Re-Air: Realism in Audio Fiction

Re-Air: Realism in Audio Fiction
Re-Air: Realism in Audio Fiction

Sep 28 2023 | 00:26:54

Episode September 28, 2023 00:26:54

Hosted By

Stuart Barefoot

Show Notes

As we continue work on new episodes, let's listen in on an episode from August of 2022. 




Some of the best, most diverse, and talented audio creators alive make their living creating audio fiction. Shows like Welcome to Nightvale, Limetown, and Alice isn’t Dead, just to name a few, weave complex story arcs, colorful characters, and of course, great production value for listeners. We’re all lucky these shows exist. 

Northwoods Baseball Sleep Radio is firmly in the realm of audio fiction. But unlike most audio fiction, there are no supernatural elements, heroes, villains, or any traditional story arc. In this podcast series, each episode is presented as a full-length minor league baseball broadcast. The teams, the players, the sponsors, all of it is made up. The catch? There is none. It’s just nine innings of fictional baseball.

Created by a podcaster known only as Mr. King, Sleep Baseball is a work of fiction that feels very much like it’s a real broadcast. And if that seems boring, it’s the point. This “boring” show is resonating with listeners. Fans of the show support it through Patreon and merch sales. It’s even been written up in The New Yorker. 

In this episode, Stuart and “Mr. King” chat about the inspiration for making the show, the process of producing fake baseball broadcasts, and how listener support makes a project of this size financially viable.



Full Episodes and Merch:

A piece on Sleep Baseball in the New Yorker:

Connect your Podcast to Stripe with Castos:

***Between the time of this recording and the publishing date, legendary baseball broadcaster Vin Scully passed away. Read more HERE 

