Birdsong makes a nice backdrop for a tense golf tournament, but when CBS was caught overdubbing bird sounds in its golf broadcasts last year, bird watchers busted the network. Bob talks to Ken Hullinga of the American Birding Association about bird watching and golf TV.
April 14, 2001
BOB GARFIELD: If you said to me Bob what's your favorite birdsong, you'd have me stumped. I don't know a gold finch from a condor. To me, cataloging bird sounds is approximately like collecting stamps which to me is like cataloguing bird sounds. It's not that I don't appreciate nature; but I think it's best kept outside. Fortunately, however, everyone isn't like me which is how CBS got caught last year over-dubbing recorded birdsongs to add pastoral beauty to its golf broadcasts. Joining us now to get to the bottom of the story is Ken Hullinga of the American Birding Association. Ken, how on earth did the birders notice this?
KEN HULLINGA: Birders almost subconsciously listen to the bird sounds that they hear on TV. It's-- Most people kind of ignore them; they're part of the background noise. But to people interested in birds, you sort of can't help but pay attention to them.
BOB GARFIELD: Mm-hm. Well listen, it happens that today we have another special guest. I'd like you to hear from him. [CANYON WREN BIRDSONG]
KEN HULLINGA:Ahhh! I know that guest! That's a canyon wren! As wrens go, fairly attractive-looking wren. They're native to the Western and Southwestern United States.
BOB GARFIELD:Well, exactly. I don't know if you would call it the smoking gun, but it's definitely a whistleblower, because it was that song, heard during a broadcast of the Buick Open which is played in Michigan that alerted birders to the fact that CBS was sweetening its broadcast soundtracks with sounds of birds that were not indigenous to the area. The canyon wren, of course, as we both know, would never be found in, in Michigan. Is that right?
KEN HULLINGA: That's true.
BOB GARFIELD: What do they take us for, [LAUGHTER] to put such an obviously out of context birdsong in that golf tournament?
KEN HULLINGA: You know we, we hear out of place birds all the time. Commercials are full of songs of morning warblers. People are sitting around their back yards grilling on their barbecues and while that is a bird of, of primarily the East, they certainly don't hang around people's back yards.
BOB GARFIELD: Now during the Masters Tournament last weekend we again heard some birdsongs. Let's hear from our second very special guest. [CAROLINA WREN BIRDSONG] Sound familiar?
KEN HULLINGA: That's the one! That's a Carolina [wren].
BOB GARFIELD:Now do, do you believe that maybe they were sweetening the audio again only this time with a bird that was appropriate to the venue?
KEN HULLINGA: Certainly Carolina wrens are present in that area and probably nest on that golf course. It would seem a little odd that the bird would be singing with that many people milling around, but it's certainly a little bit suspicious.
BOB GARFIELD: Ken Hullinga, thanks for being with us.
KEN HULLINGA: You're very welcome.
BOB GARFIELD: Ken Hullinga is with the American Birding Association in Washington, D.C. [MUSIC]
BOB GARFIELD:That's it for this week's show. On the Media was produced by Janeen Price and Katya Rogers, engineered by George Edwards and edited-- by Brooke. We had help from David Serchuk and Kathleen Horan.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Mike Pesca is our producer at large, Arun Rath our senior producer and Dean Cappello our executive producer. Bassist/composer Ben Allison wrote out theme. This is On the Media from National Public Radio. I'm Brooke Gladstone. [WEIRD BIRDSONG]