Cody Appleseed

Allison Swaim gets sound. Pun intended.

She understands it and she knows how to record it to tell a story.

In the fall of 2008, Allison produced a piece about a guerrilla gardener — a guy named Cody who illegally plants trees on an island off the coast of Maine. Allison had a knack for getting her mic in all the right places. She collected great sound of Cody canoeing, hiking, planting trees, and getting dirty. Then, she used the recordings to paint a vivid picture of his work.

Producer Robert Krulwich once said “In radio, the listener is a co-author.”  What he means is that because there are no pictures, listeners are free to create their own images when they listen to the radio.

One of the ways good radio stories paint pictures is with ambient sound and active tape. Ambient sound is the general, background sound of a place. Active tape is a recording of someone doing something. Put those two together creatively and radio becomes cinematic.

See for yourself. Take a listen to Allison Swaim’s “Cody Appleseed.”




PS – A few days ago, Ira Glass said he thought sound can be over-emphasized in a radio piece —  it can become a fetish. He’s much more interested in story.

I’m not sure I fully agree. Sound at the expense of story — that’s a problem, for sure. And, sound isn’t a substitute for story. (“Oh, I’ve got these cool sounds. They’d make a great story.”)

But great sound, recorded well, and cleverly integrated into a narrative plays to radio’s strengths. Indeed, Ira once said “Radio is your most visual medium.” Sound makes it so — sometimes more so than talking heads and music.


  1. One Response to “Cody Appleseed”

  2. By Anne on Oct 20, 2009

    The producer’s p.s. criticizing Ira Glass is inappropriate and detracts from Allison’s piece. The producer should not include his differences with Ira Glass in a comment about Allison’s piece. This is about Allison’s piece, not the producer’s philosophical differences with Ira Glass. Frankly, everyone’s style is fabulous but take your differences privately please

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