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Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Speaker A: Hey, Stuart. Here. We're taking this week off for making new episodes, but we'll be back at it next week. So in the meantime, check out this episode that we did back in August of 2022. So far, it's the only time I've ever interviewed someone without actually knowing their name. Which sounds weird, but I promise it wasn't for anything nefarious. Give the episode a spin and you'll see what I'm talking about. Alright right. Enjoy this and I'll talk to you all next weekend. American art in the early 20th century was heavily influenced by the Realism movement. Inspired by European artists from the late 19th century, novelists, poets, painters, musicians, playwrights and even some journalists began creating work that depicted everyday American life. They aspired to show the world in a way that was both artistic and truthful at the same time. I thought about that a lot when I began listening to Northwood's Baseball Sleep Radio, which is a beautifully mundane take on audio fiction. [00:01:05] Speaker B: I'm certainly a fan of things know Brian Eno and ambient music or really slow. I don't know if you know the director, Ozu, Japanese director, that's just kind of these very quiet, long films. I'm no stranger to boring media. [00:01:25] Speaker A: Next we'll hear from a podcaster who's created his own world. It's audio fiction, but it breaks the mold in a unique way. There are no supernatural elements or anything speculative. It's not a comedy and it's not campy. In fact, it's actually kind of boring and that's the whole point. Oh yeah, it also makes some money. My name is Stuart and this is Audience, a Castos original series. That story's next. Okay, quick spoiler alert. The podcast we're profiling today relies on listener support to fund their show. Of course, there's lots of ways to think of ROI and podcasting and there's no one size fits all. But when it comes to directly monetizing a show, crowdfunding is one of the more effective and simple ways for independent creators to do that. And at Castos, we make tools that make that process a bit easier. For instance, through the Castos platform, you can create a subscription based podcast thanks to our partnership with Stripe. Using this integrative tool, you can create a private podcast and accept payments directly from your listeners. So no more clunky ad algorithms that don't really generate that much income. No more middlemen taking a 30% cut. It's a direct payment from your audience to you. [00:02:44] Speaker C: Simple. [00:02:45] Speaker A: Learn or click on the link in the show notes. [00:02:51] Speaker D: Good evening everybody, and welcome to Foghorn Field. It is a perfect night for a ball game. I'm your host, Wally McCarthy. And tonight, from Foghorn Field and Cadillac It's the Cadillac Cars versus the Big Rapids timbers. [00:03:07] Speaker A: With his even killed deadpan delivery, Walter McCarthy, the veteran sportscaster at Wslp guides listeners through nine innings of minor league baseball. Every pitch, every play, every out, all the dead time and even the commercials. The catch well, other than being fictional. [00:03:26] Speaker C: There really isn't one in my head. [00:03:28] Speaker B: It's sort of I want it to be like the opposite of like doom scrolling Twitter and getting mad at people and stuff. There's so much of that everywhere right now that there's nothing going to piss you off. Too bad about sleep baseball. Hopefully. [00:03:42] Speaker A: That'S Mr. King, an alias, of course, and he's the creator of Northwood's Baseball Sleep Radio and the guy who plays Walter. Sleep Baseball, as it's called, is a podcast presented as a minor league baseball broadcast from a small town Am radio station, Wslp. Not to be confused with the actual Wslp based in New York. Oh, and by the way, if you're familiar with the world of radio, the call signs here are pretty clever. W for being somewhere east of the Mississippi and SLP, presumably shorthand for Sleep. Anyway, as audio fiction goes, the premise here is actually pretty simple. It's just a fake baseball broadcast. There are no heroes, villains or traditional story arc, but it's a work of fiction every bit as complex as any other. Everything from the team names like the Big Rapid Timbers or the Cadillac Cars, the players on those teams, the action on the field, and even the made up sponsors. It's all written out, recorded and produced. It's anything but simple, yet it's produced by three people with relatively little experience in audio. [00:04:49] Speaker B: This all started rolling around in my head probably two years. I always look for long form stuff that I can sleep to. I mean, there's something naturally about a baseball radio broadcast that is kind of hypnotic. If it's not, the playoffs are too exciting. And so originally it was just going to be part of a larger, long form sort of radio drama. Boringness. But then, I don't know, I suddenly thought, why don't I just do an entire fake baseball radio universe? And the shows are just complete games as they unfold. [00:05:27] Speaker C: What's your relationship to audio been like prior to making