Recording Story Rattles Producer

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For the last two weeks, producer Thomas Pierce has been on the road, working on the series, Take Me To Your Leader. The road leaves him edgy after recording sounds of an angry rattlesnake.


NPR's Thomas Pierce has been on a two-and-half-week road trip for an ongoing series of stories about leadership. At a roadside ranch in Santo, Texas, he confronted a fear he didn't even know he had. Here's his producer's notebook.

THOMAS PIERCE: Sometimes getting the right sound for a radio story means sticking your microphone into a mess of game hens fighting for kernels of food.

(Soundbite of game hens squawking)

PIERCE: Those game hens belong to a man in white sneakers and a State Farm baseball cap. His name is Bayou Bob, aka Bob Popplewell.

Mr. BOB POPPLEWELL (Proprietor, Bayou Bob's Brazos River Rattlesnake Ranch): We're here today to welcome you all to Texas and onboard here at the snake ranch.

PIERCE: We are at his ranch to talk to him and to see his emus and horses, hogs and hens, and turtles. Bob is throwing a bucket of dog food into a murky pond, and I've never seen so many turtles climbing out of the mud, wrestling for food. My mike is dangling off a wooden dock, and it sounds pretty cool. Getting that sound means getting in close, which I don't mind doing. Well, with turtles and hens at least.

Mr. POPPLEWELL: A lot of them won't rattle until you actually get them really riled up.

PIERCE: Now Bob is leaning over a low concrete wall and using a modified golf club to turn over a piece of plywood. He reveals a dozen diamondback rattlers hiding from the sun. OK, so I'd like to say that I've never really been afraid of snakes. Growing up in South Carolina, we had this black snake that sometimes got up onto the oven, and that didn't bother me. I saw that movie "Snakes on a Plane," and I laughed like everyone else. But that was before Bob and his diamondbacks.

(Soundbite of rattlesnake)

PIERCE: Bob sticks the rattler in my face, squeezes the snake's head, yellow venom dripping down its fangs.

(Soundbite of rattlesnake)

PIERCE: Yep, still rattling. I admit it, I was scared.

Mr. POPPLEWELL: Go for the snake before it goes for you. He can't come at you at all, even right there.

PIERCE: I'm sorry if Bob is hard to hear there. That's because I've backed away, far away.

Mr. POPPLEWELL: You can go. I'll get him if he comes at you.

PIERCE: The snake is on the ground now. Bob is tapping his tennis shoe at it and seems to be making it angrier.

Mr. POPPLEWELL: Man, he's liable to strike at any second. He's not going to go through the tennis shoes. You don't want to do this in real life.

PIERCE: This all feels like real life to me. And no matter how much I want good sound for the story, putting my hand near an angry rattlesnake is where I draw the line.

SIMON: NPR's Thomas Pierce.

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