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January 10, 2005 9:30 AM   Subscribe

The Dark Room Magic of NPR.
posted by anathema (58 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
"We also learn the Car Talk guys sometimes pipe in their own recorded laughter to goose their seemingly off-the-cuff humor."

That's kinda creeps me out, after all these years of listening to the brothers crack up about cars for an hour. Now I get this image of a couple of cynical pros, too old to fake their once spontaneous laughter...
posted by kozad at 9:44 AM on January 10, 2005


And NPR pipes their daily promos (commercials) over the satellite with a blank spot at the end and through the magic of studio wizardry they mix prerecorded local tags (the program host shouting out your local station - ie. Diane Rehm saying: tonight on WYSO) over the end of the promo and cart it up and it subliminally fools people into thinking they are paying specific attention to your tiny little backwater market when really they only had to acknowledge your pathetic little existence once or twice.
posted by 31d1 at 9:52 AM on January 10, 2005


Oh man, does this mean the howls of laughter heard on Marian Mcpartland's Piano Jazz are canned too?
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 9:53 AM on January 10, 2005


Who wasn't aware that NPR interviews were edited to cut out "uhm's" and "uhh's", as well as awkward pauses in the interviews? The interviews have to fit in a time slot, and any extraneous stuff just gets cut out. Why is this surprising?

Who also wasn't aware that sometimes the interviews aren't "live," meaning the questions were asked on-site, but then re-recorded in studio for better quality, and mixed with the subject's responses?
posted by odinsdream at 9:53 AM on January 10, 2005


Click! Clack! Say it ain't so!
posted by kenko at 9:53 AM on January 10, 2005


That was pretty intriguing, thanks! Seems like nobody seems to mind as long as it makes you sound better. The editing is also absolutely seamless, especially if you don't know about it.
posted by swordfishtrombones at 9:54 AM on January 10, 2005


31d1, is this seriously not common knowledge? I'm baffled right now. All forms of syndicated media integrate with the local content, your newspaper does this (look in the bylines for attribution to a national source), and your cable TV station does this. Why is this surprising?
posted by odinsdream at 9:55 AM on January 10, 2005


Oh, come on... 99% (yes, exaggeration) of what you hear over the radio in the US these days isn't local. Morning shows (even those that purport to be local and contain localized elements) are streamed out of some basement space in Kansas City or something. Is this a surprise?

On preview: *moment of hesitation but will post anyway*
posted by socratic at 9:59 AM on January 10, 2005


Exactly as odinsdream said. Editing for time contraints and content relevance is common, and to simply have the piece sound presentable.

Mind you, this is for pre-recorded pieces only, not the live broadcasts, and this is standard in all broadcasting, both radio public and commercial and television, public and commercial.

I can't answer for the Car Talk programming, though in some programming we do have to push the bar. One unsaid announcer who hosts a weekly program requires very detailed editing - that of a wheezing breath in between sentences. And again, this is to clean up the program to keep the content listenable, but not to alter the content or manipulate the listener response.
posted by bluedaniel at 10:00 AM on January 10, 2005


If only they could only do something about Garrison Keillor's whistling nose hair
(shudder)
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 10:02 AM on January 10, 2005


They need to do more work on Terry Gross's questions. They always seem to ramble on about 10 seconds too long.
posted by effwerd at 10:06 AM on January 10, 2005


Other than the Car Talk laughter, none of tis is especially shocking. Actually, one of the most annoying things I've read is a book of interviews with Brion Gysin where every "uh" was lovingly transcribed. Damn near unreadable. It's good to clean that shit up.

Also, I've heard that in real life Ira Glass sounds just like Barry White.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 10:06 AM on January 10, 2005


I notice they turn up the bass response of voices as well. This is particularly noticeable on female voices, which tends to make them sound like they are reporting during an orgasm.... that bassy, sultry sound.

One thing they do that annoys me to no end (I really need to write them about it) is when, in the interest of selling the authenticity of location, they add in (or perhaps at time, just leave in) ambient noises including car horns, emergency sirens and cell phone rings. This should be outlawed during shows that are targeted to drive times; more than once I've responded to such noises by looking around to see who honked at me.

