On the Radio - Recording the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker

I’ve been obsessed with this sound for a long time: a 1935 recording of an ivory-billed woodpecker. I’ve written about it, given presentations on it, and listened to it more times than I can count. So it feels right that it became the subject of my first broadcast radio essay. Since I started at To the Best of Our Knowledge, I’ve been wanting to do some segments that discuss historical sound recordings, so when Steve Paulson told me he was doing a show on extinction, this seemed like a perfect fit. Hopefully it will be the first of many. For more information on the expedition and this story, I did a brief write-up here. And because I’m a recovering academic it even includes a bibliography.

Some nerdy notes on the recording process: Joe Hardke, a great sound designer at WPR, does the voice of Jim Tanner. It was his idea to run the vocals through a tape machine, but I brazenly thought I could EQ them myself and make them sound “old.” Unsurprisingly, I was wrong and Joe was right. Caryl Owen ran Joe’s vocal tracks out to a reel-to-reel at pretty low volume, then boosted them on the way back in to the computer to get that nice, warm tape hiss. She also did a killer job lightly treating the historical audio material, which was generously provided by the Macaulay Library at Cornell. The music is from Widowspeak’s The Swamp EP, except for that last track



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