Week 2 – Learning by Listening to Radio Shows


Comments and reflections on This American Life: Episode 503 “I Was Just Trying To Help”

Prologue:  Sharon was a clerk for circuit court judge in Missouri. While she was at work, a man and a woman approached her looking for some paperwork so they could help out their brother, who was in prison for rape. The prisoner claimed he was innocent of the crime and had decided to file a motion for a DNA test. Sharon decided to help the man with the paperwork, which didn’t please her employer.

How was the story told?

The story of Sharon Snyder was told in the form of an interview that shifted back and forth between the interview dialogue and a monologue where the interviewer, Ira Glass, would pull the listener aside to either connect the dots with what Sharon just shared or fast forward along the story with a detail sequence of events and outcomes.  Every time Ira transitions to the monologue, a layer of music chimes in the background that carry a tone of slight suspense, allowing the listener to visualize a narrator stepping outside of the story to give the audience additional insight.  Towards the end of the interview, the producer introduces a layer of music to relays a feeling of resignation and closure as Sharon goes on to say how she’s accepted the outcomes of her “just trying to help.”

I’ve listen to variety of radio shows, usually NPR clips form my iPhone app in the morning while I’m prepping for the work day.  Many of the clips follow a similar story telling, real-world account of a subject matter expert, witness, or victim of an event.  Scrolling through my morning’s selection, I noticed that the layer of music towards the end of the Fresh Air segment on Noah.  It demarcates the closing credits of the show.

As I continued to wrap my head around the idea of using pauses and layers, I recalled an old 90s show called “Paker Lews Can’t Lose.”  The opening scene of the first episode is a perfect example of using layers of dialogue, music, and pauses to tell a story.  In this case, it’s the first episode, so a number of characters are being introduced and background story relayed to the audience in snippets.  It’s not a radio show, but if you listen to the audio only, you’ll appreciate the layers, music tone, and pause.



One thought on “Week 2 – Learning by Listening to Radio Shows

  1. Great observations on the layering of sounds on that episode. Did you get any sense of the shape of each segment of that show as a story, or the arc of the show as a whole?

    And you are right, that opening to Parker Lewis has all the same elements we are listening too. As well, the loud echoey sounds of when big Larry walks in- that is not the real sound of his shoes, but what we will practice in week 5- foley sound effects, greatly enhanced for effect.

    Beyond the layering, in both the NPR shows and the Parker Lewis, can you tune into the rapid pace of the editing, how it switches from the action in the moment, to the narrator’s perspective? How many times this switching goes on?

    Please remember to link to the This American Life episode when you introduce if! Also, you should be able to embed the youtube video directly into your post, rather then sending us away via a link. Just put the URL as plain text on its own line, and WordPress should be able to embed the video.

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