Podcasting is a niche medium that has recently exploded in popularity. We asked Jeff Adams, a veteran of radio theater, what he finds inspiring about this medium.
“I think the most inspiring thing about it is the speed with which you can get an idea and move directly to a story or a presentation that can be enjoyed by an audience,” Adams said.
With the speed of creation in mind, Adams detailed the start to finish of putting a radio show out into the world.
The Icebox Radio Theater has a small primary group of actors and artists that Adams calls his core. Adams explained that it does not take him long to produce a script because his “core” will gather for a table read where they read the script out loud to help Adams revise his work. After the table read, the group usually does two rehearsals before they perform a recorded show. You would think that the COVID-19 pandemic wouldn’t impact radio theater as much as it might live theater, but Adams explained that their process has changed a bit as well. “Before COVID we would try to get together in one studio, now it’s more broken up.” The last steps of production are mostly done by Adams himself. Adams shared that he records sound effects, edits, and notifies fans when the new show will come out before the final podcast is posted.
The most important part of radio theater might be the sound design. Adams spoke about his tricks for creating sound effects.
There is a concept called emblematic sound that Adams learned from a colleague, Brian Price of The Great Northern Audio Theater. Adams explained, “People perceive sounds that aren’t necessarily obvious and they can put you right into a scene.” Adams gave an example he got from Price. “[If] you have a scene at the beach, a lot of people that are sound collectors get very excited, ‘Hey, I’m going to record the ocean. This is a great chance.’ What they don’t realize is that when you’re standing next to the ocean, it just sounds like white noise. And if you play that back or put that under a scene to tell the audience, ‘We’re taking place at the ocean right now,’ it won’t work. They won’t recognize what that sound is. The emblematic sound for the beach is seagulls.” Adams elaborated, “I find that real snow does not sound as good as cornstarch. Cornstarch is ancient. [If] you’re doing footsteps in snow, you either use shoes in cornstarch or put cornstarch into a little bag and sort of squeeze that rhythmically, and that sends the message.” Sound design is a surprisingly old art form, so Adams learns a lot about it from reading. Adams told us that sound design goes back to Elizabethan theater, and mentioned that radio theater in the 1930’s used the same wind machine design that can be found in the replica of the Globe Theatre.
Funding tends to be the first and most prominent obstacle artists must overcome to achieve success. Adams spoke about the methods he uses to fund his radio theater.
With the rise of streaming platforms, the biggest concern for funding in the podcast field is the lack of direct product-to-consumer sales. Adams commented, “There really isn’t a recording industry anymore. Ten years ago, we could sell CDs at a live event, not so much anymore.” Icebox Radio Theater generates funding from multiple sources. Adams said in addition to grants, “We do take about half of our income from donations and fundraisers. We do have a Patreon, and that’s about it.” With the income from these sources, Icebox Radio Theater is able to generate enough money to make continued production worth it.
The Icebox Radio Theater has created a massive body of work. Adams spoke about how he continues to produce content after seventeen years of writing for radio theater.
The Icebox Radio Theater is one podcast studio among thousands. Without widespread fame many might wonder how Adams remains so dedicated and enthusiastic about his art. Adams explained, “We have had just enough success to where I can look back and say ‘Yes, this was worthwhile.’” Adams went on to describe the enthusiasm of his fanbase and his excitement at connecting with people all over the world: “I just sent a membership certificate to England this past week. We do a couple live shows [so] that people can use the chat feature. I actually have friends now that started out as just listeners, and they are even talking about flying to the Falls and doing a fan fest. That’s more than enough to keep me going.”
Finally, Adams spoke about his advice to aspiring artists.
Modern technology has given aspiring artists more resources to produce and spread their work than ever before. Adams stated, “You get to make your thing now, whatever it is you’re doing, your movie, or publish your book, or make your radio show. You get to make it now, and there are engines available to get that work out there.” Adams advised aspiring artists to “look towards producing lots of content,” explaining, “make another one, and then another one, and then another one, and you’ll find those two or three people who will start saying, ‘Hey, you’re really interesting’ or ‘you’re really funny’ or whatever it is you’re trying to be, and that, I find, is the most worthwhile.”
Jeff Adams is the creator and artistic director of The Icebox Radio Theater. Adams graduated from the University of Oregon in 1988. He started The Icebox Radio in 2004 in International Falls and has produced a massive body of work falling into an array of genres.
Eleanore Hunt is a writer from Minneapolis who mainly practices playwriting, film making, and research writing. She attends the University of Minnesota Duluth and plans on graduating in 2023 with a degree in Writing Studies.