Realism in Audio Fiction

Realism in Audio Fiction
Realism in Audio Fiction

Aug 04 2022 | 00:26:25

Episode August 04, 2022 00:26:25

Hosted By

Stuart Barefoot

Show Notes

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.



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***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

Speaker 1 00:00:04 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. Speaker 2 00:00:36 I'm certainly a fan of things like, you know, Brian Eino or ambient music, or really slow. I dunno if you know the director, Ozu Japanese director, that's just kind of these very quiet, long films. I'm I'm no, uh, no stranger to, uh, boring media Speaker 1 00:00:55 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 camping. In fact, it's actually kind of boring and that's the whole point. Oh yeah. It also makes some money. My name is Stewart and this is audience a Casto original series that story's next. Speaker 1 00:01:27 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 Casto we make tools that make that process a bit easier. For instance, through the Casto 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 number clunky ad algorithms said don't really generate that much income, no more middleman taking a 30% cut. It's a direct payment from your audience to you. Simple, learn or click on the link in the show notes. Speaker 3 00:02:22 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 Speaker 1 00:02:38 With this even killed deadpan delivery. Walter McCarthy, the veteran sportscaster at w S L P 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, there really isn't one Speaker 2 00:02:58 In my head head. It's sort of, I want it to be like the opposite of like doom scrolling, Twitter and getting mad at people. And so this there's so much of that everywhere right now that, uh, there's nothing, uh, going to piss you off too bad about sleep baseball. Hopefully Speaker 1 00:03:13 That's Mr. King and 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, w S L P not to be confused with the actual w S L P 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 hero 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. Speaker 2 00:04:20 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 gonna be part of a larger long form sort of radio drama boringness. But then I, uh, I don't know. I, I, I suddenly thought why don't, why don't I just do an entire fake baseball radio universe? And the shows are just complete games as they unfold. Speaker 1 00:04:58 What's your relationship to audio been like prior to making this show? Speaker 2 00:05:02 I have, uh, occasionally do some voiceover work and I had a job that I had to do some audio editing with a couple years ago. So I'm kind of vaguely familiar with it, but not a full time professional, I guess I'd say, Speaker 1 00:05:18 Was, was there a particular type of like radio broadcast or a podcast that you'd been drawn to as a listener? Speaker 2 00:05:23 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 he just, it's mostly, uh, 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. R I P I don't know if you're familiar with the Joe Frank show. Speaker 1 00:05:49 No, no, that's another new one to me. Speaker 2 00:05:51 Yeah. He was a, um, public radio guy and had a number of different shows that was mostly just him. And it, it was kind of like, uh, almost like a Ken Nordine kind of thing. Ken Norde word jazz. I don't know if you know that mm-hmm Speaker 1 00:06:06 <affirmative> yeah, Speaker 2 00:06:06 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. Speaker 1 00:06:21 Well, you settled on baseball and it's pretty obvious from listening, uh, to, to Northwood sleep baseball that you're familiar with the sport. So have you grown up watching and listening to a lot of baseball? Speaker 2 00:06:31 I listen on the radio to a lot of baseball and have for years Speaker 1 00:06:36 Who are some broadcasters you you've listened to, uh, that have been influences on you? Speaker 2 00:06:40 Well, um, in Chicago, the Cubs radio broadcaster for decades has been, uh, this guy named pat Hughes. Mm-hmm <affirmative> big fan of pat Hughes, future hall of Famer. I'm sure. Um, Bob yer in Milwaukee, classic single man radio booth back in the day Vince Scully, of course. Speaker 1 00:07:01 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 Speaker 2 00:07:10 List. Absolutely. Yeah. And that's sort of a, a lost art. That's not, that's really rare these days. Speaker 1 00:07:16 I I'm curious, like what, like tips and tricks you you've picked up from some of the guys you listen to, there's a huge difference in announcing on the radio versus TV. You know, those radio play by play announcers. They're telling you the entire story. They're describing everything they're seeing. They're, they're really painting a very vivid picture for someone who's not there. So was there ever, like things you picked up on as you've listened to baseball that you're, you're applying now as, uh, the Wally McCarthy character? Speaker 2 00:07:45 I think mostly just from, I don't know how many hours of pat Hughes I've listened to on the radio, it's gotta be, I don't even want to think about it. It'd be depressing. So I think a lot of the kind of, uh, cadence comes subconsciously just from, from