Uncategorized | September 16, 2015


By Lise Saffran

I’ve been involved with The Missouri Review for a long time: as a fan of the magazine, a reader of manuscripts, a Board Member and, as of today, a blogger. I’ve been writing a lot longer than that—first fiction, then creative nonfiction, academic papers, and Op Eds and now, in an exciting recent development, radio scripts. Thanks to the Missouri Audio Project, I was one of nine faculty and students who got to spend a week in the company of Transom Radio guru Rob Rosenthal, learning just how close to sit when doing an interview (very close), how to locate a few minutes of quotes in over an hour of tape (organization is key) and how to write for the spaces in between.

The week was grueling and rewarding in equal measure. I stayed up late staring at sound files until I could read a laugh or a stutter in a spike or dip. When I slept those same sound files seemed to be imprinted on the backs of my eyelids. Using my cursor like a scalpel, I cut breaths from a phrase, and then stored those breaths in virtual bins to use later. My primary focus in the piece was my youngest child, whom I’m crazy in love with already, but I wasn’t surprised at all by the fact that Rob said that it was common for an interviewer to fall a little in love with their subjects.

Throughout the editing process, you hold the voices of your interview subjects in your hands and in your mind in a process that feels curiously intimate. Is the sigh you’ve recorded important to the story but too subtle to hear well? You can use the volume controls to coax the sigh, and just the sigh, a little more into the foreground. Nonfiction writers understand (or they should) the obligation to depict events, quotes and impressions as truthfully as they can be remembered or re-constructed, but I found that having access to the actual voices of my interviewees presented new challenges in that regard. The guidelines for ethical video and audio editing offered by the Radio Television Digital News Association warn against “manipulating images or sounds in any way that is misleading.”

And well they should. Lying on radio seems like it would be so easy. You have the subject’s actual voice saying the words you are using. Most people might not even wonder what was not said—or not included. Important omissions could be papered over so cleanly—you wouldn’t even hear the gaps. As a result, I handled the voice clips of my subjects with a particular care and respect. Even as I moved and massaged them, I was aware of the context in which they occurred; I listened not just for words, but for intent. My piece was about a rite of passage for my son and in that context, especially, it seemed appropriate that I struggled to allow his words, and thoughts, to occupy their own space. To breathe.

To listen to all nine stories of the Missouri Audio Project (including mine), click here: http://kbia.org/post/9-local-students-learn-radio-storytelling-transom-workshop

For more about me, click here: http://lisesaffran.com/

Lise Saffran

Lise Saffran