Been missing HamRadioNow, my podcast/YouTube show?
No? I’m hurt, but I’ll carry on. The show’s been ‘off the air’ since late September, except for one episode from the ARRL/TAPR DCC on FlexRadio.
I’ve been AWOL because I’ve been editing the DVD video of the K1N Navassa DXpedition from last January/February. Semi-apologies for the overwrought narration in the trailer. That’s not what the DVD sounds like, if you were worried.
If you’re into DXing at even a very casual level, you’ll recognize K1N, and likely you made (or tried for) a contact. Maybe you saw HamRadioNow Episode 205 – the K1N talk at the Dayton Hamvention’s DX Forum. Episode 206 was a spin-off conversation with one of the hams who was part of a 1972 Navassa DXpedition (and is the K1N webmaster). There’s a lot of interesting background in those episodes.
So, the DVD.
Last summer, Bob Allphin K4UEE, called me and asked if I’d consider editing the footage he shot of the DXpedition. Bob’s produced 9 other DXpedition DVDs, including the 2005 K5K operation on Kingman Reef, 3Y0X on Peter I Island, and FT5ZM on Amsterdam Island. He needed an editor for this one.
If you’ve watched many HamRadioNow episodes, you’ve probably heard me whine about how much I don’t like editing. I’ve been doing it all my career, and I’m kind of tired of it. It’s tedious and very time consuming. I can easily spend an hour or two completing just one minute of the finished product. The K1N program runs about 45 minutes, and I estimate I spent over 100 hours on it. You watch it in real time – 45 minutes – and you say ‘that was interesting. Next…‘
I’ll mitigate my rant by adding that I also find the process of editing very engaging and satisfying, especially once it’s over and I watch the finished product. The pain and time is sort of forgotten, and I wonder what I was doing for the past two months. Ladies, if that sounds a little like childbirth, I’ll acknowledge a weak resemblance. Very weak.
I’ll also admit that I’m not a speedy editor. It never mattered if I was being paid by the project or by the hour. I’m slow, methodical and detail-oriented. I screen and catalog all the footage before I start (why aren’t you editing yet?). I fuss over each new scene, trying various combinations of shots, pacing and transitions. After I’ve moved on and edited the next few minutes, I’ll retrace my steps and trim up some already completed scenes. And then I’ll do it again. And you watch and say ‘that was interesting.’ Most of the movies and documentaries you’ve watched were done that way. Most of the TV news stories and prime-time programs were not – they got the hurry-up treatment. The commercials, though – which is where I spent most of my career – were also hashed and rehashed to within an inch of their lives. Maybe not the local car dealer spots.
So I knew I should have turned Bob down. HamRadioNow and a little freelance keeps me as busy as I want to be. I knew what he was going to ask when I saw his caller-ID on my phone, before I even answered. And I knew I was going to say yes, I’d do it.
The DVDs will sell for $25, and I’ll get a pretty good piece of the action – several $k if the initial run of 1000 discs sells well (well over 100 have already been ordered). That’s really nice, but it wasn’t my driving interest. I just wanted to tackle this project. I’m not a DXer. I’ll work a DX station if I come across one. In my 50 years as a ham I may have worked 100 countries, but I stopped logging and QSLing a long time ago, so there are no operating achievements adorning my walls. But I was attracted to this event. I didn’t work’em. I only tried a little. Maybe it was the Dayton talk that caught my attention.
Only a few people have seen the finished product so far, and the reviews aren’t in from ‘the media’ yet. A few of the hams who have seen it say it’s the ‘best DXpedition DVD they’ve seen,’ but I’m always wary of the usual grade-inflation we give each other. I’m pretty happy with it. It’s polished without being slick. More professional than most other ham-oriented media. But I’ve always considered the DXpedition DVDs to be the best-produced, most professional ham radio media out there. Maybe getting an entry in that category is what pulled me in.
It is Bob’s project, of course. He shot it, amid all his other duties as co-leader of the K1N project. He got to review it often while it was in progress, and he made a few requests for additions, deletions and changes. But I think he may have been a little overwhelmed with what I was putting in there. If you’ve watched HamRadioNow, you’ll recognize my fingerprints.
And my voice. Most of Bob’s previous videos don’t have much narration. He talks to the camera some while shooting, and he’s recorded a little post-production narration. But mostly his previous videos strike me as really good home movies. I gave it more of the documentary approach. As I got into editing a segment, I’d pull the footage together, figure out what the story was (Bob gave me basic notes on every shot), and decide what narration it needed, if any. I’d write that into a script, and record myself reading what we call a ‘scratch track’ – a temporary version that gave me the timing I needed for editing. The plan was for Bob to record the script once it was finished. But he liked what I’d done for the temporary version, and we decided to keep me as the disembodied voice. There’s still plenty of him talking from behind the camera (also a disembodied voice) as he was shooting.
I had to re-record my part, since I had recorded the ‘scratch’ version in a fairly noisy room. I did the finished recording at the SoundTrax recording studio in Raleigh, NC (where I freelance a lot). It’s got the quietest couple of hundred cubic feet of studio space in the southeast (a room ‘floating’ on all sides, with an air-gap isolating it from surrounding noise. Yep, even the floor is suspended above the building’s floor), and a $3000 microphone (Neumann U-87).
And I couldn’t use it.
I had recorded the scratch track slowly and deliberately, fairly laid-back and laconic. Alone in the studio, with no producer to give me feedback, I sped through the script like the paper was on fire. It was terrible. I didn’t have time to go back to SoundTrax and record again, so I draped some blankets over the exercise contraption in our home gym and read it again into my Heil PR-40. I still like parts of the original scratch track better, and I used one or two of them (or three or four) where music or location-sound covers up the room noise. That’s what you’ll hear on the DVD.
I feel a sense of ownership of this video. I should – it’s got a little piece of my life in there, along with some style and quirkiness that you don’t usually find in documentaries (although the kids these days are also breaking all the old rules). I’m proud of it. But I need to give most of the credit to the 15 guys who went to the island for two weeks and pulled this off, and the dozens more who worked from behind the scenes before, during and after the operation itself. They’re the ones you’ll see on the screen or in the credits at the end. I wasn’t there, although I kind of feel like I was. Bob shot about 5 hours of video, and I crawled through it all, whittling it down to the 45 minutes you’ll see in the show. But I didn’t spend two weeks in the 100+° heat, eating MRE’s, sleeping on a cot with an inch of water on the floor, battling pileups and propagation. I know, I make it sound romantic.
And that ‘before’ part is more important than it seems. Any DXpedition to a difficult or dangerous part of the world takes lots of planning. There have been very few serious incidents in any of the many DX adventurers that appear to us as just a signal on the band (and a huge pileup a few kHz up the dial), either as a result of careful preparation, dumb luck, or both . But this one took something extra. Bob, Glenn Johnson W0GJ and several others spent 13 years working with (and sometimes against) the US Fish & Wildlife Service to obtain permission for the first DXpedition to Navassa since 1993. That story is told in HamRadioNow Episode 205 in their talk at the Hamvention®.
I think the DVD will make a nice stocking-stuffer present for a ham this Christmas/holiday. It’ll make a good club meeting presentation (and I know one single copy will make the rounds of every club in your town and the surrounding six counties, and that one will probably be a pirated copy of one that somebody actually bought or received as a gift. You’ll spend more on gas shuttling it around than you would buying another copy or two). You can order it at NavassaDX.com. Follow the links from there.
I’m looking forward to hearing what you think.
73, Gary KN4AQ