this show? [00:05:32] Speaker B: I have occasionally do some voiceover work and I had a job that I had to do some audio editing with a couple of years ago. So I'm kind of vaguely familiar with it, but not a full time professional, I guess I'd say. [00:05:47] Speaker C: Was there a particular type of radio broadcast or podcast that you'd been drawn to as a listener? [00:05:53] Speaker B: I've been a big fan of I don't know if you're familiar with the podcast Sleep with Me. That's been going on forever. That guy's got thousands of episodes and it's mostly very boring stories. They're not even really stories. He's just kind of rambling and it's hypnotic and soothing for the right people, I guess. I've always been a big fan of the Joe Frank Show rip. I don't know if you're familiar with the old Frank Show. [00:06:19] Speaker C: No, no, that's another new one to me. [00:06:20] Speaker B: Yeah, he was a public radio guy and had a number of different shows that was mostly just him. And it was kind of like almost like a Ken Nordine kind of thing. Ken nordine word jazz. I don't know if you know that. Yeah, it was sort of like that. It was stories and kind of personal essays with a lot of audio editing, audio work mixed in. So I guess those are my influences as far as what I'm trying to do these days. [00:06:50] Speaker C: Well, you settled on baseball, and it's pretty obvious from listening to Northwood Sleep baseball that you're familiar with the sport. So have you grown up watching and listening to a lot of baseball? [00:07:01] Speaker B: I listen on the radio to a lot of baseball and have for years. [00:07:05] Speaker C: Who are some broadcasters you've listened to that have been influences on you? [00:07:10] Speaker B: Well, in Chicago, the Cubs radio broadcaster for decades has been this guy named Pat Hughes. Big fan of Pat Hughes. Future hall of famer, I'm sure. Bob Yuker in Milwaukee. Classic single man radio broadcast booth back in the day. Vin Scully. Of course. [00:07:30] Speaker C: Yeah. When you think single broadcaster, a person who can just carry an entire broadcast from the first pitch to the final out, vince Scully, of course, is top of the list. [00:07:40] Speaker B: Absolutely. Yeah. And that's sort of a lost art that's really rare these days. [00:07:46] Speaker C: I'm curious what tips and tricks you've picked up from some of the guys you listen to. There's a huge difference in announcing on the radio versus TV those radio play by play announcers, they're telling you the entire story. They're describing everything they're seeing. They're really painting a very vivid picture for someone who's not there. So was there ever things you picked up on as you've listened to baseball that you're applying now as the Wally McCarthy character? [00:08:14] Speaker B: I think mostly just from I don't know how many hours of Pat Hughes I've listened to on the radio. It's got to be I don't even want to think about it'd be depressing. So I think a lot of the kind of cadence comes subconsciously just from listening to him do it for years. He's good at doing little kind of dad joke asides, especially when the game gets really boring. He pulls out the dry, terrible jokes, which I'm a fan of. [00:08:40] Speaker C: I grew up listening to Skip Carey, being a Braves fan and watching a lot of TBS baseball. I got a little bit of Wally McCarthy reminded me a little bit of Skip Carey with the dry humor, the little throwaway comments, the stuff you have to kind of take a moment to process. That guy just made either really awesome or really terrible joke, depending on how you look at it. [00:09:02] Speaker B: I'm not actually that familiar with Chip. I, of course, know Harry and then Chip did Cubs TV for several years. [00:09:12] Speaker C: Skip Carey once had a really great moment that I thought about while listening to one of your games. He'd given up drinking alcohol at some point during his career and once the opposing team had the bases loaded and he just made the comment, the bases are loaded, and I wish I were too. [00:09:31] Speaker B: That's a good one. I might steal that. [00:09:35] Speaker C: Well, I want to talk a little bit about your world building here because on the surface, the premise of Sleep baseball is actually quite simple, just a fictionalized baseball game. There's no particular plot driving these stories other than the game action itself. But then you start breaking it down and it's actually a very complex world. You've got to fill out the rosters for every team with their names, their positions, their batting averages, their tendencies, and then the game action itself. So first of all, I'm really curious how much of this is scripted and predetermined and how much of this is you improvising the game action as you go along. [00:10:12] Speaker B: There is an actual script and it's almost entirely written. There's very little improvisation when I get to the recording stage. [00:10:23] Speaker C: Wow. So I'm just trying to imagine the process here. I mean, you imagine all 27 outs for each team, not to mention all the plays in between. So, I mean, where does that come from? I mean, I know that's probably a very difficult question to answer, but I was thinking