Good morning Austin:
Recently, I covered the meeting at which the Travis County Republican Party precinct chairs elected a new party chairman. I was seated in the back of the long narrow room at the Crowne Plaza Austin and while the room was crowded, my seat was by itself, set back from the filled rows of seats, and I had ample personal space.
It was a very long meeting, and about an hour in, I recalled that I had half of a few-day-old brownie in my bag. I slipped my hand in the bag, rummaged around, broke off a bite-size piece of brownie and put it in my mouth. I gave a chew or two and instantly, a young woman seated a couple of feet in front of me turned her head and glared at me.
I had not thought my two chews had made any noise. I didn’t hear anything. But apparently I had made an audible chomp. My jaw stopped still. I let the rest of the brownie piece melt in mouth, swallowing it as quietly as I could.
I had at that moment a flashback to a scene 40 years earlier. I was a student at Tufts University. I went to see Jane Fonda speak on campus in a large gym. I was by myself. I was chewing gum. I didn’t notice that I was chewing loudly, but, after a few minutes, another guy, a few years older, passed me a note. It said, “I didn’t come to see Jane Fonda to hear you chew.”
My jaw stopped still. I was ashen, shamed and ashamed. I nodded apologetically. I also, in my heart of hearts, wanted to stalk my scolder for as long as it took to catch him, somewhere, somehow, making an inappropriate noise in public, and call him out, to shame him back.
A year doesn’t go by that I don’t think of that humiliation.
I am recounting all this by way of saying that when I heard Donald Trump snorting and sniffling during the debate yesterday, I was sympathetic that his essentially private noises, as natural to him as breathing in and out – because when it comes right down to it, that is what those sounds were – had suddenly become a public matter – and a source of shaming – before one of the largest audiences ever to watch anything in the history of the world.
I had heard Trump’s audible breathing before. It was a feature of his public speeches. I didn’t hear it all the time, and I thought maybe it was only a periodic habit, maybe when, after a few smaller breaths, he would take a bigger breath to deliver an important line.
But, at Monday night’s debate, it was very evident. I watched the debate in a front row seat at the Alamo Cinema Drafthouse, Lakeview – a very big screen and a very good sound system – and I thought maybe it was simply more evident because I was seeing Trump breathe on a size and scale and with a volume that I had never experienced before.
It was a little unusual, and a little distracting, but Trump’s got all kinds of facial ticks that keep you from focusing too much on his breathing, and so I didn’t think it was all the big a deal.
Well, I was wrong.
But wait. Back up. Howard Dean? Former Vermont governor Howard Dean? Former Democratic presidential candidate and Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean? Hillary Clinton surrogate and medical doctor Howard Dean?
Despite a lack of evidence, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean is refusing to apologize for insinuating on Twitter that Donald Trump might be a “coke user” – instead, he claimed Tuesday that the Republican presidential nominee’s “grandiosity” and “delusions” are characteristic of cocaine use, while acknowledging that it’s unlikely he actually has a drug problem.
CBS Reporter ERIC SALZMAN: The communications director, Patricia Enwright, comes around and preps the press. “Get ready guys, he’s going to be firey.” I don’t remember if someone told me before or I learned later, but this was also in part because of Senator Harkin’s advice. So Patricia comes out and is like, “Yeah, he’s going to be firey.” They made the decision to play to the room.
TERI MILLS, grassroots organizer: The governor walked in, and of course the room just went bananas. It was like a rock star. And we all could barely even hear him talk.
ADAM MORDECAI, staffer on the Dean Campaign’s Iowa Internet team: I was near the front of the stage. It was like a rock concert. You couldn’t hear a word. We couldn’t hear anything he was saying, basically.
SALZMAN: I can’t tell you how many Howard Dean stump speeches I watched. You get to the point where you can recite the lines along with him. There’s crescendo lines built into those speeches, and then you wait for applause. Here, he was working himself up. He was giving this ad-libbed pep talk and he started naming the states—”And then we’re going to go to New Hampshire, and then we’re going to go to South Carolina. ” He’s looking down at the crowd, and he got that neck skin roll because he’d gained so much weight during the campaign. So it is an unflattering look. And he gets to this crescendo in his tenor, and he has no line to land on. So he goes, “BYAH!” and then chuckles to himself.
DEAN: I was working 20 hours a day, I’d get 4 and a half hours of sleep. I put on 20 pounds because I was eating Peanut M&Ms all the time.
MORDECAI: He only had a few shirts, and they were all too small for him. And so they would make his head look like it was about to explode if he worked up any emotion at all. It would just tighten around his neck and he’d turn bright red.
JOE TRIPPI, Dean campaign manager: The problem was that it was a unidirectional mic he was speaking into, which is meant to make sure that television stations can hear him and not have the crowd roaring so loudly the people back home can’t hear the candidate. But that, of course, creates a situation where the CNNs of the world and their audiences hear a guy yelling over a crowd that they can’t hear.
