As I’ve been recently working on elements of a voiceover demo, it has been a pleasure, once again, to use my voice as a communication tool. In fact, in taking this on my being has been flooded with memories of how I first started doing radio in Budapest after the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, and why I found out what a radio producer does to be so wonderful and powerful. Let me transport you back to the early years just after the political changes in Hungary, when people were pumped with enthusiasm for the future, a time which was full of lessons and which offered a great opportunity for a budding radio reporter that would one day become a podcaster.
In 1992, I was a flailing English teacher at a firm specialized in the construction of houses. Hungary had recently rid itself of its socialist regime and there was a distinct lack of family homes – that’s why my boss, an arrogant Belgian man who wore designer suits and had a chauffeur drive him around Budapest in a huge Chrysler, made his way to Hungary. He acted like a king who would teach the locals something.
English, for one thing. He hired me to teach his employees, because he thought there needed to be a common language among the various employees who were Hungarian, Belgian, Italian, etc.
My lessons were usually scheduled before the work day and after the office work was done, so I spent a lot of time jaunting to the office by bus that took me up into the Buda hills, with a huge chunk of free time in the middle of the day.
Sometimes, the boss would take one of his right-hand men and me out for breakfast buffet at a hotel he had stayed in for weeks while he was setting up his company. It never felt right to me, but, as he had made such a regal impression with the hotel staff, he pretended he was staying at the hotel once again whenever we’d have a lesson so we could have a luxurious meal for free.
At the time I was living in the large flat of a quiet single man who smoked an acrid brand of cigarette produced by a formerly state-run tobacco company. Unfortunately, the room where I slept had no closing door, and “Endre” liked to start his smoking and coffee drinking at 5:30 in the morning. My eyes seared from the smoke, and I could almost never get back to sleep.
Still, the room was inexpensive, and although we had nothing in common, we were both lonely: his wife had divorced him and taken their son to Canada while I had recently broken up with my girlfriend.
It was in those times that I happened upon something that would change my tune.
I’d read in the English language weekly Budapest Week that someone had started an English-language radio show, which was broadcast mornings and evenings from 8 to 8:30.
I skimmed the dial of my landlord’s Orion stereo receiver and happened upon some young American voices whose delivery and reporting sounded a bit like college radio, material which was interspersed with recent reports from National Public Radio. The name of the show was “Budapest Day & Night”. Immediately, I thought of how much I’d enjoyed producing newscasts for WBCR at Beloit College.
First, I called the radio station, Radio Bridge, and asked how I could get in touch with whomever ran the show. While I don’t remember the actual conversation that drew me there, when I got to the radio show’s cramped office in Hungarian News Agency, the staff – a group of about six enthusiastic Americans – sized me up.
It was warm and I was in a shirt, shorts and Birkenstock sandals.
The boss, a news producer from NPR’s named Lisa Harmon, told me she’d be glad to have a helping hand as many of the volunteers wanted to take some time off for holiday trips over the summer.
She showed me the ropes (and threw me into the deep end!): writing newscasts by rewriting material from various sources available at the news agency and how to read the copy, coming up with story ideas, booking interviews, conducting them, writing a script, tightening it up, voicing up my part and editing it all together by using a razor blade and adhesive to splice together the pieces of audio tape that made up parts of my radio story.
It was some of the coolest stuff I’ve ever done. I was hooked.
To be continued…
Links for getting into podcasting: