internet radio documentary
|05.02.11: SPLASH - The Sunshine Skyway bridge spans the mouth of Tampa
Bay on the west coast of Florida. It carries thousands of cars everyday. It's
also become one of the top ten places to end your life. This is the story of the
many who jumped, one lucky guy who survived, and how broken bones and a
collapsed lung made him a new man.
Hanns Jones describes his fall and how the experience changed him
physically and mentally. We also hear from rescue workers, crises line workers,
and a website operator, all part of the culture surrounding the bridge.
Rich Halten grew up in the bay area and wanted potential bridge jumpers to
get a first hand impression of the hell that awaits when they hit those murky
waters. hear more of his work on
phil, Hanns Jones made the story especially personal and powerful and your words were both impactful and moving. Thanks for including it on your site -Rich
(thanks, rich, glad to be of service.)
05.03.11, rich halton talks on KCRW, the top public station in Los Angeles, prior to the 'SPLASH' broadcast.
07.19.11, transom.org, Who did What to WHOM!?
My memory’s not what it once was. But hearing a certain name made an instant connection with the past.
A prominent Tampa lawyer was murdered by his ex-wife. She snapped, drove to his new home and shot him six times. I got a cold chill when the victim was ID’d. I’d known him as a neighborhood kid decades ago when we played kid games.
But the part of the story I couldn’t shake was what his ex did after emptying her revolver. She drove to the nearby Sunshine Skyway Bridge and jumped nearly 200 feet into Tampa Bay. The cosmic joke was on her. Instead of evading an ugly trial and lifetime lockup, she survived.
Now I’d heard about plenty of jumpers who’d used the Sunshine Skyway to exit life. But somebody who actually lived to tell about it?
I’m no fan of gruesome movies or TV, but morbid curiosity took over. What thoughts do bridge jumpers have a second after their feet leave the wall? How does it feel to hit choppy water at 75 miles per hour? How do their broken bodies stay afloat until rescued?
And would this make a good radio story?
Thank goodness for a certain four-letter word.
Luck. I had none of it while trying to set up an interview with the ex-wife in her new home at the state pen. We got a little correspondence going, but it ended abruptly when a letter bounced back “Return to Sender.” Either she decided not to participate or the prison system wouldn’t allow it.
I was hitting dead ends trying to contact a few other surviving jumpers.
Then luck struck. A survivor named Hanns Jones actually returned my email. After a few phone calls convincing him I wasn’t out to exploit his story for ill-gotten gain (I explained it was for public radio), he agreed to an interview.
Magic. I couldn’t have asked for a better storyteller. Or a jumper so willing to volunteer all the painful and emotional details of his ordeal. Or a voice that could paint the picture like a colorful character in a movie.
Driving away from that first interview with Hanns, holding the tiny speaker on my flash recorder up to my ear, the cartoon light bulb flashed on overhead: “Holy crap! This guy can carry the piece. Who needs a detached narrator when you’ve got the glue to hold it all together, a strong story arc and a commanding voice, all in one.”
All I had to do was take a zillion bits and pieces, assemble them into a coherent story, and orchestrate with other sonic ingredients.
After I found Hanns (a gift from the radio gods?) everything fell into place like few things in life ever do. Even when I hit the occasional speed bump, a solution presented itself that made the piece better.
You’ve heard that luck is some combination of preparation, perspiration and inspiration. I agree — up to a point. But there’s another kind that you can’t account for or prep for. The kind that comes out of the blue like lightning. You don’t need it to make great radio. But it’s a game changer when it happens.
What’s with all the sound design you ask?
Ever notice that the soundtracks of most film and video docs are more complex and better crafted than radio documentaries? Why be self-limiting, unless the piece is pure journalism? Why not use every tool available, including music, atmospheres and SFX?
Strong sound design was always part of my plan, but it also served a practical purpose. I needed it to cover wind-damaged portions of Hanns’ dialogue (micro editing also helped). I wasn’t prepared for the 15-25 mph gusts off the bay in our first interview. My bad. We recorded in calmer locations after that.
I might’ve gone lighter on sound design if the piece had traditional narration. But Hanns’ unflinching willingness to tell his personal story made it a good fit. Really, a perfect fit to elevate “Splash” to impressionistic, even cinematic. At least, that’s what I was shooting for.