about this a lot as I listened to it. I'm like, is he really writing out every single play? [00:10:47] Speaker B: The games may or may not be based on actual baseball games. [00:10:51] Speaker C: So you're going through Baseball Reference or something like that and finding box scores and replacing them with made up names and teams? [00:11:00] Speaker B: Yes. [00:11:01] Speaker C: Wow. I love baseball reference, by the way. [00:11:03] Speaker B: I do too. [00:11:04] Speaker C: Most audio fiction is driven by these very complex plots. A lot of the archetypal story arcs of a comedy, a tragedy, like a rebirth. You've obviously resisted the urge to add something paranormal. Right? I mean, that's sometimes the instinct a lot of times in audio fiction because there's nothing really grounding audio fiction to reality so long as you have the sound effects to do it. It's a world where anything can happen again. Obviously, you're drawn to these long form audios and you like things that kind of lull you to sleep. Maybe just expand a little bit on why you're so drawn to this realism. [00:11:46] Speaker B: Well, I like to add in there's always like in the middle of the game, I always have some sort of on field disturbance. [00:11:54] Speaker C: The goat, the prince goat. [00:11:55] Speaker B: There's a streaker coming up. There's a dog race that goes wrong and whatnot. And I like to add a little bit of backstory right when the game starts. Just sort of like a funny tale of what the team's about or our troubles getting to the stadium or whatever. But beyond that, I don't want it to ever be too exciting that it's something that's going to wake you up if you're trying to just relax or sleep to it. [00:12:22] Speaker C: And those are the types of things that if you work or spend enough time around baseball happen. Streakers happen, dogs get loose on the field. The goat was a pretty unique one. But once again, minor league baseball happens in sometimes these Middle Americas, the heart of the country, so to speak. And it's not unfathomable that a goat could get loose. We're actually going to hear this in practice a little bit, so we're going to pull some clips from your first episode when the Big Rapid Timbers took on the Cadillac cars in this instant, umpire Stump Wagner has said the famous words play ball and we're off to the races. Let's take a listen. [00:13:02] Speaker D: And umpire Stump Wagner has signaled that it's time to play ball. So we are underway. Jesus. Ferguson steps into the box. Ferguson has hit Malone well this season, batting 364. And here's the first pitch for Malone. A called strike that nibbles the outside corner. I believe that was a split finger fastball blinky. Malone not known as a fast worker. In fact, he does what almost looks like some very gentle tai chi around the mound between pitches. And he is doing that now. And here's a reminder that the first inning is brought to you by Ted's Fishing World. If fishing's in your head, trust Ted. Ted's Fishing World locations in Kalamazoo and Big Rapids. And Malone has shaken off a couple pitches and now comes set. Ferguson swings and misses at a high fastball count is Owen Two. [00:14:05] Speaker C: The tai chi, and then Ted's Fishing World as well. I like the little sponsor drops. [00:14:10] Speaker B: I have an old friend, Phil Hunter, who lives in Minneapolis, and he actually does. He wrote most of the ads that appear in the show and voices them. [00:14:19] Speaker C: I was actually going to ask you a lot about your production process there. Again, I've done enough voice work, enough audio production, enough broadcasting to know, again, this is a simple premise, but I have a feeling that the actual producing one of these episodes, I know it's some work for everything from reading the script that you've wrote to going back in and adding the crowd ambiance to sound effects. Just writing the copy for the commercials is some work in and of itself. So how long does it take you to make an episode like this? [00:14:51] Speaker B: I sort of have started to it's a work in progress and I'm kind of streamlining my process as much as I can. But it still probably takes 30 to 40 hours maybe to put an episode together. [00:15:03] Speaker C: Yeah, I'd believe it. And you're balancing on top of that, I guess, your day job as well. So if you were doing it full time, this would be an entire week's worth of work just to get the one episode made. [00:15:15] Speaker B: Yeah, I think that's somewhere in there. Yeah, it might not be quite a full 40 now that I've sort of streamlined things, but it's probably 30. [00:15:23] Speaker C: And how many people are involved. It's you. You've got your friend in Minneapolis. Anyone else in on the mix? [00:15:28] Speaker B: My wife is really good at naming players, so she helps out with that. But mostly yeah, it's mostly just Phil and I at this time. [00:15:37] Speaker C: Yeah. I was wondering where you got all these names from. Was it Blink Redison, one of the players that even they even make cameos throughout the broadcast. Right. Doing some promo reads for some of these companies that exist. [00:15:52] Speaker B: Right? [00:15:52] Speaker C: Yeah. [00:15:52] Speaker B: So I'll give Phil