ZEPHYR TEACHOUT, Head of Online Organizing, the Dean Campaign: Here’s how I think about a unidirectional mic: Picture yourself in a bar. You walk over to a friend you haven’t seen in a while and ask them about their job, with all the noise around. Then imagine the noise shuts down, but they’re talking over all that background noise that isn’t there. It wouldn’t sound pretty, but it would be fascinating to watch.
The speech as it looked—and sounded—from within the room:
KATE ALBRIGHT-HANNA, CNN correspondent: The venue was crazy. There was a sense that it was really loud, but it just felt like a typical rally. Nothing out of the usual happened. Nobody remembered a moment happening at all.
DEAN: Not only did I not have any sense something happened; there were 75 print reporters in the room, and I’ve never talked to one that had any sense that anything unusual was going on.
TRIPPI: Nobody knew what happened until we were all hanging out at the bar afterwards with press, having a beer. And looking up and seeing, repeatedly, this scene of Howard over and over again. So you looked up and went, “What the? What’s going on?” I realized as soon as I saw it that it wasn’t going to be good.
ALBRIGHT-HANNA: We went straight from the event to get on the plane to New Hampshire. I remember sitting next to another reporter from USA Today. It never came up. None of the reporters on the press plane were talking about it. We landed in New Hampshire, and Dean came out and did his speech there, and I met up with my associate producer at CNN, and we got into the car and she was like, “What do you think about what happened?” And I said, “What happened?”
SALZMAN: There were people in the room who were trying to report the story based on what they saw, and their editors were saying, “No, that’s not the story.” It was an interesting example of the power of television, because editors said to their reporters, “Hey, I saw it. I watched it on TV. I know what happened.” And the reporters were trying to say, “No, it was different if you were there.” And the editors were like, “Hey. I’m telling you I know what the story is, and this is what we’re reporting.”
DEAN: By the time I got to New Hampshire, the staff was worried about us, because they’d seen some early stuff from Fox News and stuff like that. But I still didn’t worry about it.
In the four days that followed the Iowa Caucus, according to the AP, national television stations—network and cable—played the clip of what became known as “The Dean Scream” 633 times. The number of times it aired on local stations has never been determined, but must surely be in the thousands.
Maybe. But it seems to me that Trump may have been done in, like Howard Dean was, by a unidirectional mic that amplified his breathing into a meme and a thing when all it was was Trump living and breathing.
Well, to sort all this out, I decided to tune in to Alex Jones’ radio show yesterday. But en route, I came upon Rush Limbaugh talking about microphones and compression and I soon realized that he was explaining, as a knowledgeable insider, a man who knows his way around a microphone, what had happened at the debate, and it made perfect sense.
RUSH: Trump got beat up for this last night, for having the sniffles. He didn’t have the sniffles last night. Because I am a highly trained broadcast specialist who understands the technology here. That’s how Trump was breathing. They have positioned the mic — I don’t know — not charging anything here, but his mic was positioned in such a way that you were able to hear him inhale.
He was breathing through his nose because it’s more polite to do that than to open your mouth wide and then breathe. And you can hear when people do that, too. If you listen to radio — a broadcast professional knows when to breathe and how to breathe and you can hear it. It’s like stage spit. Do you know what stage spit is? Stage spit is the sign of a highly professional live performer. I first bore witness to this, interestingly enough, when I was attending the Super Bowl in San Diego.
It was the Super Bowl about the Broncos and the Redskins where the Redskins just wiped ’em out. Doug Williams was the quarterback for the Redskins and Timmy Smith, the unheard of running back, had 135 yards or whatever. The Broncos scored first. This is the episode I had my first flyover. Sitting in the end zone, the planes coming out, I went bonkers when I saw it. The night before there was a concert, Frank Sinatra and Liza Minnelli, and Liza Minnelli was spitting all over the place. And I said, “What the hell is this?” I was positioned, the lighting, where I could see it.
And I talked to somebody and they said, “Oh, that’s stage spit. That means she’s really doing well.” It has to do with projection and voice control and you have to get rid of the saliva in your mouth. And you can’t spit when you’re performing, you have to find a way to get rid of it as you’re singing, and it comes out — it’s the same thing with breathing. You will hear on an audio-only commercial when you listen to radio, you’ll hear somebody go “uhh” real quick, take a real deep breath in the middle of it. And if they have compression on you’ll hear that really pumped up and sound as loud as somebody’s voice is what compression does.
Trump last night was breathing through his nose which of course is gonna sound like a sniffle. (interruption) Yes, I did stage spit all the time in the Rush to Excellence tour. You have to know how to do that. You have to be able to, shall we say, project the saliva. You can’t sit there and swallow all night in the middle of a performance. Sinatra was stage spitting, too. It’s not glaring. I mean, it’s not actually spitting. The saliva comes out of your mouth as you’re singing.
And it’s the same thing with what Trump was doing last night inhaling. He was inhaling through his nose and you could just hearing it like you can hear it when I do it there. (interruption) What did Howard Dean say? Hm-hm. Are you kidding? Are you kidding? Howard Dean speculated that Trump might be blowing coke? You ever wonder why you didn’t hear Hillary breathe? What are you gonna say, ’cause she’s a reptile and doesn’t breathe through her mouth? What are you gonna say? No, no, no. You didn’t hear her breathe, did you? Wonder why. Wonder why.