It's supposed to be a news magazine, not theater.
posted by Doohickie at 10:08 AM on January 10, 2005


Odinsdream - I guess I was thinking "If you think thats news, you might also find this surprising also." I should have held my, erm, tongue.
posted by 31d1 at 10:29 AM on January 10, 2005


Sorry, I didn't mean to come off as confrontational. I'm really just genuinely surprised that there would be people listening to NPR who weren't aware of these facts.

I mean, are people listening to the local Top 50 station thinking that Matchbox 20 really knows who the hell listens to that station just because they recorded a snippet of "Hey, this is ___ from Matchbox 20 and you're listening to [station-ID]..."

It would be the same as pointing out that in Independence Day, New York really wasn't blown up, but that it was actually just special effects. I really thought this stuff was obvious, I guess I might just be mistaken - anywho... no offence was intended.
posted by odinsdream at 10:41 AM on January 10, 2005


The only thing that EVER bugged me about Bob Edwards was that it always seemed like he was reading the questions to correspondents in the editing room, after the correspondents' words were already on tape. It always seemed canned.

Other than that I do not mind editing to make stuff sound better .. it IS radio, after all, and sound is pretty much all they have to work with.
posted by Danf at 10:47 AM on January 10, 2005


Who wasn't aware that NPR interviews were edited to cut out "uhm's" and "uhh's", as well as awkward pauses in the interviews?

I wasn't. Seriously. Many times I've wondered why interview subjects seem so much more articulate and polished on NPR than on other stations. This is particularly true when they interview some popular culture figure who seems to suddenly speak as smoothly as Peter Jennings. (Can't think of any examples offhand, unfortunately).

Who also wasn't aware that sometimes the interviews aren't "live,"

This I was aware of.
posted by pardonyou? at 10:52 AM on January 10, 2005


...in Independence Day, New York really wasn't blown up, but that it was actually just special effects...

If Bill Pullman was really president, and the movie gave any indication that it was factual, then I'd buy that analogy. I can totally understand why people might be upset and initially surprised about this. I know I was. But after thinking about it for about 15 seconds, I realized that if I heard every "um" and "er" and "whoops, I dropped the phone", I'd turn it off.

It's like the difference between the way I talk and the way I post comments on the Internets.
posted by Plutor at 10:52 AM on January 10, 2005


I was going to snark about speeding up Diane Rehm's speaking voice until just now I learned it's a neurological condition. I feel like a jerk now.

Thanks for the link. I actually didn't even consider they might edit the interviews to clean them up. It just never occured to me. So I guess I'm one of the few who found this very enlightening.
posted by OpinioNate at 10:53 AM on January 10, 2005


It wasn't news to me but I thought the two audio streams were interesting. The Car Talk thing was actually a little shocking, if only because over the years they have lulled me into a sense of familiarity.
posted by anathema at 10:53 AM on January 10, 2005


I had to clean up and edit an interview while going through the initiation process at the local university station. From experience, removing um's, ah's, and awkward pauses transparently can be terribly awkward sounding if done lazily. I'm at work, so I haven't heard the feature mentioned, but one trick they might have mentioned is "room tone". Before or after an interview, we were told to record a minute or so of ambient room noise that could be inserted in places where a reflective pause, but not an "uhhhhhhh" would sound nice. Other things to watch out for were "popped" or excessively hard consonant sounds, hissing s's, and sudden intonation jumps after removing an "um".

When reading scripts for broadcast and going for that "radio voice", we were told to arc our vocal intonation over sentences or complete thoughts. So if we read, "Today in Sri Lanka relief efforts continue despite cries of difficulty from aid workers," your pitch would be highest at "continue", probably, and end on a note at or slightly below what was used for "Today".

It was an interesting set of lessons, and kind of changed how I listen to the radio.
posted by rfordh at 10:53 AM on January 10, 2005


<homer_simpson_voice>Mmmm ... media sausage</homer_simpson_voice>

I've often suspected that audio on NPR was cleaned up, in the same way that I suspected that "reality" tv shows were scripted. So, it's nice to see a piece that confirms my gut.

I, for one, am not surprised that those Tappet Bros. fiddle with their shows. I've been listening to them for, geez, 15 years now (is that possible?) and I don't believe anybody can find car humor that hilarious year after year. I have a hunch there's more monkey business going on in that show than was divulged by this article, I think it's largely a cut n' paste affair over there at CarTalk Plaza. Has anybody noticed how Tom has kinda dropped back ant let Ray field most of the technical issues these days? He was always the goofball, but he used to have much more to contribute content-wise.

