Tag Archives: radio

The Snark, Hunted

You may recall that a while back, I wrote a post about a failed attempt to do a “dramatic reading” of Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem, “The Hunting of the Snark.” Nevermind; you don’t recall that. Nor should you.

Regardless, the reason I made that failed attempt is because Jean Shepherd used to read this poem on his radio show, and his recitations of it were one of my dad’s favorite things. He would attempt to recreate the effect by repeating certain lines in his best Shepherdian low. For the snark was a boojum, you see…

I could only guess at what Shepherd’s own version sounded like, because even though he reportedly read the poem on the air many times, there were no examples readily available. I scanned the darkest depths of the interwebs for months until I decided that alas, all of Shep’s readings were lost to the mists of time.

And then this morning, a man named David Director emailed me. He had a college roommate who taped many Shep shows in the early 1960s, as Shep fans often did back in the day. He had the foresight to make copies of some of his roommate’s tapes, including a series of shows from January 29-31, 1963, during which Shepherd read “The Hunting of the Snark” in its entirety.

David was kind enough to send me an mp3 of Shep reading the introduction to the poem (“Fit the First”) and to also give permission to share it here. So now, thanks to David (and his erstwhile roommate, David Singer), I present to you Jean Shepherd reading the opening to “The Hunting of the Snark.” Enjoy.

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Jean Shepherd: Strange Tales of New York

shep2I have often waxed at great length about my love of Jean Shepherd’s radio show, here and elsewhere. I’ve written about and shared many kinds of programs of his over the years: nostalgic, anti-nostalgic, childhood tales, army tales, philosophical meanderings, and various combinations of the above.

Another thing he did well on his shows—something I haven’t really touched on before—is his ability to convey a mood of eeriness, of creeping, unnameable terror. Around Halloween, he loved to dedicate shows to stories about the Jersey Devil (and occasionally its lesser known cousin, the Kentucky Devil). He did many other shows about the pull of the supernatural and the fear of ghosts. But more often, he would talk about the terror of the everyday, the weird, creepy things happening right under our noses.

For no good reason at all, I want to share one such show, which aired on April 14, 1970. It starts with Shep sharing a bone-chilling news story from New Orleans, where creepy things tend to happen with some regularity. But then he shifts into a tale from the days when he first moved to New York, and his somewhat desperate attempts to find friendship in a city that can make newcomers feel crushingly alone. The story starts out amusing, involving wild parties, random encounters, and lapsed drunken monks (really), but it quickly deteriorates into a sad and chilling arena. Shep closes out the show with another story, this one about helping a friend investigate an apartment he’s interested in renting. Finding a place to live in New York is terrifying enough, but this story goes beyond even the usual level of terror and into a special, weird place.

Though Shep’s stories in this show refer to things that happened in the 1950s and 1960s, there’s something eternally New York about these stories, a very New York brand of loneliness and sadness and squalor that few people wrote about then and even fewer write about now. I found it genuinely unnerving to listen to because it all felt so real to me, and I find it amazing he was able to convey this feeling with only his voice (although a creepy Stockhausen composition helped, I suppose).

Enjoy (if that’s the word). Just don’t listen to it with the lights off.

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This Is Your 6:30 AM Wake Up Shriek

I don’t get a lot of sleep. Between parenting, various external and internal obligations, and my own Night Owl inclinations, it’s rare that I get a solid eight hours. Or seven. And even six is kinda pushing it.

As a result, I stay in bed as long as humanly possible each morning. More often than not, I don’t roll out of bed earlier than one second before I have to. But there is one thing that can get me leaping out of bed: radio ads for Broadway shows.

I’m not a Broadway Person. Not saying that to make myself seem superior to Broadway People; if that’s your thing, good for you. I’m simply saying it’s not for me. And the fact that it’s not for me is reinforced each time I hear a commercial for a musical at the crack of dawn.

Our alarm is set to WCBS News Radio. Apart from criminal amounts of John Sterling soundbites during baseball season, WCBS also airs tons of spots for Broadway musicals. Considering the average shelf life of a Broadway musical (i.e., not very long), these ads are run with an insane amount of saturation. If a show is about to debut, you are virtually guaranteed to hear an ad for it once or twice each commercial break.

Since these spots air incessantly first thing in the morning when I’m half awake and the human brain is at its most vulnerable, they’re imprinted on my brain. Even if a certain show didn’t run for very long, an ad for it probably ran in such heavy rotation I can recite it word for word (or warble for warble). I still distinctly remember an ad for a revival of Thoroughly Modern Millie, which ended with the titular character belting out MIL-LIEEEEEE! And there’s a commercial for Wicked that’s aired for years, in which the Wicked Witch (I think) sings about being so happy she could melt, in that ear-punishing Broadway fashion that makes me want to melt. My own brains. With a glock.

These are all simply annoying, the kinds of sounds I don’t want to hear first thing in the morning. But I’ve recently heard a Broadway ad that slips out of the surly bounds of annoying and attains the status of Maddening. As in, it could actually drive you crazy. I’m pretty sure it was engineered in a CIA lab for the purposes of psychic warfare.