listening to him, do it for years. He's good at doing little kind of dad joke aside, especially when the game gets really boring. He's, uh, pulls out the dry, terrible jokes, which I'm a fan of. Speaker 1 00:08:10 You know, I, I grew up listening to skip carry being a bra fan and watching a lot of TBS baseball. I, I got a little bit of while McCarthy reminded me a little bit of, of skip carry with the dry humor, the little throwaway comments, the stuff you, uh, have to kind of take a moment to process, oh, <laugh> that guy just made a either really awesome or really terrible joke depending on how you look at it. Speaker 2 00:08:33 I'm not actually that familiar with skip. Um, I know when chip, of course know Harry and then, uh, chip did, uh, Cubs TV for several years. Speaker 1 00:08:43 Skip Carrie once had a really great moment, uh, that I thought about while listening to one of your games, he'd given up drinking alcohol, uh, at some point during his career. And once the opposing team had the bases loaded and he just made the comment, you know, the bases are loaded and I wish I were too. Speaker 2 00:09:01 That's, that's a good one. How much steal that? Yeah. Speaker 1 00:09:04 Yeah. <laugh> Speaker 1 00:09:06 Well, I wanna talk a little bit about your, 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 gotta 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. Speaker 2 00:09:42 There is an actual script and it's almost entirely written very there's very little improvisation when I get to the recording stage. Speaker 1 00:09:54 Wow. So <laugh>, I, I'm just trying to imagine the process here. I mean, you, you imagine all 27 outs for each team, not to mention all the, the plays in between. So, I mean, where, where does that come from? I mean, I know that's a very, that's probably a very difficult question to answer, but I, I, I was thinking about this a lot as I listened to it, I'm like, is he really writing out every single play Speaker 2 00:10:18 The games may or may not be based on actual baseball games? Speaker 1 00:10:22 So you're going through baseball reference or something like that and finding box scores and replacing them with made up names and, and teams. Speaker 2 00:10:30 Yes. Speaker 1 00:10:31 Wow. Yeah. I love baseball reference by the way I Speaker 2 00:10:34 Do too. Speaker 1 00:10:35 Most audio fiction is driven by these very, very complex plots. A lot of the archetypal story arcs, you know, like a comedy, a tragedy, like, like, like a rebirth, you've obviously resisted the urge to, to add something paranormal, right? I mean, that's sometimes the instinct a lot of times in an audio fiction because you really, 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. So, you know, again, like, obviously you're, you're, you're drawn to these long form audios and you like things that kind of, kind of Lu you to sleep. Maybe just expand a little bit on why you're so drawn to, to this realism. Speaker 2 00:11:16 Well, I like to add in, there's always, uh, like I have a, in the middle of the game, I always have some sort of on field disturbance, Speaker 1 00:11:24 The goat instance, Speaker 2 00:11:25 The, uh, there's a, a streaker coming up, there's a dog race that goes wrong and whatnot. Yeah. And I like to add a little bit of backstory, right? When the game starts just sort of like a funny tale of, you know, what the team's about or are troubles getting to the stadium or whatever. Um, but beyond that, beyond that, I don't want it to be ever be too exciting that it's something that's gonna wake you up if you're trying to just, uh, relax or sleep to it. Speaker 1 00:11:53 And those are the types of things that if you work or spend enough time around baseball happen, right. Streakers right. Happen, dogs get loose on, on the field that the goat was a pretty unique one. But you know, once again, I mean, you're minor league baseball happens in sometimes these middle America, right? The heart of the country, so to speak. And it's not unfathomable that that a goat could get loose. We're actually gonna 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 and this instant umpire stump, Wagner has said the famous words play ball. And we're, we're off to the races. Let's, let's take a listen Speaker 3 00:12:32 And umpire stump Wagner his signal that it's time to play ball. So we are underway hay. Jesus's Ferguson steps into the box. Ferguson is hit Malone. Well, this season batting 360 4, and here's the first pitch for Malone a called strike that nibbles the outside corner. I believe that was a split finger fastball, blink Malone, not known as a fast worker. In fact, he does what almost looks like some very gentle tie 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 as oh, and two, Speaker 1 00:13:36 Uh, the tie Chi and then Ted's fishing world as well. I like the little sponsor drops. Speaker 2 00:13:41 I have an old friend, Phil hunter who lives in Minneapolis and he actually does, um, he wrote most of the ads that appear in the show and voices them. I was Speaker 1 00:13:50 Actually gonna 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, I, I have a feeling that, uh, the actual producing one of these episodes, I know it's some work, uh, for everything from reading the, the script that you've wrote to going back in and adding