Episode 70 - Living History: The Berlin Candy Bomber Joins Fisher!

podcast episode Dec 22, 2014

Fisher opens the show a great question from a listener about displaying and preserving a century old passport, and who to trust with the project.  Hear Fisher's answer as it could apply to many projects.  Then, in Family Histoire News, excitement is brewing in New England, where a time capsule left by Paul Revere and Samuel Adams is likely to be opened soon!

Then, Col. Gail Halvorsen, best known as "The Berlin Candy Bomber" joins the show to talk about how his one little act of kindness resulted in hope for the besieged people of West Berlin in the 1940s.  It's an intriguing story right from the mouth of the 94-year-old Halvorsen who remembers it all like it was yesterday.  (This should remind you to interview your senior relatives to capture their family stories.)
Then, Tom Perry, the Preservation Authority from TMCPlace.com, talks "room deadening," and mic technique with Fisher to help give you the technical outcome everyone hopes for when recording interviews with family members.
That's this week on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show!

Transcript of Episode 70

Host: Scott Fisher

Segment 1 Episode 70

Fisher: Hey, welcome back to America’s Family History Show! It’s Extreme Genes, where we shake your family tree and watch the nuts fall out. I am Fisher, your Radio Roots Sleuth. And, this is going to be a great week or so, for recording and making a lot of family history with so many people getting together. I hope you are ready for it! Tom Perry, our Preservation Authority will be here later in the show. He and I are going to give you a lot of ideas on how to ensure that your recordings come out the best they can be. How to deaden a room and why it’s important to keep from unintentionally adding noise to an interview, and a whole lot more. What we’ll be telling you might save you a lot of heartache when you listen back to your visit with grandpa and grandma or even your own children. You know, back in 2003 I approached the New York Genealogical Biographical Society about a piece I wanted to write on a fifth great grandfather of mine. Who it had been figured out was the engraver of the first coin of the United States, the “Continental Dollar.” The initial response was some hesitation because most of their articles are on several generations of families, and then my contact noted, “Well there is that word Biographical in our name.” So, we moved forward and the piece was published later in 2004. Well, that’s an important thing to remember, all this research isn’t just about hanging names on a tree. It’s what they did in their lives. And with that in mind, I’m excited to have as my one guest this week, Colonel Gail Halvorsen. Colonel Halvorsen is living history.

Learning to fly at a young age, he served throughout all of WWII. But it wasn’t until several years after the war that he really made his mark reaching out to the children of West Berlin, whose food supply had been cut off by the Soviet Union, who held the entire area surrounding the divided city. As the relief of West Berlin was provided by airlift, Colonel Halvorsen dropped candy to kids with little handkerchief parachutes, making lifelong friends and providing hope for all the West Berliners in their darkest hour. One small act of kindness turned into an ongoing program which later brought Colonel Halvorsen worldwide fame, as the “Berlin Candy Bomber.” Today, you’ll hear living history that will undoubtedly touch your heart. And when you listen to it, remember that you have your own family members who have their own remarkable stories that you can still capture for a limited time. Hey, we’ve got a great listener question this week from Woody Livingstone of Glendale, Arizona.

He says, “My father obtained a passport in 1917 so that he could go to France and volunteer with the America Field Services as an ambulance driver, prior to the U.S. entering the First World War Well, a few years ago, I discovered the passport still in its AFS leather wallet, among letter from home that he saved. I really want to get it and some of the letters professionally mounted for display, but don’t know who to trust with something so fragile and irreplaceable. Some of the letters that I scanned were from his grandfather, a Civil War veteran who lamented having four of his grandsons serving on foreign soil. There is even one from his sister telling of crashing their electric car. Who knew they had electric cars in 1917? Any hints on finding a good place to mount the passport?” Well first of all Woody, nice haul! I call these things “Moose Heads” you know like hunters who love to display their prized kill on the wall. I feel the same way about some of my finds and I have a few thoughts on this. First of all, I’ve had a lot of luck dealing with framers who deal with things like this on a regular basis. Do a little interview with whoever you considered to do the job. And ask them how they plan to go about highlighting these great pieces. If you’re going to mount the passport, I’d suggest you mount it along with the wallet it came in and turn them into a shadow box. Your framer should secure the pieces without glue, and see what they propose. The glass should be UV protected and the background, acid free of course. Even then, over the long haul light can become your biggest enemy. So you might want to keep it in a room that doesn’t get a lot of sunlight. As far as the letters are concerned, you might want to do what I did with the 1840s Fisher family bible pages I had obtained in June. Take high quality scans on photo paper and frame those with pictures of the authors. Then, tuck away the originals in acid free sleeves in an album and store it in a dark place. Great question! And thanks for asking Woody. Send me your comments or questions at [email protected].

From the pages of ExtremeGenes.com, it is time once again for your family histoire news. Well, like King Richard the III, Paul Revere has found a way to be back in the news. Back in 1795, he and fellow revolutionary Samuel Adams, the man he was off to see on his midnight ride, placed a time capsule into a corner stone of the Massachusetts State House. Well, this past week a water leak near that corner stone caused the box shaped capsule and the artefacts it contained, to be rescued from possible damage. It took some 7 hours to chip away the rock surrounding it. At the time the capsule was placed there, Samuel Adams was governor and construction of the State House had just gotten underway. This isn’t the first time the box has been removed and inspected. It happened once before in 1855 when the State House went through some emergency repairs. It’s possible that by the time you hear this; the contents will have been removed and shared with the public and internet. After that, the plan is to return the capsule, perhaps with a new container, back to its original location in the corner stone. And this time though, it may have a few artefacts from our own day added to the historic trove. The article is linked now at ExtremeGenes.com. And just a reminder, be sure to take advantage of the new Extreme Genes podcast app that allows you to listen to all our past on your iPhone or android, just download it from your phone’s store and get caught up on what you may have missed. There’s a lot of information and fun in those shows. And coming up in three minutes, he is known around the world as the “Berlin Candy Bomber” and to some who benefited from his kindness in the 1940s “Uncle Wiggly Wings.” We’ll talk to Colonel Gail Halvorsen, author of the book “The Berlin Candy Bomber” next on Extreme Genes, America’s Family History Show.

Segment 2 Episode 70

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Colonel Gail Halvorsen

Fisher: And welcome back to Extreme Genes, family history radio, America’s Family History Show. It is Fisher here, your Radio Roots Sleuth, and imagine growing up and attending an elementary school that was actually named for your grandfather who’s still around. This was actually the experience of a couple of the grandkids of my next guest Colonel Gail Halvorsen, better known as “The Berlin Candy Bomber.” How are you Colonel? Good to have you on the show.

Col. Gail: Hey, doing great out here in Arizona. Good to hear from you Fisher.

Fisher: Well this is really an honor for me first of all to talk to you sir, because I’ve known your story for so many years, and for people who aren’t familiar with it, we will get in to that in just a little bit. You know, such a big part of family history is history and people creating their own story and their own lives, and yours has been defined by a very short period of time in the late 1940s Colonel. Let’s go back to the beginning of this. First of all you were a flyboy very early on. You’re 94 years old right now I think. I’m not talking out of school, right?

Col. Gail: That’s right.

Fisher: Born in 1920. When did you start flying?

Col. Gail: The spring and summer of 1941.

Fisher: And where were you getting your lessons? What were you flying at that time?

Col. Gail: Well, people in high places knew that we were going to get in trouble sooner or later and we didn’t have a big enough pilot pool in the United States for expansion. So in the colleges they had a college training program that were taking guys that wanted to fly and give them training through their private pilot and get a private pilot licence. And they needed more so they went to none college guys and that was me. I was really interested in flying and I studied hard. I got one of ten scholarships, there were about a 140 kids who took that and I got one of ten. So I got a flight scholarship and that’s when I started my training in May of 1941.

Fisher: And that was just a few months of course before Pearl Harbor came along. We get to WWII, everything starts and where did they assign you?

