Writer, Broadcaster

Tag: Wayne Richards (Page 1 of 2)

Faster Than Light: The Second and Third Pilots

An excerpt from Something Technical:

As I’ve written earlier, after the success of the Faster Than Light pilot, we did not receive a green light to proceed with a series. But that wasn’t the end of the story. The Director of Radio Programming at the time, Adrian Mills, did not reject the show outright. The following summer James Roy, now Acting Director of Radio Drama, approached me about doing another pilot for a summer run of the show. Presented in a half hour format, it would be Faster Than Light “light”.  Unfortunately, James had no budget for it.

Robert J. Sawyer
Host of Faster Than Light

No problem. We took a radio play directed by Bill Lane from the archives and built a show around it. I wrote a frame for the show about auditioning for a new host. Rob’s main competition was a robot called Huey (played by Julian Ford) whose main claim to fame was starring as a robot in the classic science fiction movie Silent Running with Bruce Dern. Huey didn’t get the job. Linda Spence also acted in this pilot as a fictional Associate Producer. The concept for Faster Than Light was gradually crystallizing in my mind: it would be a fictional show about making a science fiction radio show. A show within a show. Very meta.

Faster Than Light #2

The summer series didn’t pan out, though. James was willing to proceed, but with no funding and very little time to write and produce ten episodes, I didn’t think I could do the show justice. Seeing as it appeared we’d have an opportunity to try again later with proper funding and adequate time, I opted to wait. 

That fall we did get funding to do another pilot. For this attempt, I brought in Fergus Heywood to co-produce. Fergus had been highly recommended to me by Greg Sinclair. He enthusiastically agreed to help out. We were assigned Alison Moss as Senior Producer, who I always loved working with. I would eventually work with her on the summer replacement series Next with Nora Young. So it was a good team.

Chris Boyce, Head of the Program Development Committee, organized a facilitated session to help us further define the show. Fergus, Alison, Rob Sawyer, Chris Boyce and I all sat down to figure it out. Richard Handler, an experienced Arts producer, was also involved. This third pilot was a serious effort, but the whole spirit was completely different than the first pilot. The show would be half hour instead of an hour. It would include one full cast radio play instead of two, and it would not include a continuation of Captain’s Away, although I had written several episodes.

Chris had us come up with a mandate:

“To fire the imaginations of Canadians by presenting thought provoking encounters with masters of science fiction and fantasy along with engaging dramatizations of their work.”

When we were finally ready, I hired Wayne Richards to write and record original theme music for the opening of the show. We would use an original composition from Fergus Heywood for the closing. Having decided to make the theme of this pilot “The Other,” we secured the services of Cathi Bond, an experienced freelancer, to produce a short documentary on “the other” in science fiction films throughout history.

I wrote a high production frame for the episode that consisted of three parts. In the opening, a mad scientist creates a host for the show in an homage to Frankenstein, a classic “other” in science fiction. The mad scientist was played by Tony Daniels, who did a brilliant German accent as Dr. Frankenstein. Once the host has been created, he takes over and introduces the show. After the first part of the show, a second interlude or frame features the mad scientist conducting an experiment in which he accidentally transforms himself into a fly (an obvious homage to The Fly). Rob the host returns to usher us into the next part of the show, an original adaptation of Born of Man and Woman by Richard Matheson, adapted and directed by Barry Morgan. The end credits featured Rob as the host along with the mad scientist. Not realizing that the fly trapped in the studio with him is the mad scientist, Rob swats him.

FTL #3

I was attempting to seamlessly mix representational radio with presentational radio. The drama and the high production intro, middle and extro were all representational. You listened to those the way you would watch a movie or television show. They weren’t talking directly to the audience. They were meant to be entertaining as opposed to informative. Whereas the bits with Rob talking directly to the audience, and Cathi Bond presenting her short documentary, were presentational. The trick was to guide the audience from one style of radio to another without confusing them.

