“Splash” by Rich Halten

I really enjoyed Rich Halten’s audio story “Splash” – the story of a suicide bridge jumper who survived his ordeal. It’s well worth your time to listen to this recording, originally produced for Public Radio.

Rich was kind enough to answer some questions I posed about his work.

Q1. On your website I see 2 pieces on Vietnam and 2 pieces on Latin/Spanish themes, plus some other stuff. How do you come up with ideas for your stories and is there any underlying connection between them all?

Halten: While I always have my antenna up for stories, there aren’t that many that stick — that make my socks roll up and down. But when a story does, it usually doesn’t let go — even if it takes months or even years to complete. Usually an obsession with a story comes from a personal connection. For example, the two pieces about Viet Nam are probably due to the fact that I was in the service during the war there — though not in Nam itself (I was lucky enough to be stationed at American Forces Radio in Germany). As for the Latin/Spanish flavored pieces, that’s simply because my wife is a college prof of Spanish and I usually tag along when she travels to Spain or Latin America, using the opportunity to produce some kind of audio

Q2. It looks like it takes 6-8 months to put together an audio story. How does that break down between dreaming up a story, planning, recording and editing?

Halten: Well, all I can say is it takes as long as it takes. For example, the piece called “Splash” that was featured on the Transom site. The inspiration came in 2007 when a chum from college told me about a mutual friend who was murdered by his ex-wife. She then drove to The Sunshine Skyway Bridge over Tampa Bay, jumped and survived. I’d seen plenty of coverage of people who died jumping from that bridge, but little about those who leaped and lived to tell about it. That got me started trying to track down a small group of survivors. Zero results. I finally found one guy who would tell his story. Fortunately he told it brilliantly and with nothing held back. Then it was contacting and recording counterpoints to his story in the form of people who deal with Skyway Bridge jumpers — fire/rescue EMT’s, suicide hotline counselors and a guy who publishes a web site chronicling jumps from the bridge. Working off and on — including editing and mixing — it took three years from the initial idea to finished product.

Other stories take far less time, so there’s no real time frame to produce one.

Q3. Can you describe your production process?

Halten: I don’t start the textbook way. That is, after recording all my interviews and location ambiences, I don’t make a detailed transcript, like radio courses teach. I have pretty good memory of the interviews I’ve recorded, including the best comments and what would make a good opening or closing statement. So I just jump in, doing what I imagine a sculptor does: chipping away at the material until a shape begins to emerge. As it does, two important parts of the post production process come into play.

First, I prefer a piece to be self-narrated — meaning the characters I’ve interviewed tell the story instead of the traditional voice of a narrator. That format takes longer because you’ve got to assemble all the pieces so that it makes sense without using a narrator for transitions and to move the story along. Second, because strong sound design usually plays a big part, I spend lots of time searching for music, sound effects and archival audio that will enhance a piece.

Q4. You’ve produced work for AARP, public radio and other venues. Do you line up a place to air your work prior to beginning? Or do you produce the piece and then contact various places to see if they’re interested? (Sorry – I know nothing about radio production and how that all happens.)

Halten: Here again, I’m kind of a renegade. The traditional route for independent public radio producers is to pitch an idea to a program. If the program gives a green light to start, the producer works closely with a show’s editor right up until completion.

I’ve tried that and didn’t have much success. Which is why I just decided to produce pieces my way and then try to find an audience. I don’t mean that to sound arrogant. It’s because I’m older and don’t have the time, or patience, to take baby steps up the ladder like somebody in their 20’s.

Of course, this pretty much excludes me from mainstream NPR shows. But I’d rather produce the stories I like the way I want, even if means they’re exposed to fewer ears.

Okay, in the name of full disclosure, I confess I’m able to work like this only because I’m semi-retired. And while I do make some money from work that airs, I don’t rely on it to make a living. For me, first and foremost, it’s a labor of love.

Q5. What type of gear do you use for your audio stories?

Halten: Various digital recorders with flash memory, such as the Sony PCM-10, which isn’t much bigger than a deck of cards. I put everything together using Pro Tools software on a Mac.

The affordability of equipment is one of the reasons I love working in radio. I always had a fantasy of directing and editing a film. With radio I don’t need a truck full of expensive equipment, a crew and deep pockets. I can fund it and do it all myself.

Besides, I started in radio at age 16, working after school and weekends as a DJ at my hometown station. Now, after a long career in advertising, I see what I’m doing as coming full circle. A return to my radio roots.

Q6. Plans for future audio stories?

Halten: I’ve got some germs of ideas, but nothing that’s going anywhere at the moment. However, if anybody you know has had a bad experience with the prescription sleep med Ambien, please email me at ambiendreams11@gmail.com

Speak Your Mind

*