mixing board, one piece of outboard gear (a Harmonizer), and a suite of Waves Gold Plugins. Plugins are software effects processors that allow you to manipulate sound in all sorts of fancy ways.

On a conventional radio play the recording engineer would edit the voice tracks and then hand the project over to the sound effects engineer to assemble the sound effects, and together they would mix the show under the supervision of the director.

On The Muckraker, Anton Szabo (not to be confused with Anton Leo) always prepared his sound effects before the recording session, recording many of them live into the sketches. The rest of the sound effects he would load up in the hard drive, readily accessible. Having the sound effects already recorded and pre-loaded greatly reduced the time needed to mix the show. This was critical, because it still took a damned long time. Anton (Szabo) usually didn’t participate in the Friday mix sessions. SFX3 was a smaller studio. It was easier and more comfortable just to have one engineer working with the director and associate producer.

I can’t speak for Wayne (who, you might recall, engineered the show every second week), but the way I mixed the show was scene by scene, editing the dialogue first, then fleshing out the sound effects (and music, if there was any). Ideally, we’d take the best single take of each sketch based on Tracy’s notes. Unfortunately it never worked out this way. Anton Leo always insisted on listening to every bloody take. Then he’d take bits from several takes to create a composite take. All this futzing around slowed down the process and drove me and Wayne nuts (I can safely speak for Wayne on that point).

“Why doesn’t he just follow the damned notes?” we’d ask ourselves.

Of course, he was trying to get the funniest bits into the show. Ironically, years later, when Greg DeClute and I started directing, editing and mixing our own radio plays, we were infinitely fussier than any of the directors we ever worked with, including Anton.

Creating each episode was a painstaking process, but it was also pretty rewarding as the show came alive. It was also quite an education. I learned how to make dialogue pop. I made crazy edits that I never thought would work but that did anyway. I manipulated sound in crazy ways, using all the tools at my disposal, bending sound to my will, mwa ha ha.

At first, levels drove me crazy. You want the volume of the show to be consistent throughout, within a certain dynamic range, peaking at about -20 dBfs (decibels relative to Full Scale). I came from live radio where I managed levels on the fly. Maintaining consistent levels in the digital domain was trickier. I worked off two meters, a stand alone dBfs meter on my left and a similar meter on the DAT machine to my right. The meter on my left also showed me whether my content was in or out of phase (which you can hear, but it’s nice to have visual confirmation. More on phase later).

There’s a phenomenon called threshold shift. You probably experience this in your car when you’re listening to the radio. When you first get in the car, you set your car stereo to a certain level, then you get driving and the road noise is loud so you crank the radio up. You get out on the highway and it’s even louder so you jack the radio up even more. At the grocery store, you get out and buy your groceries. When you get back in your car and turn it on, you can’t believe how loud your radio is. You’re a victim of threshold shift.

I also experienced threshold shift mixing radio shows, but it was more about ear fatigue. As the day wore on, my ears got tired, and as my ears got tired, I gradually made everything louder, forcing me to revisit parts of my mix to make the levels consistent. Eventually, I acquired the discipline to do this as I went along, constantly checking levels on both meters to ensure consistency. And I would try not to vary the volume of the studio monitors, a lesson John Johnston had taught me a decade earlier.

They were long days, mixing Muckraker. Twelve, thirteen hours days followed by the long commute home. Once we finished mixing the show, we still had to print it in real time onto DAT tapes (later we burned it onto CDs). If there was a mistake, we’d have to stop, fix it, and start again (we didn’t usually make mistakes; we didn’t have time to). Once printed, Anton Leo would grab the tapes and run them up to the third floor to Radio Master Control for broadcast. More than once we weren’t entirely sure we’d make it in time.

After a while they stopped the Friday night broadcast so we only had Saturday to worry about. This bought us more time, but it also meant that we could tweak even later into the night. And when we switched from capturing the show on DAT tapes to burning it onto CDs, it didn’t really save us any time. In fact, it sometimes added time. To make a CD, we had to “bounce” the show into a two–track (stereo) version in Pro Tools, and then use a program called Toast to burn the CD.

This was usually pretty straightforward, if we set the bounce up properly. But there was one stretch of several weeks when the Mac Superdrive wouldn’t burn the CD properly. If we couldn’t burn the CD, then we couldn’t get it to Master Control for broadcast. When we burnt a CD that didn’t work, and that we couldn’t reuse, we called it “burning a coaster” as that’s all the CD was good for. I burnt a lot of coasters during that period. Eventually Audio Systems (which is what radio maintenance was called back then) fixed the Superdrive for me.

That wasn’t the only technical problem I experienced. One Saturday night I was at home watching a movie with my wife when the phone rang. Muckraker was on the air but I wasn’t listening to it. Having recorded and mixed the thing, I’d heard it enough already. It was Director/Exec Producer Anton Leo on the phone.

“They all sound like ghosts,” he complained. He was talking about the cast.

Reluctantly, I turned on the radio. Sure enough, half the cast sounded like they were only barely there. They sounded like I’d recorded them from the next room over. Anton told me that the cast sounded that way in most of the country. Curiously, they sounded fine in parts of Alberta. Although he was too polite to come right out and say it, Anton clearly wanted to know how the hell I’d wrecked his show.