.Well, in many cases you don’t hear anybody breathe at these debates. But you can do amazing things with microphones and compression. I happen to love compression. Now, it’s amazing, I talk some audiologists about my implants. When I say compression, they think that I’m talking about compressing data to make it smaller. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about compression of the dynamic range. And it goes back to the old AM radio days. You know, if you want to hear what compression is, there’s really no way you can do it now.
But back in the sixties and seventies when Motown and the top 40 hits were what they were, they were pressed with compression. The stations added it, because so many convertibles driving around with all this noise you had to be able to hear the radio station. Compression adds volume. And it does it by every element of a song is the same volume. If you hear Sundown by Gordon Lightfoot there’s a beginning guitar riff not compressed, you hear it, but it’s not there. But when you hear it compressed, it’s as loud as his voice when he is singing. I happen to love it.
I wish there were ways I could demo it here but I can’t because we’re on AM stations and they compress their signal much more than FM does. The FM guys don’t do it ’cause those are audio files and they claim compression is nothing more than distortion and they’re not gonna muddy up their precious signal on FM with distortion. Well, believe me, it’s something if you never know exists you’re not even gonna know it until you listen to a song, you listen to I Can’t Help Myself by The Four Tops, back in 1965. You listen to it on the radio back then and then go buy the album and listen to it at home or on iTunes and it’s gonna sound totally different because the version you buy, there’s no compression. They don’t add it at the studio level, and it sounds like a whole different song to you.
I happen to love compression. Well, you can compress. If they wanted to last night, they could compress Trump’s mic. I don’t know that they did. But what happens when you do it, any little noise the microphone picks up is made to sound as loud as his voice. The compressor here right in this drawer, right to my left, I have compression running on my audio feed just because I like to hear myself sound. I like my voice compressed rather than flat. Our stations add compression, too. By the way, it’s that compression, I could come here with a huge head cold and compression would hide it. I would have to tell you I have a cold, unless it’s a really severe one, and then you would notice it.
To me it’s a magical thing. Some people don’t like it when they hear it and some people, you know, I’ve tried to show them A-B, side-by-side, they don’t hear the difference, which is really frustrating, ’cause it tells me they don’t hear half of what I say, either. ‘Cause you can’t miss it. (interruption) Did he lambaste the microphone engineer? Trump did? Oh, that’s right, he did. That’s right, he gave an engineer at one of his rallies a little business ’cause his microphone kept cutting out on him or something.
Folks, DirecTV, if you have DirecTV, watch a TV show on DirecTV versus how you hear it from iTunes, totally different audio. It’s compressed. DirecTV compresses it from their satellite. Well, it’s actually going up to the satellite. But it’s all to make sure that you hear what’s going on in a crowded room. It’s done for reasons. It’s a long way around saying that Trump’s breathing last night, inhaling through his nose, was conspicuous. It could have been his microphone placement; it could have been he was looking down and aiming at the microphone.
But my only point, he does not have a cold. Howard Dean said he’s doing cocaine. This is ridiculous. This was just how he chose to breathe rather than through his mouth. And I know it was distracting to some. It was not distracting to me because again, as a broadcast and communications specialist, you have to breathe. You can’t do that without breathing. Now, you didn’t hear Hillary breathe. And we think she does. We’re not sure.
By the way, if you know somebody who’s a broadcaster/audio engineering and you go tell ’em that Limbaugh was talking about “compression,” they may not know. You tell ’em… If they’re confused, just use the term “the limiter.” Some broadcast engineers will think I’m talking about the limiter when I mean compression.
I know what I’m talking about. Some of them don’t. The limiter just limits the peaks, lows and highs, and compresses everything down. It does the same thing. Anyway, all I’m trying to say is if you go talk to an audio engineer and you tell ’em you heard me talking about compression, they’re gonna say, “No, he’s talking about a limiter.” You tell ’em one and the same.
Satisfied that I now understood what as going on, I tuned in Alex Jones who was the midst of explaining how fellow radio host Michael Savage had been pulled off the air for diagnosing Hillary’s Clnton as suffering from Parksinson’s Disease.
Texans ought to be especially sensitive to public performances by politicians that lead to the question of, “What is he on?”
The classic is Rick Perry’s encounter with a bottle of pure maple syrup in New Hampshire during his first presidential campaign.
In recent weeks, Perry has harnessed that manic energy on Dancing with the Stars.
But, alas, that ended last night.
From the show:
Former governor Rick Perry bid a gracious adieu to the ballroom in his Week 3 Elimination on Dancing with the Stars. He was in jeopardy from the start after all the stars took part in a Face Off Challenge where one team did battle with another for a chance to be safe from elimination. It was a competition that saw Calvin Johnson, Jr. bring home the top score of the night. The rest of Dancing with the Stars cast also put its best foot forward, but that couldn’t keep Vanilla Ice and Rick Perry from dropping to the bottom of the leaderboard, with the latter ultimately going home.