Radio 4 Extra: The making of Bradbury 13
Michael McDonough working in the studio on Bradbury 13 in 1984
I decided as a very young man in the late 1970s to someday adapt Ray Bradbury's stories into the audio format.
I was very influenced by the sound in the movies back then, and having grown up near Hollywood I met Ray Bradbury through some friends. He immediately loved the idea of adapting his work into radio. I received a grant from National Public Radio in 1983 to produce thirteen half-hour dramas for national broadcast and Ray was very supportive of the idea.
I chose stories from his works that I felt would work in the audio environment and went to work adapting them into radio scripts. My intent was for the audience to feel like they were watching a movie as they listened to them, so I wrote the stories with film-style settings and transitions in mind.
I set about recording original sounds, and manipulating them in the studio on multi-track tape machines to create a library of sound material to use in the shows. I recorded everything from rocket engines test firing in the Utah desert to bullets ricocheting off of rocks and dirt roads to 1950s cars and trucks for the show.
I decided not to update Bradbury's scripts into the current time era, but kept them in their original settings of the 1950s and 60s when they were written, so the sounds were appropriate for that time period.
I hired two friends who were budding music composers, Roger Hoffman and Greg Hansen to write original music for the shows, and a live orchestra was recorded in the studio. The music in the series is patterned after and heavily influenced by legendary British film composer Bernard Herrmann, who wrote many fantasy and dramatic films scores for many classic films including Psycho, The Day The Earth Stood Still and Cape Fear.
On the technical side, I decided to record the actors using a binaural microphone set up which simulates true stereo sound. Two Neumann U-87 Studio microphones were used, placed the same distance from each other as the human ears. The same rig was used to record the Foley sounds, which are footsteps on dirt, cement and various surfaces to make the actors sound as if they are moving about.
Finally, I was able to hire legendary Hollywood voice talent Paul Frees to introduce each story and voice the closing credits. His credits include numerous motion pictures, including George Pal's original War Of The Worlds, many Disney cartoons, and the voice of Disneyland's attractions Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion.
The finished shows were broadcast on over 250 NPR radio stations throughout the United States, and won the prestigious George Foster Peabody award in 1984. All in all, it was a work of love!
Michael McDonough is the writer, producer and director of Bradbury 13