Immediately I suspected that the cast sounded this way was because the show was being broadcast out of phase.

What does that mean exactly?

It means that the show’s audio, in particular the voices of the actors, was cancelling itself out.

How could this happen?

Sound travels through the air in waves. Saying that sound travels in waves can be misleading though. Many people think of sound as looking like the surface of water, with peaks and troughs, because the motion of sound is often represented visually as a sine wave. This is just a convenient way to visually illustrate what’s going on. The truth is sound waves travel through air as longitudinal waves. Longitudinal waves don’t have peaks and troughs. What’s actually happening is that as sound passes through a pocket of air, it displaces particles of air before and after that pocket as the energy of the sound wave passes through it.

Without going too far down this rabbit hole, when an object creates a sound wave that passes through air (such as a human voice), it creates low and high pressure areas in the air around it—areas where the air particles are bunched up, and areas where the air particles are spread apart. These are called compressions and rarefactions respectively. They are not the peaks and troughs of waves; they are just different concentrations of air particles.

Compressions and Rarefactions
Compressions and Rarefactions

How does phase come into this?

When two compressions come together—two areas where the air particles are bunched up—followed by two rarefactions—areas where air particles are less concentrated—the sound waves reinforce one another. This is called constructive interference and will result in louder sound. If, on the other hand, a rarefaction meets a compression—a low pressure area meets a high pressure area—then the longitudinal waves will cancel one another out. If they cancel one another out completely, the air particles will behave as though they were at rest, with no interference at all. This is called destructive interference, and will result in no sound.

Obviously, the interaction of longitudinal waves in a medium such as air is rarely straightforward, especially when enclosed within reflective boundaries such as walls, with other reflective objects such as furniture scattered throughout. So in the real world it’s unlikely that sound waves would completely cancel one another out. They can, however, do a lot of damage to one another, and that’s what I thought was happening to The Muckraker that night. I thought that I must have done something during either the recording or the packaging process that resulted in that particular show being out of phase.

Sound can wind up out of phase for several reasons. It can happen at the recording stage. An actor might stand in the wrong spot relative to the microphone. Recording using a style called MS Stereo (I’ll spare you the details of that), we kept a close eye on the phase meter when we had several actors ranged around our MS Stereo microphone. If an actor wandered in behind the microphone, he would get recorded out of phase. I was pretty sure I hadn’t let that happen.

There is an issue closely related to phase called polarity. They are often confused because both polarity and phase manifest themselves in similar cancellation and interference issues. They are not the same, though. Phase has to do with timing and signal delay. Polarity is when you have two possible choices that are mutually exclusive, such as a fan blowing air or a vacuum drawing air in, or flipping a coin either heads or tails, or observing positive or negative when you insert a battery, or deciding whether to be good or evil. When you’re talking about sound, polarity is a question of direction of flow of electrical current.

Polarity issues can arise from bad or incorrectly used cables, microphones, and loudspeakers. On the home front, for example, a listener might have audio issues because their stereo speakers are wired up wrong. Many people do this without even realizing it. If you accidentally reverse the polarity of one channel on one of your speakers—putting the black (negative) speaker wire where the red (positive) one is supposed to go, then you will mess up your speaker drivers, which work by rocking back and forth. If you reverse the polarity of a speaker, one speaker cone will behave opposite of what it’s supposed to, going forward when it’s supposed to be going backward, the opposite of the cone in the other speaker (assuming the other speaker’s wired correctly). When this happens, the longitudinal sound waves from the two speakers will partially cancel one another out, resulting in weak bass and weird stereo imaging, which you don’t want.

Here’s a trick: Take your two stereo speakers and place them about a foot apart facing one another. Turn the stereo up. If it sounds big and juicy, the polarity is likely fine and all is well. If it sounds thin and tinny, the speakers might be wired incorrectly. Try reversing the wires in the back of one speaker. You should hear a significant difference in the quality of sound. You want it sounding big and juicy, with full bass. (Note that if you reverse the polarity of both speakers, you’ll be fine, because then the speakers won’t be cancelling one another out any more. Don’t talk to me about absolute polarity.)

But the odds of everybody in Canada except those in parts of Alberta having all their stereos wired up incorrectly were inconceivably slim. So that probably wasn’t the issue.

I worried about it all weekend. When I got to work on Monday I immediately brought it up with the guys. Nobody could figure out what I might have done.

I’m afraid the punchline’s a bit anti-climactic. Within a day or so, transmission techs discovered that the problem had been a bad patch in the CN Tower. Either a cable had been patched wrong or the cable itself had been wired incorrectly, reversing the polarity. The reason the show sounded fine in Alberta was because Alberta received the show via a different means of transmission.

It was a good to know I hadn’t done anything wrong. Not that it mattered if I had; I would have had to just own up to it and learn from it.

Which some poor transmitter tech no doubt had to do this time round.

*Memory is a funny thing. It’s entirely possible that the man I saw perform Captain Kirk so effectively that night long ago was someone else entirely. However, I am absolutely certain that Gary created The Muckraker. I know this because it says so on the Internet.

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