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No love for cell phones

Some time ago I wrote a column in which I reflected upon the circuitous path that has taken me to this place where I’m interviewing authors and reviewing books. That piece elicited many positive responses from readers and radio listeners. Let’s try this again.

I’m often juggling three books at once, preparing for interviews, conducting them, and deciding which books to review next. You might recall that for years I hosted a music program on weekday afternoons for WYSO Public Radio in Yellow Springs. During the final hour of my show I interviewed authors.

Those interviews were conducted live in the studio following the two o’clock news. Some writers went out to the station to be interviewed.

Others would phone it in.

There were many variables and unpredictable stuff occurred. Guests were late. Some never appeared at all. That kind of stuff. Once James Lee Burke was tardy. He eventually called in by cell phone. They had stopped off for gas in Lima and locked the keys inside the car.

Cell phones do remain the bane of my existence. Cell phone interviews during the 1990’s were often painful experiences. The sound was poor.

Frequently calls would get dropped. That’s live radio for you.

One guy called in from a moving train. You could hear the buzz of passengers talking. Buzz Aldrin called in from a train station. We heard loudspeakers announcing departures. Garrison Keillor called from the airport. There were gate announcements in the background. That was on a pay phone. Do you remember pay phones? Where have all the pay phones gone? Long time passing.

Back in the ’90s Julia Butterfly spent several months living up within the massive canopy of an ancient redwood tree. She was preventing a lumber company from cutting down that particular tree. We actually got superb cell phone reception for that one. It was probably her elevation, right?

I loved the spontaneity of live interviews. You were working without a net. There’s no editing if you mess it up. It has been almost 10 years since I did a live interview. Now my interviews are all pre-recorded.

This creates a new set of challenges.

I’m fortunate to have my programs recorded by the greatest sound guy around. Chris Hertzler of SoundSpace in Yellow Springs is the Man with the Golden Ears. Chris has been producing sound recordings for many years. His sound editing skills are impeccable.

The proliferation of cell phones has made it virtually impossible to locate authors who still retain land lines. Cell phone reception has improved but it remains erratic and unpredictable. We spend a lot of time over at SoundSpace editing the Book Nook programs for WYSO.

Chris is a genius when it comes to making writers sound more articulate. Some people have these verbal tics. Instead of pausing silently for a few seconds they’ll say “uhhhhh” or “you know.” Chris edits the way Michael Jordan used to play basketball. You should see him working over a sound wave file. He takes it straight to the hoop.

And when we lose those phone calls? No worries. We’ll call right back.

Our listeners on the radio will never even notice.

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