Col. Gail: Well, I went to the Aviation Cadet Center for assignment in San Antonio and they had a notice on the board, “Anybody who wants to train with the RAF should sign up.” So I went in. I thought that’s exotic you know, these guys are really something and I signed up to be trained with RAF. Now the RAF has their training schools in Canada and the United States and the one I was assigned to, was in Miami, Oklahoma. But they had RAF test pilots and RAF ground school so we were on loan to the RAF to get our flight training. About five of us in that one place in Miami. And then we got our RAF wings, then an army test pilot came up and gave us a flight check and we got our army air core wings. So I trained as a fighter pilot. When we went back in to the army air core they needed transport guys. So I ended up in transport during the war. I was flying out of South America sanctions islands, Africa, and supplying the basis up and down those coasts, occasionally ferrying in an airplane to England for an invasion. So that was how I got started.

Fisher: And that was just the beginning for you, wasn’t it Colonel because you really made a career flying?

Col. Gail: Yes, I’ve been flying ever since. I had part ownership in a couple of different light airplanes, I owned a power parachute of my own, so I’ve been flying steady since the spring of 1941. We’ve been flying clubs and that sort of thing. Of course right now I’m flying as co-pilot with Tim Chopp of Berlin Airlift Historical Foundations C-54, The Spirit of Freedom. In 54 they flew the Berlin Airlift and Tim Chopp got it out of a junk yard and got it flying again.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Col. Gail: So I’m flying that, and next month I’ll be dropping parachutes over Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

Fisher: Isn’t that unbelievable. We’re talking to Colonel Gail Halvorsen. He is known as the Berlin Candy Bomber. As part of a great family history of the United States of America as I like to look at it. You’re a great hero in my mind because of what you did to help rebuild relations with Germany after the war. Let’s talk about now the political situation that took place. The war is over, and now we’ve got a problem because the Russians have cut off Berlin and isolated it. And you are now part of the food lift to keep Berlin from being overrun by the Russians entirely.

Col. Gail: That’s right. The Russians were starving over two million people, cutting off all the supplies coming from West Germany over East Germany to West Berlin. And they were going to take over West Berlin, and they were going to take over West Berlin. It’s obvious they were heading for Paris eventually and Italy. But West Berlin was in the way, a showcase for freedom in the middle of the Red Sea.

Fisher: So you were flying in food. Is that what it was at the time?

Col. Gail: We fly in everything they had to have to survive. We flew in food, and by the way, we had to fly in dehydrated food. Everything you could take the water out of, we took it out because one airplane can fly as much dried food as seven airplanes without dry food.

Fisher: Wow!

Col. Gail: When we got the dried food to Berlin, of course they had plenty of water in the wells and they put the water in it. It didn’t taste very good, not as good as fresh food, but they said, “We’re not going to complain. Someday we’ll have the freedom. And if we lose it, we’ll never get it back.” And so they were glad to have anything that gave them strength.

Fisher: Now, were you flying twenty four hours a day? I remember it was just like flight after flight after flight for a long period of time. How long did this go on?

Col. Gail: It was a twenty four hour a day operation. When I first got there in the blockade in 1948 in July, we were flying three rounds trips a day from West Germany over East Germany in to West Berlin. You might start at six-o-clock at night you know, to be on duty for about fifteen hours during the first of the blockade when we didn’t have enough airplanes. And later on, two round trips a day out of West Germany was about averaging and that would take about ten to twelve hours.

Fisher: And so at some point along the line you noticed a gathering of children along the runway or by the landing area. Why were they there?

Col. Gail: Well, the children were watching all the airplanes coming over the fence because they knew that their next meal was in that silver airplane and they were just cheering actually. To see those kids wave to you as we taxied out to take off from the other side of the barbed wire that went around the airfield, and they had an interest in every airplane that came in, and those little guys, they knew what their aunts and uncles and cousins were like, and the problems they had on the East side of East Berlin and East Germany, and they didn’t want anything to do with that. They were just letting us know that they appreciated everything we were doing for them.

Fisher: Did you ever have a chance to go visit with them? Was that an area of the airfield that you could get to, or was it always, “I got to get in and I got to get out?”