Ultimately the fate of the show would be determined by the Program Development Committee, a group of several experienced broadcasters assembled by Chris Boyce. I remember one of the members of this group listening to the opening of the show after I had finished mixing it. I was quite proud of it. I thought it was funny and that the sound effects and mix had achieved what I’d set out to do. This person listened to it, gave me no feedback whatsoever, and left the studio. My impression was that he didn’t get it, and didn’t like it. This did not bode well.

We finished the pilot and submitted it to the Program Development Committee. A representative of the committee phoned me sometime afterward to tell me the bad news. They weren’t going to pick up the show as it stood. They just didn’t think it worked. More work was required.

I didn’t entirely disagree. I didn’t think it had worked as well as the original pilot. The original pilot had had room to breathe. It possessed a certain charm. We hadn’t overthought it. The elements stood on their own. Rob brought a passion and an authenticity to it. The second pilot had itself been a Frankenstein monster. I liked the frame we had created for it. But I had been forced to edit the heck out of the radio play that I’d borrowed from the archives to make it fit. Even the audio quality of the radio play hadn’t been up to snuff; it had originally been recorded on tape and sounded a few tape generations old. The third pilot had more going for it. I liked the frame. I liked the opening and closing music. I liked Barry Morgan’s Richard Matheson adaptation. I liked Cathi’s piece. But somehow it didn’t all gell the same as the original.

Nevertheless, the committee still hadn’t given us a definitive “no.” They offered us a chance to make yet a fourth pilot. By now people in the drama department were calling me Wing Commander Joe, I had so many pilots under me.

 So, with a thread of hope still dangling before us, Fergus, Rob, Alison and I got together to talk about it. Rob made the point that maybe the show needed to be more serious, that our problem was trying to mix humour with seriousness. Thinking of shows like MASH and Life is Beautiful, I didn’t think that was the issue, though it could well have confused the Development Committee. Rob also objected to the CBC’s obvious efforts to make the show “stealth” science fiction. They didn’t want the show to be overtly about science fiction and fantasy. They wanted it to be something else that happened to include science fiction and fantasy. I agreed with Rob on this point. There seemed to be a slight bias against science fiction and fantasy. And not only that: against radio plays, too. Against storytelling. Against the representational. (This would be made abundantly clear when the entire radio drama department was shut down a few short years later, ostensibly as a response to financial pressures.)

Which was too bad. Because by now I had refined the concept even further. I was thinking that the host should be a sonic sorcerer, with the power to do anything, be anywhere. This concept, coupled with effective, liberal use of sound effects, would have several virtues. It would allow us to harness the enormous imaginative potential of radio. If the host wanted to be on the surface of Mars, he could be there in the blink of an eye—faster than light, if you will.  If he wanted to lasso a comet by the tail, he could.  He could pilot a spaceship, visit Heaven or Hell, single-handedly battle an army of knights… or simply conduct an interview. It solved the conceptual problem of how to veer from the fantastic portions of the show’s “frame” to the magazine elements of the show:  


FEMALE VOICE: (TREATED) Incoming vessel. You have three seconds to identify yourself before we open fire.

HOST: (TWO SECOND BEAT)  (TREATED)  I’m Robert J. Sawyer, commanding Faster Than Light on CBC Radio. Be advised that if you open fire, we will respond.

FEMALE VOICE: Acknowledged, Faster Than Light.  What, may I ask, will you respond with?

ROB:   How about an interview with Canadian Independent author Maaja Wentz?

You see how it would work? Playful and imaginative. Veering seamlessly from fantasy to reality. It would itself be science fiction and fantasy while presenting the same to our listeners.

Alas, it never happened. The committee never did say no outright, but the truth is, Faster Than Light as we conceived of it never stood much of a chance. What we wanted to do was too much at odds with what the powers that be at the time were willing to let us do. Greg Sinclair was head of the drama department at the time (but did not represent the Program Development Committee… I felt he was on my side). We discussed the project and mutually decided to pull the plug. To make it work for the CBC, we were going to have to turn it into a show that none of us believed in or wanted to do. Greg informed Rob Sawyer.

We never got the green light that I had dreamed about for so long.

Rollback, by Robert J. Sawyer

Still, I wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything. I’m proud of all three pilots. Rob and I became friends. I thank him for his generosity and time in trying to make it work. Later, he asked me to read and comment on the third draft of his novel Rollback (about a man and a woman in their eighties who agree to undergo a procedure to make them younger. It only works on the man. Of course, this has huge implications on their relationship. It’s a great read.) Rob made the protagonist a CBC Recording Engineer/Producer, which is what I aspired to be. He also featured me as a character in the novel, on page ninety-nine.

I went back to my normal life working on other people’s radio shows. That year CBC Radio launched a show called WireTap. I could barely make myself listen to it, out of jealousy, I suppose. Finally listening to an episode one day, I found myself impressed. I wrote the producers of Wiretap and told them how much I liked the episode, which had included some scby Roience fiction. I used my cbc.ca email address so that they would know that it came from a colleague. Nobody from the show ever responded.

Had I managed to get Faster Than Light on the air, I would have personally responded to every single email the show received.                      

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:


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



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.




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?


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 –


16. KARIN:     — work, is all.




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?


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.


28. CHOKI:  There.  Is that enough?

29. KARIN: Yes, thank you.

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

31. KARIN: Captain?


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

34. KARIN: Be my guest.


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

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


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.


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 –


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!




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 –


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




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 —


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.


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


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!


85. KARIN: Ooh!

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


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… 


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


96. KARIN: Oh!


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?


End of Episode One




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?


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…


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!


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…!


35. CHOKI: Ooof!

36. KARIN: Mr. Snodgrass!

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





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…


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 —


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?



End of Episode Two



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…! 


6. SNODGRASS:   I just insert the…



9. SNODGRASS: Turn it on, and…


11. KARIN: Oh…!  Oh, it hurts! 

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


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 –


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.



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

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



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…


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…



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?


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…


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



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




73. SNODGRASS:  What the…?




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


End of Episode Three



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


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.


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. 


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…


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

21. CHOKI: Just… you just have to –


23. KARIN: (BIG SIGH) Thanks.

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


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—


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.


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…


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.


58. KARIN: Stop the car.

59. CHOKI: Captain…

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


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!


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.


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.


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


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


End of Episode Four



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…


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


38. CHOKI: Kimay, we have the captain.


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


42. CHOKI: Understood.



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.


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!


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


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!



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.


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!


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)





End of Episode Five


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.

Requiem for a Studio

212 -- Studio Floor
Me on studio floor of 212

One of a series of posts about working at CBC Radio back in the day.

(Here’s some more).

I loved working in Studio 212.

Studio 212 was our dream studio. It was the Radio Drama Studio in the Toronto Broadcast Centre, the successor to Studio G on Jarvis Street. It was a one-of-a-kind facility, built for the express purpose of producing theatre-of-the-mind, painstakingly designed to provide creative teams the ability to replicate acoustic environments with maximum flexibility.

I spent most of my time in Studio 212’s control room sitting behind a Neve Capricorn recording console (later, a Euphonix System 5). Typically, a recording engineer and a sound effects engineer would sit behind the console looking out over the production floor. There was a credenza behind them, beneath which sat patch bays and outboard processing gear such as effects and reverb units. Directors, writers, and associate producers would sit behind the credenza during recording and mix sessions, ordering the engineers around.

Writers J. Michael Straczynski and Samm Barnes behind Studio 212 Control Room credenza

Behind the control room was an equipment room. It housed the brains of the recording console, and doubled as a shortcut from the east side of the building to the west for those of us in the know.

The control room of Studio 212 was a hub, surrounded by several other rooms which served as different acoustic spaces in which to record actors. In front of the control room was the main studio floor, the largest and arguably most impressive space. The studio floor was deep and wide and two stories high. There were different materials on the floor to approximate different walking surfaces, among them wood, marble, and concrete. Two staircases led to a balcony. The staircase on the right (looking out from the control room) had two different surfaces (a good idea in theory, but in practice there wasn’t much difference between them acoustically). The winding staircase on the left was made of metal, and was perfect for approximating the sounds of stairs on ships and in prisons.

Close your eyes. Can you hear the difference?

There were baffles on the studio floor that you could wheel around to create smaller acoustic spaces. Each baffle had two sides: a soft, sound absorbing surface, and a hard, reflective surface. Which side you used depended on what kind of acoustic environment you wished to replicate. A small closet? Place an actor and your microphone inside three baffles and allow the actor’s voice to reflect off the hard surfaces. A living room? Four or five baffles with soft surfaces underneath the balcony. A castle, church, or gymnasium? Use the entire space augmented by a couple of mics on the balcony and maybe a soupçon of electronic reverb (which I always called “schmoo”, as in, “a little schmoo on that will help,” because that’s what CBC recording engineer Doug Doctor calls it).

Studio 212 Stairs

At the far end of the main studio floor was a combination kitchen/bathroom. It had a working stove, fridge, and bathtub. There were tons of dishes, pots, and pans in the cupboards. It’s said that they were originally going to put a working toilet in there but they were afraid that people would use it, and it wouldn’t get cleaned, and it would just get ugly. They were probably right. This space was relatively small and covered in ceramic tiles. It was perfect for recording kitchens and bathrooms (obviously) but served equally well for jail cells and locker rooms—any small, acoustically live environment.

Sometimes we’d make a mess in the kitchen

To the immediate right of the control room was a room we called The Neutral Room because it sounded, well, neutral.

Behind the control room, to the left of the equipment room, lay a room we called The Office. I’ll leave it to the discerning reader to determine what sorts of scenes we recorded in there.

To the right of the main studio floor was a tiny closet of a room with a sliding glass door. We called this the Acoustic Chamber. It became the default room for recording actors who were supposed to be in cars. Once I rented a car with a big trunk to do a remote in Niagara-on-the-lake. An associate producer came with me. On the way back, as we were talking, it occurred to me that our voices sounded exactly like actors recorded in the Acoustic Chamber. So it certainly worked as a double for at least one make of car: a Toyota Echo Hatchback.

Or sometimes we’d record car
scenes this way

Left of the main studio floor, through an acoustically reinforced door, was a long hallway that ended in a small chamber. Every surface in this space except for the floor was covered with Sonex Acoustical Foam, a sound absorbing material. The idea was that if you spoke in this room, your voice would not reflect off any surfaces. It would sound the way your voice would sound outside in the real world, theoretically. If you shouted down the hallway, which was something like thirty feet long, you would sound as though you were shouting across a large pond or a football field. If you spoke in the chamber at the end of the hall, you might sound the way you would on the beach. We called this room the Dead Room. Matt Willcott, one of our sound effects engineers, told me that he wanted to write an autobiography called “Live Effects in a Dead Room.” He’s long since retired and should have it mostly written by now.

Cynthia Dale in the Dead Room, as seen from a monitor in the Control Room. There’s a gaping hole in the wall left of the monitor because the other monitor fell out one day.

The floor of the corridor in the Dead Room consisted of shallow boxes. If you lifted the covers off these boxes, you would find several different types of surfaces: small rocks, pebbles, sand. Not often, but every now and then, we would have actors or our sound effects engineers walk on these surfaces to simulate walking on different surfaces. Rather less sophisticated, but no less effective, we also kept a medium-sized cardboard box in the Dead Room. It was filled with old quarter inch audio tape that had been liberated from its reels. When actors walked on this old audiotape, it sounded like they were walking on dead leaves.

SFX beneath floor in Dead Room (photo courtesy of Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail)
SFX beneath floor in Dead Room
(photo courtesy of Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail)

All our outdoor scenes (well, the ones not actually recorded outdoors) were recorded in the Dead Room. Properly done it worked pretty well, especially after you added outdoor ambiances to the voice tracks such as wind or rain or automobiles or ocean surf. If you tried to fake it by recording outdoor scenes in one of the other spaces, spaces meant for interior recording, listeners might not realize what you had done, but psycho-acoustically they would register that something wasn’t quite right.

