Normally in this space we make a sincere effort to be frank, funny and flippant about things that we’re working on, while being reasonably informative about them too. And, to be honest, that kind of style flows pretty easily onto the page when most of what we’re riffing on is stuff about a product or service that has an air of entertainment or fun tied to it.

Cancer, to be sure, is neither entertaining or fun – and the mere mention of it makes moot any gratuitous humor we might normally throw in here having to do with sock puppets, rim shots, or faded celebrities. Just doesn’t fit. As one who has had to deal with cancer in my own family, I feel that this is something to which I can pretty easily attest.

Additionally, cancer doesn’t typically lend itself to the normal approaches one might take to producing radio spots either – snappy dialogue, heavy sound-design and witty voice-overs would more than likely just swamp and sabotage any attempt to handle this topic respectfully or even effectively. It demands a completely different approach. Which is one of the reasons we wanted to share some recent work we just did with Clarity Coverdale Fury and their client AlTru Cancer Center of Grand Forks, North Dakota.

Jerry Fury, the writer for this series of radio spots took a very discerning and philosophic approach –

“There’s something about the word cancer that tells me not to make jokes about it. That said, when I set out to do these spots [for AlTru], I didn’t think funny. Instead I thought about how people and families with cancer talk to other people and families with cancer for support and information and education.

I decided to record interviews with real patients at the Altru Cancer Center in Grand Forks hoping to get responses that came directly from their hearts not from the mind of a writer like myself. Having done this style before I knew what I wanted to get, so when I asked the questions I reminded the patients to answer me in sentence form – so they could play the questions back to me with their answers. That way it’s so much easier to use their responses in any order you like and [then] cut and paste sentences together to create a single story line.”

From an editing standpoint radio projects like these can be fairly demanding – which, in point of fact, is part of their reward. With literally hours and hours of interviews from which to cull material, it’s not unrealistic to pass large swaths of time listening for a single word or phrase, said in the right context, with the proper inflection and true to the original content, that can then be used to finish an incomplete sentence or idea. And, while there’s great satisfaction in getting an edit like that just right, it’s equally maddening to realize that this piece you’ve taken hours to create has just clocked in at ninety-five seconds. Unairable. Now, It’ll need to be cut in half and yet, somehow, maintain its naturalness.

Instead of working traditionally with set scripts and ideas, Jerry wrote and cut scratch tracks while in studio

The really cool thing about this process though is that timing issues like these can be resolved in a variety of ways. The best way, and the method that we ultimately used, was to get the interviews edited down to a random time that was under sixty seconds. Then, Jerry listened to the resultant edit and began writing copy that was germane to it – effectively spackling in the holes and filling out the edges to get us to sixty seconds. Finally, to make sure we were truly accurate, he recorded a scratch voice-over to see if his length of copy estimate was right. Once this was done, we simply had to record our real voice-over announcer, Chris Nissley from L.A., and get the mix levels together.

“I think the challenge in making commercials using real people is that you never know what you’re going to get or how you’re going to put it all together. To me it’s like having the pieces to a puzzle but not knowing what the puzzle is supposed to look like until you finally get it put together. Done well, the spots can have a very honest and trusting voice that bodes well for the brand. I’m happy with the way they turned out.”

Here are the spots, “Steve Moen”, “Kay Mendick”, “Lani Caraway”, and “Molly Hape.”

Christopher Nissley can be booked through his voice-over agent, Innovative Artists in Santa Monica.