Col. Gail: Well you got to get in and get out, but when I went back to Rhein-Main to West Germany one day, I get back there before noon and go to bed, but I thought, “Boy, this airlift is going to be over pretty quick,” which it wasn’t. It went almost a year and this was just a month or so in to it. I wanted to get movies with the operation on the ground, shooting pictures of airplanes coming over the bombed up buildings. So I hitchhiked back and had no problem getting a standard flight suit and I could get back and forth with my buddies flying. So instead of going to bed, I went back to Berlin with a movie camera. I got on the end of the runway shooting. It was a bad approach. They had to come in steep with a heavy load and the runway wasn’t as long as we’d like it. So I was shooting movies with the guys coming over the bombed up buildings and landing behind me. Suddenly on the other side of the barbed wire is about thirty kids, right up against the wire looking at the uniform that was killing and bombing their dad and mom or brothers and sisters a few years before in the war, but they were friendly. They knew what the soldiers were like because their aunts and uncles and cousins had come across the border in to West Berlin and tell them, “You don’t want anything to do with those guys.” So they were friendly. And I was standing there by the fence almost an hour shooting the pictures, and then said “Sorry guys and girls” These eight, nine, to fifteen years of age. They spoke English because they because they had to in school. I couldn’t speak any German. And they were cheering me up saying, “Look, it’s summer now, the weather is good. You’re going to have no trouble getting in here to land. But when winter comes, the fog is terrible in the air and you’re going to have trouble when that happens. Don’t worry about us. We don’t have to have enough to eat. Just don’t give up on us. Someday we’ll have enough to eat. If we lose our freedom we’ll never get it back.” Kids! I was fascinated.

Fisher: Wow!

Col. Gail: I had to run, I had a jeep waiting for me to take me around to take movies of the city that was bombed up because you couldn’t do that flying, you had to stand by the airplane or it would take right off.

Fisher: Sure.  

Col. Gail: So I was taking my sleep time to take a tourist view of Berlin. Well, I got about five steps and I suddenly realized that these kids were different. I did stop right at the barbed wire and not one child had for an hour or thirty, put out their hands by voice inflection or by body language telling me, “Dummy, don’t you know kids like chocolate?” During the war and after, I’d flown to foreign countries besides American, other countries, Africa and even more civilized countries, more up to date countries, and the kids see you walking down the street in American uniform, they shake you down for a chocolate even though that they had some. These kids had none for two years and not one would be so ungrateful to beg for something more than freedom, something as exotic as chocolate. First time, gosh I got to give them something, and I stop and put my hand in my pocket, two sticks of gum is all I had, thirty kids are going to have bloody noses when they get out of here. And I argued with myself for a minute and said, “You’ll never see them again because you’re going to be flying all the time. You can’t be hitchhiking back here instead of sleep anymore; this is once in a lifetime.” And so I argued with myself for a minute and said well it’s up to them if they fight, it’s up to me if I give it to them. And it’s a big decision, I turned and went back to the fence and broke them in two pieces and cut them in half and passed it to the kids through the barbed wire and here came the rush, and I thought, “Oh, I hope they don’t fight” but they didn’t. The kids that didn’t get any just asked for a piece of the wrapper.

Fisher: Oh...

Col. Gail: And the kids with the half a stick tore off the other half of the tin foil and passed it around. Those kids put it up their nose and smelled it and smelled it, the strip of paper. I stood there dumbfounded. That’s the trigger right there.

Fisher: Oh! And what happened next really changed the world and we’ll talk about that in our next segment as we continue our visit with Colonel Gail Halvorsen, coming up next on Extreme Genes, family history radio, America’s Family History Show.     

Segment 3 Episode 70

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Colonel Gail Halvorsen

Fisher: We are back, Extreme Genes, family history radio, America's Family History Show. And as we talked about earlier, a lot of family history is about the stories and about the history that we as individuals and our ancestors have created. And we've got one man on the line right now who created a lot of history, and he's still doing it! He's Colonel Gail Halvorsen, known as the “Berlin Candy Bomber” and later known as “Uncle Wiggly Wings” and let's get into that a little bit, Gail. We were just talking about how you met the kids along the fence and you shared with them a little gum, and this is where the impetus for the whole candy bomber thing started.

