Exploring Music

The Making of an Exploring Music Program

There are many hours of research, planning, and production that go into the making of a single one-hour Exploring Music program. A dedicated team of people from all over the country contribute their talents and efforts so that Exploring Music can be listened to by a national audience.

One of the unique challenges of Exploring Music is that Bill McGlaughlin lives in New York, where all the recording takes place. However, the production team is based out of WFMT in Chicago, and Exploring Music is nationally syndicated, broadcasting from stations as geographically diverse as KNOM in Nome, Alaska, KHPR in Honolulu, WXXI in Rochester, New York and KPRG in Guam. Below, we've detailed how the program makes its way onto the airwaves around the country.

Pre-production

Planning for a week of Exploring Music programs begins weeks before Bill goes into the studio. The season is divided into five-program weeks that explore a particular topic, from Handel and Bach to symphonies and string quartets. Devoting five full hours to one theme allows for a great deal of depth that would be impossible in a once-a-week radio program. It also necessitates a great deal of research and planning to present the music in way that is enlightening and enjoyable.

Once a topic for the five programs is decided, potential programming is suggested by both Bill and the producers. For any given topic, this potential programming might encompass 30-50 hours of music, which must be condensed into 5 total hours of radio. The music usually comes from WFMT's extensive library in Chicago, so mp3s of all the discs are made, liner notes are copied, and everything is sent off to Bill in New York.

Meanwhile, in New York, Bill is usually very busy at the public library getting source material and doing research for the upcoming recording sessions. After becoming familiar with the nuances of a particular topic, he is then able to decide which pieces to include and what his commentary is going to be. All Exploring Music programs must be exactly 58 minutes and 30 seconds in length, so the timing of everything is always a factor.

Recording

Once the programming is decided upon, Bill goes into the WQXR studios on 5th Ave. in New York to record Exploring Music. Flying Bill to Chicago (or Noel to New York) for every recording session would be prohibitively expensive, so the recording session is monitored in real time over either ISDN or telephone in Chicago. This allows Bill McGlaughlin, Noel Morris, and Bill Siegmund to interact freely, as if they were in the same recording studio.

During the recording session, Bill records the 'voice tracks' for what will eventually become an Exploring Music program. There is no script written out, allowing for spontaneity and a casual feel, but Bill usually has a general outline of what he wants to discuss and what examples he wants to play at the piano. Usually, he'll voice the same section multiple ways, attempting to find the most concise and entertaining way to present all the information. Once the tracks for all five programs have been recorded, the audio files are sent to Chicago for post-production.

Post-production

At this point, Jesse receives the recording session files and starts editing them down into a usable version. Multiple takes are examined for the best sounding versions, and often snippets from the entire session are used to make a coherent whole. Music is added, volume levels between the music and Bill's voice is adjusted, and the program is timed out to 58:30. Often, music is added underneath Bill's narration, or small snippets of music are played, requiring additional editing work.

If the program runs longer than this, extraneous material must be taken out. If shorter, then fill music or additional movements are added to bring the program up to length. This is one reason that there are multiple versions of the theme music- they help bring the show up (or down) to length.

Satellite uplink/distribution

Once each program is completed, a CD is made, listened to for errors or glitches, and given to the WFMT uplink department, headed by Operations Manager Don Mueller. Exploring Music is distributed to stations around the country three ways: physical duplicates are made of the master CD and shipped, it is uploaded to the Content Depot server for automatic internet distribution, and it is also uplinked over satellite. Then, listeners all over the country are able to hear and enjoy Exploring Music, broadcasted on their local radio stations or over XM satellite radio.

 
 
The making of Exploring Music with Bill McGlaughlin

Post-Prodution Sample

Mozart's Requiem

In the third program of the "Looking for Life Among the Dead: Requiem Masses," Bill programmed the Lachrymosa from Mozart's Requiem Mass. Composed during Mozart's own last days of declining health, this movement is the last one written in Mozart's own handwriting- the last creation of one of the world's greatest composers. Here is how this section was put together:

In early takes, Bill plays the piano to illustrate the point of Mozart's death:

 

It was then decided that Bill should narrate over the music, to provide dramatic effect. Three separate sections were edited together:

 
 
 

Music is selected:

 

Spaces are added to the voice to fit in with the music

 

And finally, Bill and the music are combined:

 
Jesse McQuarters

Meet the production team

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