Don't get me wrong, I still listen, and I don't even drive a car.
posted by bicyclingfool at 10:56 AM on January 10, 2005


This American Life had a story where they talk about it a bit more and show how the editing process sounds. It may have been the same show where they also had a bit where they helped a stuttering kid express his ire at the impatient phone attendant at the pizza place by editing out his hesitations.
posted by abcde at 10:58 AM on January 10, 2005


Knowing someone who has been on the show, Car Talk is not done live, either. When you call in, you leave a message. They'll then call you back to see if you seem interesting, then call you back again later when they're taping the next show. Then it's all edited and the studio magic is done. This also gives Click n' Clack time to diagnose your problem instead of coming up with it off the air.
posted by zsazsa at 11:04 AM on January 10, 2005


(on the air)
posted by zsazsa at 11:05 AM on January 10, 2005


This is interesting because on Friday I was listening to Kofi Annan's comments on the tsunami devastation. I was annoyed (for no reason whatsoever) that he stumbled in the middle of his comments - actually thinking: "well he just hosed a promising sound bite"

Well, it was a sound bite all the same, and the same quote was replayed at the hourly news. Again I said to myself I said "self," I said "that's one annoying flub".

On the evening All Things Considered news the flub had been taken out and the quote was "fixed". It reminded me of a class discussion on "is it okay to airbrush out the Diet Coke can from the picture of the local politician's desk in the newspaper"

It's not true . . uh . . whatever it's supposed to be.

Also, I've heard that in real life Ira Glass sounds just like Barry White.
Actually he sounds exactly like Ira Glass. It's a little disconcerting.
posted by petebest at 11:06 AM on January 10, 2005


When I was little, and had a small black AM/FM radio I would listen to in my room, I always assumed that bands were peforming live in the studio each time their song was played.

This, of course, evolved from my idea that they were actually performing in my radio.
posted by tpl1212 at 11:13 AM on January 10, 2005


You would think they could do something about Joanne Silburner's voice as well. Every time she comes on I have to turn the radio way down. Her voice drives me nuts. It's like fingernails on a chalkboard.
posted by internal at 11:26 AM on January 10, 2005


I hear Fresh Air had to do 15 takes to get the O'Reilly walk-out just right.
posted by fleacircus at 11:29 AM on January 10, 2005


Now if they could edit out that jowely lip smacking sound Karl Castle makes. Drink some water, DAMNIT!
posted by drezdn at 11:31 AM on January 10, 2005


I notice they turn up the bass response of voices as well. This is particularly noticeable on female voices, which tends to make them sound like they are reporting during an orgasm.... that bassy, sultry sound.

I worked at NDPR for a short stint this summer editing- I can say from experience that they're not (well, at least I wasn't) EQ'ing the bass up on male or female vocals- rather, it's the way a mic sounds when your mouth is about 3 inches from it. Think about a woman talking right in your ear and you'll understand how it would sound.

I edited lots of shows this summer, mostly local stuff with host Merrill Piepkorn. It was great fun, but it can get a little insane when you spend your days chopping somebody's mouth noises out of their speech.

It does sound ridiculous when done wrong, though. You have to be skilled at spacing things just so.
posted by fake at 11:35 AM on January 10, 2005


The amusing thing here is that a similar story about Fox News would have been termed an "expose" and there would be much frothing about integrity.
posted by soulhuntre at 11:41 AM on January 10, 2005


The amusing thing here is some people's ability to imagine a situation where their side is being persecuted, and then pre-emptively whine about how persecuted they are.
posted by COBRA! at 11:43 AM on January 10, 2005


I was once interviewed "by Bob Edwards," and never spoke to him at all. I was asked the questions by a producer, and he was recorded (asking the exact same questions) and inserted later.

It was hard to tell my very excited relatives that, no, I couldn't tell them what Bob Edwards was REALLY like.
posted by esperluette at 11:50 AM on January 10, 2005


You would think they could do something about Joanne Silburner's voice as well.

Yes, please! There's like a strange "click" in her throat or nasal passage that drives me nuts.