And I believe “Splash” has greater creative license because it’s not really a documentary. It’s a feature. We don’t hear that “f” word uttered much in U.S. radio. Maybe because there’s a fuzzy notion of what the heck it is. This description from the In The Dark website makes sense to me:
“The Radio Feature seems to live in a strange and much neglected no-man’s land somewhere between journalism and art.”
Bingo. That pinpoints where I’m trying to work in the radio landscape.
How did a guy in his 60s become a public radio newcomer?
Would you believe a return to radio roots? At 13, I started hanging around a station in my hometown in Florida and maintained a hands-on connection to radio through high school and army duty.
Fast forward past twenty-something years in advertising, and I fell in love again with the medium — though a stint as a producer at a sports-talk station was a rude awakening to today’s corporate radio. Meanwhile, public radio — where my dial had become increasingly glued — was looking like a more simpatico place to be.
Never mind that I get looks at Third Coast like, “Dude, the AARP meeting is down the hall.” And so what if the money is slightly better than picking up aluminum cans along the freeway. I’m not in it for the bucks (so I keep telling my wife).
What am I in it for? Funny, I was asking myself just that a few years ago during a Center for Doc. Studies summer workshop. Whining, actually, to John Biewen about the pay and lack of programs to showcase one’s work.
Try thinking of yourself like most fine artists, said John. Money and fame isn’t their motivation. The creative urge is what drives them. Do it because you love it.
Like B-movie heroes used to say when their sidekicks slapped them back to reality at a critical moment: “Thanks. I needed that.”
Taking the long view.
There’s lots of emphasis on public radio’s youthful, hopeful neophytes. I’ve got no problem with that, having done my share of mentoring over the years. But, without getting too Rodney Dangerfield about it, a small group of radio curmudgeons is still looking for a little respect, working to be heard somewhere on the dial, the web, or on iPods.
Maybe your intended radio career path has meandered down a Cul de Sac. My advice: Don’t hang up the earphones — not if you love it. Who knows? Maybe your best moments in the medium come later, when life has slowed down and you’re out from under a heavy mortgage.
In the words of Hanns, “It gets better.”
Tools and other production notes.
Recorders: Olympus LS-10 and a Sony PCM-10
Mike: Heil PR 35
Other: One interview was recorded via Skype using Wiretap Studio. Can you tell which?
Editing and sound design: Pro Tools 8 on a three-year old Mac Mini
Music: Royalty free from various sources. Some were gratis, a few I paid for.
SFX: I recorded many of them. Others are from Soundsnap.com or Freesound.org
About Rich Halten
My love for radio goes back to ancient history. It was THE entertainment medium in our home until I was 11 and we finally got a 17-inch Philco. Not that it stopped there. I wanted to do more than listen to the radio. I began to haunt a station just a bike ride away from home and school, getting chummy enough with DJs to segue records. By 16 I was spinning the hits after school and weekends. Dating was an occasional event because radio came first.
Radio helped me through college, and it made army duty an adventure when I was stationed at the American Forces Network in Germany. After discharge, the siren song of TV called. But a few years at a PBS station led to advertising as a creative outlet that actually paid good money.
I worked for agencies, mostly in Atlanta, and eventually became a partner in one. Years later, we sold our shop to a bigger agency. Four years after that I was downsized and ready for a return to my radio roots. But the medium had changed. A gig as a producer at a sports-talk station was a rude awakening to corporate radio: more pressure, less fun.
Meantime, I was learning Pro Tools producing spoken word CDs for a friend, and discovering the glamour of being an indie public radio maker. While I’m still learning to play the game, it’s the most fun I’ve had since I was a teenager — on the radio. (comments follow article.)
10.2011, rich halton talks on the wusf - florida matters radio show, before and after the 'SPLASH' broadcast.
06.12.12, wusf.usf.edu,WUSF, Independent Producer Win National Murrow Award for Documentary
Rich Halten and WUSF won for a documentary about people who jump off the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
By Scott Finn
I’m excited to announce that we’ve received one of the most prestigious honors in broadcast journalism, a national Edward R. Murrow award.
This is for an audio documentary we featured on Florida Matters about a man who jumped off the Sunshine Skyway Bridge…and survived.
If you’ve heard the amazing story, you remember it. If not, you can go online to wusfnews.org and listen to it.