the crowd on beyond to sound effects, just writing the copy for the commercials is, is some work in and of itself. So how long does it take you to make an episode like this, Speaker 2 00:14:22 Uh, sort of have started to I'm 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. Speaker 1 00:14:33 Yeah. I'd believe it. So that's, and, and you're, you're balancing on top of that, you know, I guess your day job as well. So this, this would be, if you were doing it full time, this would be, you know, an entire week's worth of, uh, work just to get the one episode made. Speaker 2 00:14:46 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. Speaker 1 00:14:54 And how many people are involved it's you, you've got your friend in Minneapolis, anyone else in on the mix? Speaker 2 00:14:59 Uh, my wife is, uh, is really good at, uh, naming players. So she helps out with that. Um, but mostly, yeah, it's mostly just, uh, Phil and I at this time. Speaker 1 00:15:08 Yeah. I was wondering where, where you got all these names from, uh, what is it, blink Redon, one of the, one of the players that, uh, even they even make, uh, cameos throughout the broadcast. Right. Doing like some, uh, like promo reads for, for some of these companies that exist. Right? Speaker 2 00:15:23 Yeah. So I would, I gave, I'll give, uh, Phil like a roster and, and he comes up with the player he wants to be and writes a script and sends it to me. So, yeah. He's, he's, uh, the guy's a genius. Guy's a genius. Speaker 1 00:15:35 Yeah. Yeah. Well the, well, the whole, the whole concept is, 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 Speaker 2 00:15:50 In my head, it's sort of, I want it to be like the opposite of like doom, scrolling, Twitter, and getting mad at people. And so this there's so much of that everywhere right now that, uh, there's nothing, uh, going to pissy off too bad about sleep baseball. Hopefully. Speaker 1 00:16:03 Were you ever drawn inspiration from anything other than, you know, baseball broadcast and these long form audios you've, uh, enjoyed listening to there's Speaker 2 00:16:11 There might be a little bit of the old radio drama kind of feeling that I put in there, cuz that was one of my original sleep, sleep podcast. Ideas was like a radio drama, but like the, like a, like a library detective or something like some really boring story that doesn't really go anywhere. Speaker 1 00:16:28 Yeah. Yeah. The library like the library cop from Seinfeld. Right. <laugh> I, I like that idea. Uh, and I should say w S P is in fact a real radio station, but this particular one is an am station. Uh, it is itself a work of fiction. You, you you've essentially opened the door to like an anthology of sorts. It can, you know, w S P probably has programming more than just baseball. Right? I mean, it's, Speaker 2 00:16:52 This is, uh, it's it's, uh, there's room for it. Let's put it that way. Right. I, I haven't gone there yet, but, um, I got a couple ideas around that. Speaker 1 00:17:00 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, we already alluded to it, the goat getting loose. So this is later in this game between the cars and the timbers, and now, uh, goat has gotten loose on the field. Let, let's take a listen to that. Speaker 3 00:17:21 And now the crew chief is going call time for a moment, appears to be some debris near the left. And all right, here's the one, one pitch to Gilligan Parker and Parker smashes that Speaker 1 00:17:51 Little, well, I can tell you're a very keen observer because the Oregon there during hearing while the, uh, grounds crew is, is wrangling the goat, those are staples at any baseball park. Are you pulling all your sound from some kind of, uh, like royalty free library? Where, where is all that coming from? Speaker 2 00:18:08 Um, yeah. I have a subscription to, um, uh, sound effects and, uh, royalty free music place that I use for the ads and stuff. Mm-hmm <affirmative> and the organ sounds and whatnot. Speaker 1 00:18:18 I, I can tell you've done some voice work and a little bit of audio editing before, because the, you know, you gotta get the timing right there. You can't just throw some ambient track under, you know, the under, under your voiceover. I mean, getting the, getting the organ lined up the crack of the bad and all that. I mean, this is for all intents and purposes or radio drama, it's an audio drama. Speaker 2 00:18:38 That's fair. I'll take it. Speaker 1 00:18:41 And people are starting to catch onto 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 added 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 this self described boring media to help support it. Speaker 2 00:19:32 It's been encouraging. Cuz I thought this was the kind of thing that like maybe after a year, a thousand people on earth, would've heard it and been into it. But uh, the response has been, uh, very, very positive so far. So yeah. And I, and I'm, I'm new to the, uh, podcast world and have no concept of like what outrageous success or total failure even looks like as far as numbers. Speaker 1 00:19:56 Well, I think numbers in and of themselves can even be hard to, to interpret because you know, some people will tell you that downloads are, are a useless metric that you gotta look at, listen through a rate. What you've done, whether