They also need to take the marbles out of Daniel Schorr's mouth, too. And, while I'm asking for ponies, they need to stop that pretentious thing where Schorr speaks his first sentence, then an anchor comes in and "introduces" him as the "Senior News Analyst."
posted by pardonyou? at 11:55 AM on January 10, 2005


Perhaps it would be interesting to compare NPR to commercial radio. Two things come to mind that I found interesting upon learning:

1) While all radio stations edit to some extent, the NPR folks have tended to do minimal edits - removing um and ahs and condensing long silences, but leaving shorter silences, pauses for breathing, and the like, in. This is to reduce listener fatigue - if you listen to a promo on a commercial station they can be pretty ruthless in clipping out all silences between words - mostly for squeezinginthemostinformationintoa30secondspotthattheypossiblycan. It can still sound natural, but subliminally you get tired of hearing someone go on and on without needing to take a breath. Perhaps some of the established NPR shows are getting a bit slicker and edit happy and this could be cause for concern?

2) NPR stations tend to use less compression than commercial stations. Lowering loud peaks and raising quiet troughs in a soundwave makes the broadcast signal seem louder than another of equal strength, and commercial radio stations definitely compete with each other in that area. However, compression sacrifices dynamic range, which is of course very important in music, and when you lose dynamic range in a voiceover you tend to also get listening fatigue CAUSEEVERYTHINGISALSOONELOUDVOLUME.

Does this account for why NPR seems to soothe so many who cannot otherwise stand to listen to the radio? Is there a trend toward competing with commercial radio, and losing these subtle but possibly important standards?
posted by 31d1 at 11:58 AM on January 10, 2005


Heh. How fitting. Just now during the 3:00pm new update they didn't edit George W. Bush beginning to say "erection in Iraq" instead of "election."
posted by anathema at 12:08 PM on January 10, 2005


I was going to snark about speeding up Diane Rehm's speaking voice until just now I learned it's a neurological condition. I feel like a jerk now.

I went through the same snark/learning experience. I've now come full-circle. I think she should be off the air. If she wants to be executive producer, that's fine, but I almost ALWAYS turn the dial as soon as I realize it's her show coming on, unless I desprerately want information about the show topic (and I mean pretty desperate). Sometimes I listen to see if a guest host is handling the show, and turn as soon as I hear that she is doing it.

I'm sure she's a nice lady and all that, but I think the reason she is still on is the tagline at the end of the show when they say "Funding for the Diane Rehm Show was provided by..." She has loyal sponsors; that's the only reason she's still on the air, imo.
posted by Doohickie at 12:11 PM on January 10, 2005


That and she does a great show.
posted by effwerd at 12:12 PM on January 10, 2005


Oops, I meant Daniel Schorr.

I wonder where they get the smooth and smarmy filter though?
posted by drezdn at 12:24 PM on January 10, 2005


"Are we off the air? Good. Well, that oughta hold the little bastards..."
posted by gimonca at 12:30 PM on January 10, 2005


RE: Diane Rehm

She's very good at putting together cogent ideas and expressing them, but her slow delivery is extremely distracting to me. Especially when you have a guest that has very rapid speech patterns, then Diane comes in and slows the pace again. Kinda feels like a stop-start motion that makes me seasick. Rhythm and pace are two very key ingredients to an entertaining discourse, IMO.

I stand by my withheld snark though. It's not her fault I don't like her.
posted by OpinioNate at 12:46 PM on January 10, 2005


31d1: Heh, same reason music has been getting harder and harder to listen to - though that's gotten to the point where most songs even clip they're so loud. The loudness arms race is reaching a standoff, I bet.
posted by abcde at 12:51 PM on January 10, 2005


drezdn: Funny, I associate Daniel Schorr with Carl Kassell too.
posted by abcde at 1:00 PM on January 10, 2005


If you didn't know NPR edited interviews, you should have heard Ice Cube's interview today.
Not a single asshole, shit or fuck. ;-P
posted by mischief at 1:35 PM on January 10, 2005


I, for one, am not surprised that those Tappet Bros. fiddle with their shows. I've been listening to them for, geez, 15 years now (is that possible?) and I don't believe anybody can find car humor that hilarious year after year.