Congratulations to documentary producer Rich Halten, Florida Matters host Carson Cooper, and the entire WUSF news team for this national Murrow Award.
Here’s the official press release:
WUSF Public Media announced today it received first place nationally in the Edward R. Murrow Award in the audio documentary, large market category.
Entitled “Jumping Off the Sunshine Skyway Bridge…and Surviving,” the winning documentary includes a story by independent radio producer and Lakeland native Rich Halten called “Splash” and an interview of Halten by WUSF Public Media’s Carson Cooper for the show “Florida Matters.”
The documentary is about the many people who have jumped off the Sunshine Skyway, one lucky guy who survived, and how broken bones and a collapsed lung made him a new man. As part of the program, Cooper spoke with Halten about the history of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and suicide, and the ethics of taking on this difficult subject.
“As one of the most prestigious and competitive awards in broadcasting journalism, this is such an honor for our newsroom,” said JoAnn Urofsky, general manager of WUSF Public Media. “It is through the leadership of our news director, Scott Finn, and our talented reporters that has enabled us to reach this outstanding achievement.”
The award will be accepted at the Radio Television Digital News Association award ceremony in October.
RTDNA has been honoring outstanding achievements in electronic journalism with the Edward R. Murrow Awards since 1971. Murrow’s pursuit of excellence in journalism embodies the spirit of the awards that carry his name. Murrow Award recipients demonstrate the excellence that Edward R. Murrow made a standard for the electronic news profession. In 2011, 600 Regional Edward R. Murrow Awards were handed out and of those 600, 95 went on to win National Edward R. Murrow Awards.
Previous audio documentary winners include NPR, This American Life, and WBEZ-Chicago.
The Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA)
RTDNA is the world's largest professional organization exclusively serving the electronic news profession, consisting of more than 3,000 news directors, news associates, educators and students.
About WUSF Public Media
WUSF Public Media is a comprehensive media organization that provides media services to the community and businesses through public broadcasting and multi-media production services. Licensed to the University of South Florida, WUSF Public Media serves the public interest through programming, educational outreach and community partnerships. For more information, visit www.wusf.org.
06.12.12, (email), hello rich, nice job. glad to have been a part in this. may you have continued success such as this.
06.12.12, Great to hear from you, Phil -- and thanks. Glad you got wind of it. Thanks again for playing a part in it -- a big part. Many people have told me your heartfelt comments made an impact on them.
Keep up the great work on your site. It seems to be having a positive effect. I know it's early in the year, but the number of jumpers appears to be lower than previous years. All the Best, -Rich
06.12.12, heard about it through a google alert. we have had a slow jumper year so far. i'd like to take some credit, but who really knows why? let's just hope it continues to be a light jumper year. again, congratulations on this award.
06.13.12, wuft.org, “Suicide” is often considered a sensitive topic in society. But independent radio producer Rich Halten says he hopes his recent Murrow Award winning documentary on the subject can help make a difference to people thinking about taking their life. Halten recently produced a documentary called “Splash” telling the story of a man who survived jumping off the Sunshine Skyway Bridge across Tampa Bay. Halten talked with Florida’s 89.1, WUFT-FM’s Donna Green-Townsend. (and yes, phil is not my real name.)
"It was kind of a shock," Halten said of the award.
The Sunshine Skyway, with a peak vertical clearance of 193 feet, ranks as the fourth-leading site for bridge suicides in the United States and the first east of California, according to various reports. A website devoted to the Skyway reports that 205 people have jumped to their deaths from the bridge, the vast majority from the current span that replaced an earlier version in 1987.
Another 34 have survived attempted suicides from the Sunshine Skyway, according to Skywaybridge.com.
It was one of those unlikely survival episodes that first got Halten's attention. He came across media coverage of a 2000 episode in Tampa, when a woman fatally shot her ex-husband and then drove her Cadillac to the peak of the Sunshine Skyway and leaped off.
"People I've talked to about it, whether it's the Skyway or the Golden Gate Bridge, survivors say one second after you jump you think, ‘What the hell did I do? I made a big mistake here,'" Halten said. "She's somebody who didn't want to survive, and the celestial joke was on her because she did survive."
The woman, Kathy Freeman, is now serving a life prison term for murder. Her victim, Grover Freeman, a prominent Tampa lawyer, had been a childhood neighbor of Halten in Lakeland.