Col. Gail: That's right. They were so excited about the smell on a piece of paper. I thought “Boy, for a few bucks, I can put them on easy street and give them a whole stick each or whatever. And then I knew I couldn't come back to the fence again, I'd be flying 24 hours without much sleeping. I said "Boy, I'll be here tonight and tomorrow, flying in, I'll be right over their heads. I can deliver it by air. I'll drop it out the airplane." And so I told the kids, "You come back to the open place between the bombed up buildings and the barbed wire fence, when I come over your head tomorrow to land I'll drop enough stuff for all of you if you’ll share it." And they said “Ja wohl, ja wohl!” It means. "Yes, yes! We'll share! We’ll share it!” I turned to leave and said, “I don't know. It will be sometime tomorrow before noon. I'll be back.” Then they said, “Wait a minute, we've got to know what airplane you're in. Every 5 minutes airplanes are landing here and we can't watch every one of them for a little package." So I told them what I learnt when I got my flying license back in ‘41 in the farm, flew over the farm and let dad and mom know that was me up there in the airplane, I’d wiggle the wings back and forth. I said, “Kids, watch the airplane when it comes over the field. Now I would wiggle the wings of that big airplane back and forth. Just watch that one.” They said, “Wow, get out of here. Let’s start it!”

Fisher: [Laughs]

Col. Gail: So I went back to West Germany and we couldn't buy much. We'd only buy a certain amount of chocolate. Each week is a ration. I went to my co-pilot, mentioned it to him and said, “Give me your ration.”  “What are you going to do? Buy a camera on the black market?” But I said, “No.” I told him what I was going to do. He said, “You got permission?” I said, “No, told the kids I’d do it. Give me your ration!” So they did. They had double handfuls, not just gum, but chocolate bars. Boy that was pretty heavy to make sure that you didn’t hit them in the head with the candy bar at 120 miles an hour. I had three handkerchief parachutes and I tied a third of the chocolate and gum onto each parachute, and tied it on tight. And then went back to Berlin that night. And the next day, came over just before noon over the airfields and on the end of the runway those kids, a little mob, they hadn’t told another soul. Looked like just the thirty that was there before, right in the middle of the old place between the bombed up buildings and the barbed wire fence, wiggled the wings and they went crazy, just blew up. Of course I went on, over East Berlin, turned around, come back to land. Came over the top of them and had the crew chief standing between the pilots. We’re flying 100 feet in the air. And he shoved the three parachutes out a little flare chute and then we were worried when he unloaded 20 000 pounds of flour. Whether somebody had seen it come out and report us, or if we missed the target and pulled it over the fence on the runway, but as we taxied up we came along the barbed wire fence. There were those thirty kids waving three parachutes.

Fisher: Eventually, you got into a little trouble over this, didn’t you?

Col. Gail: Well yes. We came back and did not submit the airplane. He said, “Who’s flying this airplane?” And my buddies pointed to me and said, “He is. Why? Colonel Howard wants to see you right now” “What for?” I said. He says, “He’ll tell you.” Went to the colonel he says, “Colonel Halvorsen what have you been doing?” “Been flying like mad, sir” “That’s not all you’ve been doing. What else you been doing?” And then I knew he knew and thought I was going to be court-martialed for a little while. But then he said the General called him and said, “Hey, that’s a good idea. Let him do it.” From then on my buddies got into it. Two sticks of gum turned into 23 tones over the next, about a year. It was a joined operation with all my buddies dropping too.

Fisher: Let’s talk now about the impact of this, not only on the kids, but on your life.