you've meant to or not is, you know, you've built a pretty, uh, niche audience and just ask them, Hey, pay what you think this is worth in media, a 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 are enjoy this. Hey, if you're enjoy it, contribute a little bit. And for a lot of independent creators, that's sometimes the most palpable form of success. I think, I think success itself can be pretty subjective. Speaker 2 00:20:39 Yes. Yes. That is a good point. Speaker 1 00:20:44 What is, what is your, you mean? You say you're new to this world of, of podcasting. I, 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've probably encouraged you to do what we talked about earlier, where you, we find some sort of paranormal element where one main character that we're, 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? Speaker 2 00:21:32 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 whatever or maybe, you know, maybe it, people like it. I don't know. So it wasn't that daunting. And, and actually years ago in like 2005, I was actually, I had did a podcast with my, uh, pals. This is a about way back in the super early days, early enough that if you were one of like the three podcasts that existed in Chicago, you were like the best voted the best podcast in the, the reader poll or whatever. So, I mean, I guess, but back then it wasn't, uh, it was, it was much more difficult to actually put stuff out there. And I think, uh, my buddy was like, we made the own, made it, made the website and figured out the RSS feed and all that stuff. Now it's just, you know, upload to buzz sprout or whatever. Speaker 1 00:22:26 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 Madam Bry where sort of the beauty is in the monotony. Were you drawing any inspiration from anything like that? Maybe not specifically. Madam Bry. That was just the first thing I thought about. Speaker 2 00:22:45 I mean, I'm, I'm certainly a fan of things like, you know, Brian Eino or ambient music, or really slow. I dunno 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, I'm no, uh, no stranger to, uh, boring media. Speaker 1 00:23:05 Well, I mean, I, I think like sometimes what I find the most fascinating is I like watching just like live streams at like an intersection somewhere, or I found one near the Brooklyn bridge where it's just, you're just watching the, I think the east river. Speaker 2 00:23:20 Oh Speaker 1 00:23:21 Wow. 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, uh, and boring. I like, I like all of it. You've done. You've done great work here. Speaker 2 00:23:32 You're my, you're my target. You're my target market. Speaker 1 00:23:35 <laugh> are we gonna be treated to it to a full season of the Northwood baseball network? Speaker 2 00:23:40 So I I'm, I'm gonna continue to make games. I haven't decided how to, uh, do, like, is it a season each year? Is it a season during this? I don't know how that's gonna go yet. Speaker 1 00:23:51 I mean, this kind of feels to me like an independent league you got about so far, we've seen about four or five different teams, right? Where do you see the, these teams in these players fitting in and, and the world of, of minor league baseball? Is it an independent team or these, do these guys have a shot at going to the majors? Like what's, what's going on here? Speaker 2 00:24:10 I feel like it is definitely an independent unaffiliated league full of, uh, probably folks who don't have a chance, but you never know, you never know Speaker 1 00:24:21 Their, their, their son has set so to speak. There, there stars faded. They probably, I imagine a lot of former minor leaguers, maybe some who are once, you know, prospects and never quite panned out. Right. And, and now they're now they're all playing, uh, ind league ball, Speaker 2 00:24:36 Right? Something like that. Yeah. That seems accurate. Speaker 1 00:24:40 Yeah. Well, Mr. King, this is, this is been a pleasure. Anyone else who's curious about more of these can go to sleep at the time of this recording. So far, there are four full length, fictional baseball broadcasts. Uh, some of which were taken from real events that might seem, and that's gonna be, that's gonna be my, my, my journey. I'm gonna start scouring, uh, baseball reference. See if I could, I can figure this out, I think, and do a little sleuthing. You Speaker 2 00:25:07 Could do it, but there are, I will say there are, uh, little tweaks here and there. So it's never exactly an actual game. Speaker 1 00:25:15 Are they all from the same decade or have you gone back? I mean, I mean, we've got box scores going back to the, to the 19th century now. So I will say Speaker 2 00:25:22 That so far. They're all from the last two decades. Yes. Speaker 1 00:25:29 Okay. All right. Well that gives me something to work on Mr. King or Wally, whoever, whatever you wanna go by. Speaker 2 00:25:33 Thank you. Thank you so much, man. Appreciate it. Speaker 0 00:25:40 Full Speaker 1 00:25:41 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 audience while you're there. Check out the new website branding and sleek logo, courtesy of Franco Brill, the product designer at Casto. And of course, to learn more about Casto you can go to for all your podcasting needs.

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