It comes from the musical adaptation of Pedro Almodovar’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. I have not seen this musical and almost certainly will not see it. I haven’t even seen the movie, though I know it’s considered a classic. So I can not comment on the quality of the production or its source material. What I can say is that, if this is the first thing you hear when you wake up, after 5+ hours of fitful sleep, there is a 50 percent chance you will go insane.

Here’s the audio, although I only suggest playing it if you’re running low on nightmare fuel or you enjoy acid flashbacks. Enjoy! (Click here if that player down there don’t work for ya.)

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Let Us Now Praise Famous Mike-Men

garykeithron.jpgThere’s an excellent article in last week’s NY Observer about the awesomeness that is the SNY play-by-play team: Gary Cohen, Ron Darling, and Keith Hernandez. Anyone interested in baseball as it is broadcast should read that piece post-haste. And if you want to get into the announcing biz, you might want to listen to the trio to get some pointers, too.

There might be one or two better individual announcers, but Gary, Keith, and Ron are the best broadcasting team in the business. I defy anyone to convince me otherwise. Between the three of them, they know everything you could want to know about the game, and the history of the team they cover. They’re never afraid to call a Met out for doing something stupid. And they’re never less than entertaining, even during a season that’s anything but.

A few years back, I splurged on a Gameday Audio subscription (set me back a whole $15/year) and started listening to out-of-market radio calls. I was absolutely stunned at the rampant homerism and incompetence exhibited by other teams’ announcers.

Guys who didn’t know the rules, or mispronounced players’ names, or got facts wrong they easily could look up on the intertubes. Guys who didn’t seem to watch any baseball except the games they broadcast–and weren’t watching that one too closely either, by the sound of things. Not to mention the sickening rah-rah attitude and willingness to look the other way when it came to the ills of the Hometown Nine.

If you don’t get a chance to listen to different baseball broadcasts, I have some sour news to report: These announcers are everywhere, in every conceivable market–including some where baseball fans are supposed to “know their stuff” and should expect better of their play-by-play guys. Where I didn’t find total hacks, the announcers were just boring. Radio–which is supposed to be the best medium for baseball–is a vast wasteland now.

Then again, you don’t have to stray too far from NY to find terrible announcers. This is where I’d launch into an indictment of YES’s own Michael Kay, but the hysterical fake Twitterer yesmichaelkay does it far better than I ever could. (Here’s a great recent tweet: “Hey fans! The debate over Joba RAGES on. RAGES. Like the debate over evolution and
creationism and the existence of the Loch Ness Monster!

But at least YES has some decent color guys (David Cone, Al Leiter) and at least one guy who can actually call a game (Ken Singleton, who fills in for Kay during his lengthy vacations). And Kay is like Edward R. Murrow compared to the moron who “announces” for the Yankees on the radio: John Sterling, the worst play-by-play guy in America, for any sport, bar none.

It’s not even the idiotic home run calls (THE MELKMAN DELIVERS!). Those might be endearing, or at least excusable, if the man knew how to call a baseball game on the radio. But he doesn’t. Not by a long shot.

There are some very simple rules about describing baseball on the radio that even I know, which seem to escape Mr. Sterling completely (despite being a broadcaster for several millennia). For instance, you don’t have to start talking the exact second the pitcher goes into his windup. Sterling loves to do this, which inevitably results in him pausing a small eternity until the ball is in the catcher’s glove. (“And the pitch is……………………………………………………………….swung on and missed.”). He does something similarly infuriating whenever a ball is hit close to the foul line.

What else do I know about radio that Sterling evidently doesn’t? The audience can’t see what’s happening. You have to describe it to them. Saying WOW, WHAT A CATCH! and not elaborating doesn’t help anyone. Nor does screaming WOW, DID YOU SEE THAT?! because no, of course we didn’t. I’m tempted to say he must be missing a chromosome, but that would be insulting to the chromosome deficient community.

There are three things about Sterling that truly blow me away. The first is: he does play-by-play for the entire game. There isn’t a radio announcer in baseball that calls an entire game. Most trade duties with a partner, one inning on, one inning off. Even Vin Scully doesn’t call an entire game by himself, but John Sterling does. How did that happen?!

The second thing is: He’s an announcer for the Yankees. Not for some small-market team that could use a lovable goofball as their play-by-play guy. He is the radio man for the most successful franchise in the entire sport, one that has a long tradition of great announcers. Mel Allen, Red Barber–even Phil Rizzutto, with all his goofiness, could run rings around John Sterling. I don’t understand why a franchise that bluldgeons you with the weight of its PRIDE and TRADITION and EXCELLENCE would have such a total clown for an announcer. It’s like a Rolls Royce driven by Rip Taylor.

The third thing is: I have never met a Yankee fan who likes him. Some tolerate him because he’s the only way to listen to the Yankees when they’re in the car, or at work. Others try to avoid the subject. Still others hate him as much as I do. But I’ve never met one who could look me in the eye and tell me they like listening to John Sterling call games for their favorite team. That’s something I do constantly: confront total strangers and try to make them confess things to me. I wonder why I can’t make friends?

So Mets fans are definitely spoiled to have the righteous trio of Gary, Keith, and Ron in the booth. We’re not spoiled with much else.