like a roster and he comes up with the player he wants to be and writes a script and sends it to me. So yeah, the guy's a genius. This guy's a. [00:16:06] Speaker C: Whole the whole concept is absolutely genius. There's something I think very wholesome about just kind of making something someone can enjoy. You've made something that people can just listen to and enjoy anytime they want. [00:16:19] Speaker B: In my head it's sort of I want it to be like the opposite of Doom scrolling Twitter and getting mad at people and stuff. There's so much of that everywhere right now that there's nothing going to piss you off. Too bad about sleep. Baseball, hopefully. [00:16:32] Speaker C: Were you ever drawn inspiration from anything other than baseball broadcasts and these long form audios you've enjoyed listening to? [00:16:41] Speaker B: There might be a little bit of the old radio drama kind of feeling that I put in there because that was one of my original Sleep podcast ideas, was like a radio drama but like a library detective or something. Like some really boring story that doesn't really go. [00:16:59] Speaker C: The library. Like the library cop from Seinfeld. [00:17:02] Speaker B: Right. [00:17:03] Speaker C: I like that idea. And I should say Wslp is in fact a real radio station, but this particular one is an Am station. It is itself a work of fiction. You've essentially opened the door to an anthology of sorts. Wslp probably has programming more than just baseball. Right? [00:17:23] Speaker B: There's room for it, let's put it that way. I haven't gone there yet, but I got a couple ideas around that. [00:17:30] Speaker C: Well, you mentioned earlier that you like to kind of throw some little things in the game that disrupt the action a little bit. And we already alluded to it. The goat getting loose. So this is later in this game between the cars and the timbers. And now a goat has gotten loose on the field. Let's take a listen to that. [00:17:50] Speaker D: And now the crew chief is going to call time for a moment. Appears to be some debris near the left field wall and the cracked grounds crew will be dispatched to take care of that directly. All right, here's the one. One pitch to Gilligan Parker. And Parker smashes that. [00:18:20] Speaker C: Well, I can tell you're a very keen observer because the organ there during while the grounds crew is wrangling the goat. Those are staples at any baseball park. Are you pulling all your sound from some kind of royalty free library. Where is all that coming from? [00:18:37] Speaker B: Yeah, I have a subscription to Sound Effects and royalty free music place that I use for the ads and stuff and the organ sounds and whatnot. [00:18:48] Speaker C: I can tell you've done some voice work and a little bit of audio editing before because you got to get the timing right there. You can't just throw some Ambiance track under your voiceover, getting the organ lined up, the crack of the bad and all that. I mean, this is for all intents and purposes, a radio drama. It's an audio drama. [00:19:07] Speaker B: That's fair, I'll take it. [00:19:11] Speaker A: And people are starting to catch on to this boring, intricate, weird and beautiful audio drama. It was even written up in the New Yorker. The growing Listenership has turned into a support network. At the time of this recording, nearly 20 people support the show on Patreon and dozens more have donated through Buy Me a Coffee. Also they sell merch. It turns out that appealing directly to the listeners has proved useful since all the sponsor reads are fake and dynamic ad insertion for real ads wouldn't make much sense for a show like this. Plus, it's not like anyone's trying to brand themselves here either. Mr. King, after all, is an alias who prefers to remain anonymous, which is fine because enough people like the self described boring media to help support it. [00:20:01] Speaker B: It's been encouraging because I thought this was the kind of thing that maybe after a year a thousand people on Earth would have heard it and been into it. But the response has been very positive so far and I'm new to the podcast world and have no concept of what outrageous success or total failure even looks like. As far as numbers, well, I think. [00:20:26] Speaker C: Numbers in and of themselves can even be hard to interpret because some people will tell you that downloads are a useless metric that you got to look at, listen through, rate. What you've done, whether you've meant to or not, is you've built a pretty niche audience and just ask them hey, pay what you think this is worth. In media and new media, we call it value for value, right? You're not setting price tags or anything like that or making some kind of paywall. You're just asking people who enjoy this, hey, if you enjoy it, contribute a little bit. And for a lot of independent creators, that's sometimes the most palpable form of success. I think success itself can be pretty subjective. [00:21:09] Speaker B: Yes, that is a good point. [00:21:14] Speaker C: You say you're new to this world of podcasting. I like it when new people get involved and I especially like it when new people do something very different. There is this tendency in media