Halten, who retired from an advertising career five years ago, said he originally hoped to interview Kathy Freeman for a radio documentary. After a brief correspondence, though, she cut off contact.
Halten began seeking other survivors of leaps from the Skyway, and eventually he tracked down Hanns Jones. In 2001, Jones, despondent over romantic and financial troubles, drove his truck to the peak of the Skyway, stepped out and jumped toward the water.
Jones incurred broken bones and severe organ damage, but he lived. To Halten's gratitude, Jones agreed to an interview.
"I couldn't have found a better guy who was not just willing to tell his story but could tell everything — good, bad and ugly — who had a compelling voice and was just a natural storyteller and who didn't pull any punches and didn't hold anything back and who had a happy ending," Halten said. "He said it changed his life for the better because he has a real appreciation of life now."
The documentary consists of Jones' description of his leap from the Sunshine Skyway, as well as the events that led him to jump and the aftermath. Halten also interviewed two rescuers from the St. Petersburg Fire Station closest to the bridge, the one that handles calls about jumpers.
"Splash" is likely to dispel any gauzy notions that jumping from a tall bridge is a pleasant way to die. As the rescuers explain, a body is traveling at about 75 mph when the jumper hits the water. Jumpers don't die upon impact but often suffer through minutes of intense pain before drowning.
"Hanns talks directly to people thinking (of suicide)," Halten said. "He says, ‘You think it's romantic to jump off that bridge? You have no clue.' He talks about how it felt and the pain. ... He said it's like having your worst toothache except it's all over."
In the documentary's final moments, Halten talks of having recovered his love of life. Halten said that sense of redemption is a crucial element of "Splash."
"If it had just been dark or no resolution to the entire thing, first of all I don't think I would have pitched it (to radio stations)," Halten said. "Second of all, I don't know if a lot of places would have taken it."
Halten also interviewed the man who operates Skywaybridge.com, a controversial website that chronicles all reported and suspected Skyway suicides. Though relatives of victims have criticized the site as insenstive, Halten said he thinks it serves as a potential deterrent to those who might emulate Skyway suicides.
The site is polarizing enough that its manager goes only by the name "Phil." (hehe)
Halten, using Protools editing software, embellished the interviews with sound effects and music.
The documentary originally aired on "Unfictional," a program hosted by Los Angeles station KCRW. It later ran on other stations, mostly affiliates of NPR, among them WUSF.
Halten said "Splash" proved popular with WUSF's listeners, and the station ran several repeat broadcasts. WUSF host Carson Cooper interviewed Halten for an episode of "Florida Matters" devoted to the documentary.
That episode of "Florida Matters" brought WUSF Public Media an Edward R. Murrow Award for in the category of audio documentary for large-market stations.
"Splash" proved popular with WUSF's listeners, General Manager JoAnn Urofsky said, generating positive comments on the station's Facebook page and in phone calls.
"We rebroadcast the program as one of our ‘Best of Florida Matters' episodes during our spring membership campaign, and it was very successful," Urofsky said.
Halten, who still owns his family's house in Lakeland, said WUSF has expressed interest in future projects he might produce. At the moment, though, he said he is focused on spending time with a new grandchild.
|06.26.12, Pearl, Clearwater, I listened to Splash today and cried several times. I cried because I can understand that depth of depression. I have struggled with depression all my life. I also knew Judd slightly that jumped in 2009. He worked at the bar at the Sunspree with it's scenic view of the Skyway Bridge. How ironic that was, is? I found out after his death Judd had struggled with depression a good deal of his life. I can relate. I often wonder what made him finally do it. I didn't know him well enough to know. But when I hear the man in Splash, Hanns, and his sadness over his mother and sister seeing him in the hospital, it broke my heart. It is very difficult to get help when you are at the depth of despair. I am glad Hanns got past his demons and is happy in his life. I really wish Judd had. (thank you for your contact. we're truly sorry you lost your friend. everyone is capable of being depressed and how one copes with it is usually a solitary venture. we hope you continue to cope with yours and that some day, you will be free of it. we passed your message on to rich halten, creator of the 'splash' audio program. he replied: Thanks, Phil. In the big picture, that really means more than the Murrow Award or any other trophy, doesn't it. Thanks again, - Rich)|
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