You had to be careful though. Not every spot in the Dead Room worked well. If you placed your microphone too close to a wall, even with Sonex Acoustic Foam lining the walls, the actors’ voices would reflect back and sound boxy. So they might sound like they were at the beach, but inside a wooden box.

Leaves the old fashioned way (Photo courtesy Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail)
Leaves the old fashioned way
(Photo courtesy Moe Doiron/The Globe and Mail)

Of course, outside in the real world there are many opportunities for sound to reflect off various surfaces. Often when I was recording outside on location I would find myself up against a brick wall or a wooden house or some other place that flavoured my recordings with odd reflections and other unique characteristics. So although the Dead Room provided an excellent approximation of outdoor environments, and allowed engineers a lot more control than might have been possible recording outdoors, nothing beat actually recording outdoors. Also, actors sometimes found it hard to be cooped up in the Dead Room for too long—you could start to feel a bit peculiar in there after a while. Which could be why one day shortly after the Dead Room was built, one actor carved her initials in the acoustic foam. It was never repaired, and she was never invited back.

The hall of Studio 212’s Deadroom

It could be said that studio 212 was ever-so-slightly over-engineered. I’ve already mentioned the staircase with the two surfaces that weren’t that much different from one another acoustically. If you really wanted to get fancy, you could place your microphone underneath an array of baffles permanently affixed to the ceiling (called “The Cloud”.) You could flip those baffles to either hard or soft surfaces using a long pole that we kept attached to a nearby wall. When I first started working in 212, I would dutifully flip the ceiling baffles depending on my acoustic requirements, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that it didn’t have much of an impact. Rarely was an actor’s mouth directed toward the heavens. Some of the floor surfaces were equally ineffective. They differed from one another so subtly that you couldn’t hear any difference between them, especially with actors wearing sneakers. We rarely used footsteps anyway—start putting footsteps in your radio plays and the next thing you know it’ll be all about the footsteps; you’ll drive yourself nuts. Just put them in where you absolutely need to.

But far be it from me to nitpick about such a unique studio. I shall not look upon its like again.

A Dramatic Turn of Events

In nineteen ninety-six, I auditioned to be in a play called Anybody for Murder for the Milton Players Theatre Group. Hoping for a supporting role, I landed the lead. Not trying to brag here; the director just typecast me as a conniving, murderous bastard.

It was a challenging role. Scads of dialogue on every page, all to be delivered in a pompous British accent. Having been weaned on Monty Python as a kid I didn’t think the accent would be a problem.

I trotted forth my best British accent for the read-through.

Susan Cranford, the director, happened to be from Liverpool (I think). She stopped me after a couple of pages: “Do you think you could do even a tiny bit of a British accent?”

The Milton Players are currently performing out of here, the Milton Centre for the Arts. (When I performed with them it was in a paper bag in the middle of a sceptic tank.)
The Milton Players are currently performing out of here, the Milton Centre for the Arts. (When I performed with them it was in a paper bag in the middle of a sceptic tank.)

Intensive accent training followed. Half the battle, Susan told me, was simply to enunciate every word. She reserved special coaching for words like “water” and “theatre” (“WOO-tah” and “thee-EH-tuh.” Or something like that). Fortunately I didn’t have to ad-lib in a British accent. I just had a select vocabulary that needed to sound British. If I got it wrong, Susan corrected me. I don’t expect I even came close to nailing it, but after one performance, someone told me I sounded like Carey Grant, who was known for his “transatlantic” accent. Not exactly what I’d been going for, but I guess it could have been worse.

Susan’s other wish was that I sport a moustache. I had largely given up on moustaches after an ill-advised attempt to grow one in my late teens, but no sacrifice was too great for my art, so I dutifully grew a prim and proper affair that elicited shudders from my colleagues at CBC.

Performing in Anybody for Murder under Susan’s direction was a great experience (one that deserves its own blog post). I wish I could have participated in more such productions. Still, that single experience was sufficient to have a profound impact on my career at the CBC.