My one claim to fame is that I was on Car Talk about a year ago. I called and left a message regarding my stick shift. They called back a couple days later and said that if they decided to use my call, they would call me between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. on Wednesday. I got home from work at about 5 a.m. and was asleep when a woman called and put me on hold for about 15 minutes. When Click & Clack finally came on the line, they were rather rude and sexist ("Hellooo... are you there? Were you in the bathroom or what?" "You sound sweet and sexy--I bet your husband really thinks you're sexy.") I sweated it out til I listened to the show on Saturday, and all that was edited out and they sounded like the jovial duo that I was used to. The whole thing was quite disconcerting.
posted by leftcoastbob at 1:58 PM on January 10, 2005


I don't even know who Diane Rehm is. *cries* Nope, doesn't look like MPR carries her.
posted by graventy at 2:04 PM on January 10, 2005


They also need to take the marbles out of Daniel Schorr's mouth, too.

Funny, I've frequently wanted a "SchorrMachine" into which I could feed some text and have his voice speak it out. For some reason, whenever I'm having a tough time understanding a difficult concept, it helps to "hear" Daniel Schorr reading to me.
posted by Dean King at 2:05 PM on January 10, 2005


Wait....so leftcoastbob is a woman? Huh.
posted by graventy at 2:05 PM on January 10, 2005


Wait....so leftcoastbob is a woman? Huh.

And your point is.....
posted by leftcoastbob at 2:26 PM on January 10, 2005


I worked as a journalist for a few years and I would always cut out the "errrs" and "uhms" from written interviews. We were told that this gave a slightly ...uhmmm... crisper look to the article.
posted by Panfilo at 3:18 PM on January 10, 2005


I've been missing Corva Coleman lately: Laxmi Singh seems to be doing a lot of newsreading these days, and while she's got a nice, crisp delivery, Corva's voice is a bucket of melted butter pouring all over the headlines.
posted by moonbird at 3:36 PM on January 10, 2005


...and for those of you in Philly, give props to Marty Moss-Coane for me.
posted by moonbird at 3:39 PM on January 10, 2005


Nothing, nothing. The bob part threw me, is all.
posted by graventy at 4:06 PM on January 10, 2005


Doohickie: I went through the same experience and now am in the same position as you. I was pretty surprised to find out they still let her on the air after her neurological condition.
posted by puke & cry at 5:45 PM on January 10, 2005


1. There's nothing underhanded about the editing NPR does. All good content is edited (sorry MeFi, I love ya, but...). Imagine how readable your newspaper or favorite magazine would be if reporters' work was unedited; typos, badly constructed sentences, weird lead paragraphs, lack of focus. Editorial oversight is what gives content its coherent style and unique polish, and maintains its focus on its mission. You could also compare this to bands. Most bands make musical choices in the studio as to the types of production they prefer. If you want to get upset about misleading production, explore the studio recording process. I recently learned to do audio editing at my community radio station, and I can vouch for the fact that even 10 minutes of unedited tape is fairly grueling to listen to -- lots of wheezing, chuffing, coughing, masticating, ugh.

2. It's interesting to note the range of strong feeling about various voices (Diane Rehm, Daniel Schorr, etc). I think what's great is that they're all distinct. It is sort of remarkeable that you can turn on NPR, and within seconds place a name to the voice you are hearing without any ID. I like to think this is intentional, and that even though a voice may drive you nuts, it's distinctive.

My most hated voice: well, she's not on NPR anymore, but Kartherine Lanphere, who left public radio to work with Al Franken on Air America, has the phoniest voice and laugh I've ever heard. I also cringe at the sound of Liane Hansen, who's nasal and has a know-it-all voice -- but worse, she can barely hold herself back from solving weekend edition word puzzles for the listeneers.
posted by Miko at 7:36 AM on January 11, 2005


What's kinda cool about Diane Rehm's voice thing is that it's a condition where her vocal chords are involuntarly quavering, so as you listen to her over the course of time, it'll start out decent, get quaverier and quaverier, and then she'll go get a botox injection to paralyze those muscles in her throat, and come back and be much more listenable. It's why they have guest hosts so often.
posted by apathy0o0 at 5:29 PM on January 11, 2005


Dang, now you're making me feel bad about saying bad things about her. Poot.

I was pretty surprised to find out they still let her on the air after her neurological condition.

I'm kind of glad they kept her on, in a way. My secret fear is that they'll steal Glenn Mitchell from KERA and get him to do a national show. Life would be empty without Glenn's "Anything You Ever Wanted to Know®" in DFW.
posted by Doohickie at 6:52 PM on January 11, 2005


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