to try to kind of replicate or imitate things you have heard before. And then sometimes someone like you comes along and it's just kind of like, wow, this is actually a really good idea. And I bet if you had pitched this to some type of broader network, they would have probably encouraged you to do what we talked about earlier, where we find some sort of paranormal element or one main character that we're following around. And outside of Wally McCarthy, maybe there isn't a main character. Was it daunting at all? Coming into kind of this big sprawling industry you don't really know anything about? [00:22:01] Speaker B: I mean, I doubted that anybody would listen to it, but it's so easy to just put something out there now that I figured once I got the first one done, I'll put it up and maybe nobody listens to it ever or maybe people like it. I don't know. So it wasn't that daunting. And actually years ago, in 2005, I did a podcast with my pals. This is way back in the super early days. Early enough that if you were one of the three podcasts that existed in Chicago, you were like voted the best podcast in the Reader Poll or Guess. But back then it was much more difficult to actually put stuff out there. And I think my buddy was like, we made the website and figured out the RSS feed and all that stuff. Now it's know upload to Buzsprout or whatever. [00:22:55] Speaker C: When I listened to this, one of the first things that weirdly came to mind, and maybe this is a very weird parallel, but I was thinking of like literary realism, things like Madame Bovery, where sort of the beauty is in the monotony. Were you drawing any inspiration from anything like that? Maybe not specifically Madame Bovery. That was just the first thing I thought about. [00:23:14] Speaker B: I mean, I'm certainly a fan of things, know Brian Eno or ambient music or really slow. I don't know if you know the director, Ozu, Japanese director, that's just kind of these very quiet, long films. So I'm certainly yeah, I mean, I'm no stranger to boring. [00:23:35] Speaker C: I mean, I think sometimes what I find the most fascinating is I like watching just like live streams at an intersection somewhere. Or I found one near the Brooklyn Bridge where it's just you're just watching, I think the East River. [00:23:50] Speaker B: Oh, wow. [00:23:50] Speaker C: I could just kind of get lost in that. So something like sleep baseball. Aside from being a big fan of all things baseball, audio and boring, I like all of it. You've done great work here. [00:24:03] Speaker B: You're my target market. [00:24:04] Speaker C: Are we going to be treated to a full season of the Northwoods Baseball Network? [00:24:09] Speaker B: So I'm going to continue to make games I haven't decided how to do. Like, is it a season each year? Is it a season during? I don't know how that's going to go yet. [00:24:20] Speaker C: I mean, this kind of feels to me like an independent league. So far we've seen about four or five different teams, right? Where do you see these teams and these players fitting in in the world of minor league baseball. Is it an independent team or do these guys have a shot at going to the majors? What's going on here? [00:24:39] Speaker B: I feel like it is definitely an independent, unaffiliated league full of probably folks who don't have a chance. But you never know. You never know. [00:24:52] Speaker C: Their sun has set, so to speak. Their star has faded. They probably, I imagine, a lot of former minor leaguers, maybe some who were once prospects and never collect panda. And now they're all playing indie league ball, right? [00:25:06] Speaker B: Something like that. That seems accurate. [00:25:09] Speaker C: Yeah. Well, Mr. King, this has been a pleasure. Anyone else who's curious about more of these can go to at the time of this recording, so far, there are four full length fictional baseball broadcasts, some of which were taken from real events, it might seem. And that's going to be my journey. I'm going to start scouring Baseball Reference, see if I can figure this out. I'm going to do a little sleuthing. [00:25:36] Speaker B: You could do it. But I will say there are little tweaks here and there, so it's never exactly an actual game. [00:25:45] Speaker C: Are they all from the same decade or have you gone back? We've got box scores going back to the 19th century now. [00:25:51] Speaker B: I will say that so far, they are all from the last two decades. Yes. [00:25:58] Speaker C: Okay. All right. Well, that gives me something to work on. Mr. King or Wally, whoever you want to go by. [00:26:03] Speaker B: Thank you. Thank you so much, man. Appreciate it. [00:26:10] Speaker A: Full episodes of Northwood's Baseball Sleep Radio can be there. They have merch, and you can support their efforts by buying Mr. King coffee. Plus, if you're like me, I'm waiting for the playoffs here. For more episodes of Audience, you can go to Audiencepodcast FM. While you're there, check out the new website branding and sleek logo, courtesy of Francois Brill, the product designer at Castos. And, of course, to learn more about Castos, you can go to for all your podcasting needs.

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