Col. Gail: Well it changed my life. Here it is in ’94. Next month I’ll be flying our Berlin airlift airplanes, Spirit of Freedom, which we’re flying over Kitty Hawk next month, dropping parachutes. Every year we make that drop. So it changed my life. I just got back from New York. Lufthansa airlines gave me an Achievement of the year award and it’s just crazy. My buddies are the ones that did it, and the kids are the ones that triggered the airlift operation by my buddies. The happiness of life doesn’t come from a bigger car or a bigger house in your neighborhood. It comes from gaining outside of yourself and serving others. The gratitude of the kids, for flour to be free, was so great they wouldn’t beg for chocolate. That gratitude caused the operation to happen. If they begged for something, I’d give them all we had. I’d give them the two sticks of gum and that would be the end of it. But because not one child said, “Give me” that gratitude was so strong. That’s what caused the operation to happen.  Attitude! Everybody said, including the Russians, “They can’t feed 2 million people by air. It’s never been done before.” You know, we’ve heard that in the workplace. Somebody gets a good idea, and he says, “Oh, that’s never been done before.” Cuts off progress, attitude! There were some generals who said we could fly people, and General Tunner said we can fly that stuff in there. Attitude made it happen. And the Germans and the Germans on the ground came back with attitude. They came back and said, "Hey, we don't have to have enough to eat like I said before, someday we'll have enough to eat, to lose our freedom, we'll never get a badass attitude. Someday we'll put up the stuff. It’s going to be a rough patch to put up with. So off we got service before south. Gratitude, attitude, and the little decisions put your footsteps on the path that leads where you end up. Whether it was a good or bad one, I tell the young people, if somebody says, "Hey, try and sniff a little of this glue or try to smoke a little of this weed." So that's a little decision at the moment, but if it happens, you put your own footsteps where you end up, and it’s not going to be good.

Fisher: That's right.

Col. Gail: The little decisions bring you that.

Fisher: Tell me about the kids. Did you ever get a chance to meet them after they were adults?

Col. Gail: Oh, tons of them! In Danville, California, we've got a whole group of them out there. One gal, Stephie, had caught enough parachutes to make under cushions and jackets, Stephie. Danville, California, they got a whole group about there. Mercedes, a little gal, says they're scaring her chickens and that it’s okay if I drop chocolate bars there. I met her, and she's coming to the States. And I stayed in her house many times, and have been in contact with her right till today, lots and lots of kids.

Fisher: Well, it sounds like a very fulfilling life, Colonel Halvorsen.

Col. Gail: Well, Mercedes Wild is a great friend, and we did scare her chickens, but I sent her a big package of gum and candy. We flew that airplane, the one I'm flying now back to Germany for eighty nine days. And then a grown man came through the airplane and he said, "I was a boy at twelve, going to school. The clouds were very low with rain, when suddenly out of the clouds came a parachute with a fresh Hershey candy bar. It landed right at my feet. I was astounded. So it took me a week to eat that candy bar. I hid it day and night." Then he looked far off and said, "But it wasn't the chocolate that was important. What was important was that somebody in America knew I was in trouble, and somebody cared. I can live on thin rations." he said, "but not without hope. Without hope, the soul dies."

Fisher: He's Colonel Gail Halvorsen, The Berlin Candy Bomber, Uncle Wiggly Wings. Thank you so much, Gail, for your time and for sharing your story. And God bless. And hope you have a great new year.

Col. Gail: Thank you. You're sure a great guy to work with.

Fisher: And coming up in three minutes, Preservation Authority, Tom Perry, joins me as we talk about, how to get the best audio recordings of your family members. We’re going to give you information that can save you a lot of heartache when it comes to the quality of you audio. A little planning can make all the difference. That's next on Extreme Genes, America's Family History Show.

Segment 4 Episode 70

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Tom Perry

Fisher: Hey, welcome back to Extreme Genes, family history radio, ExtremeGenes.com, America's Family History Show. I am Fisher, your Radio Roots Sleuth. That's Tom Perry from TMCPlace.com. He's our Preservation Authority. Welcome back, Tom.

Tom: Good to be here.

Fisher: And these are the segments in the show, I think, that make people maybe the most uncomfortable, because we talk about technical stuff and mic technique and things that maybe people don't think about too much when they go about preserving their family history in whatever it is in terms of dealing with computers or whether in this case, interviewing family members, because this is a great time of year for that.

Tom: Oh it is! It absolutely doesn't matter whether it’s Christmas, New Years, Memorial Day, Labor Day, any time you have a group of people together, you want to get out your recorder.

Fisher: And there's so many problems that can come up, it can ruin a really great interview. And Tom, you see this every week, because you run your store, and people come in with audio and then they find out, [Wa!] there's noise in the background.