Soon after my moustache had firmly established itself on my upper lip, I ran into CBC Recording Engineer John McCarthy at the St. Andrew Subway station. Although both of us were techs for CBC Radio, we didn’t really know one another. There were about eighty radio technicians working for the CBC at the time, and we didn’t all run in the same circles. John was ten years older than me and a high-end recording engineer working in Radio Drama. I was a Group 4 radio technician doing a stint for the French services. Until this day we’d barely spoken, and had it not been for the moustache, it might have remained that way.

Spotting me on the subway platform, John approached me, peered at the hair on my lip, and said, “What—is—that—THING—underneath your nose?”

Okay, he didn’t say that. But he did make some crack about the moustache.

Slightly embarrassed by it, I said, “It’s for a play I’m in.”

This immediately piqued John’s interest. “You’re into the theatre?”

I confessed that I was.

Unbeknownst to me, John was on the look-out for a new Radio Drama recording engineer. Had it not been for the moustache, I might never have mentioned the play. Had I not mentioned the play, John might never have invited me to join the Radio Drama department, and the rest of my life might have unspooled completely differently.

Though it remained a somewhat circuitous journey.

My friend Greg DeClute was already a recording engineer for Radio Drama, along with John, Janice Bayer, Drago Grandic, John Marynowicz, and sound effects engineers Anton Szabo, Joe Hill, and Matt Wilcott.

I remember Greg DeClute in particular in our early days as radio technicians. Greg was always reading manuals and spending as much time as he could in Studio G. It was clear that he was going places. Janice Bayer, too. Myself, I didn’t particularly aspire to be a high-end engineer. I had other plans. I was going to leave the CBC and become a full time writer or direct films or something. I was never quite clear on exactly how or when this would happen, but I had no doubt that it would happen (it hasn’t happened yet).

Also, I didn’t particularly self-identify as a tech the same way that Greg and Janice did. To me, the gear was a means to an end. True techs, it seemed to me, fawned over gear like lovers. They liked it for its own sake. I wasn’t interested in reading manuals from cover to cover, back then. I just wanted to know as much as I needed to know to make the gear do what I needed it to do.

I would come to change my mind about that.

Shortly after my encounter with John, somebody—I can’t remember who, it might have been Operations Manager Charlie Cheffins—mentioned that drama was looking for someone to replace Janice, who was leaving the CBC. Would I be interested in throwing my hat in the ring?

Surprisingly, looking back at it, I said no.

I wasn’t looking for change right then. I’d just gotten married and didn’t want to have to worry about learning a new job. Radio Drama seemed like a high pressure environment. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a part of all that. I just wanted to park my brain at the door for a while.

My friend Wayne Richards got the job instead.

(To be clear, he might have gotten it anyway even if I had thrown my hat in the ring.)

Fast forward to nineteen-ninety nine.

I’d had it with CJBC. I had come to regard it as a trap. The work had become quite boring; I couldn’t imagine doing it for the rest of my career. So I approached Charlie Cheffins about a new gig. There were a few possibilities. I could go back to the tech pool. I could join Radio Music as a Music Recording Engineer. Or…

“What about Radio Drama?” Charlie asked me.

“Nah,” I said. “I hear they’re kind of snooty.”

Again, looking back I’m amazed that I said that. I don’t think I actually felt that way for more than the few seconds it took me to say it. I think I was actually afraid that they wouldn’t have me.

But I wasn’t the only one with reservations. Greg DeClute was afraid that I got bored too easily. He knew that I’d recently taken a year off to study French in France and didn’t want to invest a lot of time training me only to have me take off again. There had already been too much turnover in Radio Drama. He wanted someone he could count on to stick around.

But Greg came around, and so did I.

Me in Radio Drama Studio 212
Me in Radio Drama Studio 212

And John hadn’t forgotten our conversation on the subway platform.

One day, while working in studio 522, the phone rang. It was John, asking if I’d be interested in coming to work for the Radio Drama department.

You bet, I told him. And instantly became quite excited at the prospect. I couldn’t wait to start.

A few weeks later I moved to 2F100 with the rest of the Radio Drama Recording and Sound Effects Engineers, and began a career in Radio Drama, that, despite Greg’s concerns, would last until shortly before they shut the place down.

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