Tom: Exactly! That's one of the biggest things that people come in and complain about, or call me on the phone, "You know, I've got this now. What can I do?" The most important thing whenever you're recording, whether it’s just audio or audio for your video, plan, plan, plan! And if you didn't hear me, I said, Plan!

Fisher: [Laughs]

Tom: Plan it out what you're going to do. And that helps you so much. Like if you're interviewing somebody around just a kitchen table, take a minute and unplug your refrigerator, turn off the AC, do whatever you need to do to turn off sounds that are going to be in the background that's going to drive you nuts.

Fisher: I think a lot of people don't realize how much noise we tune out.

Tom: Oh absolutely!

Fisher: In the course of our lives.

Tom: Oh.

Fisher: And it’s all around you. And if you stop maybe the day before you're going to do this and have absolute silence around the house, and start to tune in on some of those things, you're find maybe there's a clock ticking in the background that's going to make noise. And all these things need to be disabled.

Tom: You are 100% correct! And our brains, the way they're designed, they're designed to tune that stuff off. Like people with hearing aids, they hear a lot of things that people without them don't, because the hearing aids aren't as smart as a brain to tune out these things. So that why I recommend, anytime you're doing audio, put in some ear buds or some headphones or something, so you're actually hearing what the recorder or camera hears. So you'll hear the click of the clock, you'll hear the refrigerator running. And it may not be there immediately, but it’s going to come on some time during the interview. And if you're afraid, "Oh, I'll unplug it and I'll forget to put it back in." Get a big piece of paper on the front of the fridge that says, "I'm unplugged."

Fisher: Right. [Laughs]

Tom: Just tape it right on.

Fisher: Or make a list of all the things you've disabled.

Tom: Exactly! You need to do that, because something just like a little battery operated clock will drive you nuts! If you have one of these giant watches these kids are wearing nowadays, they go, "click! click! click! click!" Turn off your phone, all these different things. Just do them, and like you say, make a list of what you did. It'll make your audio sound so much better. You'll be less frustrated, because if the phone rings or something happens and you have to start over again, you'll get frustrated. Take the time to get all these things done. Discipline yourself, and you'll be receiving the rewards forever.

Fisher: There will be no greater frustration though, than taking it to a place like Tom's and then hearing for the first time that your wonderful interview has all this distraction in it.

Tom: We have people that bring something into us they've never even heard it back. And they get back the CD and go, "What did you guys do to my tape!? I hear these noises in the background." So we pop it in the machine and go through it with them and say, "This is your refrigerator kicking on. This is a clock in the background. These are your kids going out the screen door." because we've heard it so many times, we know what they are, and they go, "Oh."And the good news is, we can get rid of it. The bad news is, it’s not free.

Fisher: That's right. It takes a lot of work, because you've got to do some editing and some filtering in certain cases.

Tom: And the thing is, when you speak, you have a wave form. And human voices have quite a dynamic range. And refrigerators and different thing like this have a smaller dynamic range, but if your voice crosses some place, you're going to hear little clicks and bits as we take out those pieces to try to compress the bad noise and kind of expand the good sounds and try and cover it up. And if you would have taken like you say, a day before, you'll do so much better in your recordings. If it’s something you have to do kamikaze, you don't have time to set it up, just think for a minute, "Okay, Let everybody be quiet for a second. Oh, let's unplug the fridge, take the batteries out of the clock or move in to another room." Turn off your cellphones, put them on vibrate. And if you put them on vibrate, don't set them on the counter. Keep them in your pocket or they're going to bounce across the table and you're going to pick up that noise as well.

Fisher: It’s amazing how much noise comes from the smallest things that you wouldn't even realize until you have that recording. All right, we're going to continue this discussion, because this is really important if you're going to save these important interviews, coming up next in three minutes on Extreme Genes, family history radio and ExtemeGenes.com.

Segment 5 Episode 70

Host: Scott Fisher with guest Tom Perry

Fisher: All right, we are back at it, final segment for this week for Extreme Genes, family history radio, America's Family History Show. It is Fisher here. That's Tom Perry from TMCPlace.com, now to pick up where we were last segment. We were talking about interviewing people, because this is a great time of year to interview grandma and grandpa and the great uncles and aunts and capture some of those old stories, because they will eventually be lost forever.

Tom: Oh absolutely! And don't just get caught up on the old people. Some of the young kids that are four, five six and seven, you get some of the best interviews those kids, and then when they're older, they will love listening to them and their kids will love listening to them. So don't just think, "Oh, we have to talk to grandma and grandpa, because they don't have that much time left. Talk to the little kids, because you never know, you know.

Fisher: That's exactly right. Now let's talk about rooms, because most houses are really not meant for recording. And there are better places than others within a house or an apartment.

Tom: Right. We call them live rooms and dead rooms. You want a dead room when you're recording audio. What a live room means is, you have four walls, a ceiling and a floor, and there's no carpet. They're all hard walls. They're all 90 degree angles. And sounds are going to echo. They're going to sound tinny. They're going to sound really, really bad.

Fisher: They bounce all over the place.

Tom: Exactly! If you have something as small as art on the wall, carpet on the floor, chairs in, things like this will make a live room kind of muffled, more so like it’s a dead room. Even if you want to put some carpet and chairs in, if you want to put a couch in there, if you can move furniture around, you can use those as noise baffles.

Fisher: I set up a studio in my house using a closet. And it was a nice, small room. And my being able to put up some foam pieces or carpet, you can actually deaden that room pretty nicely.

Tom: Absolutely! And I mean, anything you do to deaden a room is going to make the sound purer. So you're listening to the person's original speaking, not the echo off the walls.

Fisher: We might mention here that this might seem kind of extreme for a lot of people, but the thing you want to do ultimately is find the best, deadest room in your home.

Tom: Which is usually a family room, because it has a lot of furniture, you can even get just some blankets and throw them over some chairs, and that will absorb sounds, because the more stuff you have in there that going to absorb sound, the better it’s going to be.

Fisher: And if people do as you have recommended, listen through headphones as they prepare for this whole thing, you'll be able to hear what rooms are dead and which ones are just too live. And it becomes too distracting.

Tom: In fact, if you think, "Oh, I don't have headphones. I don't know how to do this." almost everybody nowadays has a smart phone or has a phone that can record. Just before you actually do your interview, turn on your phone and just record some video or whatever, and then play it back to yourself, and you're going to hear some of that stuff.

Fisher: Let's also mention here, Tom, a little about mic technique, all right?

Tom: Oh, absolutely!

Fisher: And a lot of people struggle with that as they try their first interviews. Be careful about how you handle a microphone. Some people get a little nervous and their fingers start to go over it. And you can actually hear that noise transmitted down a cord or through the mic itself.

Tom: Oh, absolutely!

Fisher: The other thing is, is when you interview people, don't put the mic too close to their mouth, because then you can, [Pf! Pf!] you'll start to hear, "the Ps popping" as we call it in the industry.

Tom: But that never happens to us.

Fisher: [Laughs]

Tom: In fact, the best thing to do is, get some foam or even a pillow and put that around the mic, not covering the part where they talk into but the part that you're holding. Put some towels in your hand, and that will keep it from getting some vibrations. If you're running cords along the floor, don't run them across AC cores, because it’s going to pick up some of the electricity going through and it’s also going to give you pops and static.

Fisher: So from the technical side, it’s just really important you understand. Find a dead room. Make sure you're not handling the mic, causing vibrations to go through it. Make sure that you go through the entire place and listen for noises that could come up in your recording. Wear headphones. And don't get the mics too close to your relative.

Tom: Exactly! And try to get an external microphone, because a lot of the microphones that are made on these little, teeny camcorders, they're so small now, they'll actually pick up the motor noise of the tape recorder or the hard disk recorder.

Fisher: All right, great advice, Tom. Thanks for joining us. You can always [email protected], anytime you have a question. That is IT for this week! And thanks once again to Col. Gail Halvorsen, author of the book, The Berlin Candy Bomber, for sharing the lessons he learned from his remarkable history. Have an incredible week with your family. And see what you can find out. Talk to you next week. And remember, as far as everyone knows, we're nice, normal family!

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