Movies For Your Mind: Creating an Audio Drama Soundscape

Stylized image of audio tracks on a computer screen.

In the first episode of our audio drama podcast “The Adventures of Captain Radio,” our heroes step into a noisy bar, exchange ray gun blasts with a couple of disgruntled aliens, and witness the opening of a time portal. If we were making a movie, we’d have to scout locations, build sets, populate these scenes with actors and extras, and invest in costly special effects to do all of that—but in the world of audio storytelling, we instead have to make you believe all of these things are happening using only sound. Here’s how we did it.

Foley Art for Fiction Podcasts

Filmmaking has a long history of using foley artists to add texture and nuance to movies and TV shows through the clever use of sound. Most of the little sounds (rustling leaves, jingling car keys, background chatter in a coffee shop) are not captured on set, but added later, lending realism to the world onscreen.

Sound effects play the same role in a fiction podcast, but they have to carry all the worldbuilding, not just part of it. Sound effects have to do all the work to establish and immerse the listener in the world of the story. Dialogue and music may be the most obvious elements of an audio drama, but it’s the effects and environmental sound design that draw you in. Sounds like footsteps and doors swinging open suggest that our characters are interacting with a larger world and not just floating in a vacuum—they’re an essential tool for audio drama creators.

Anatomy of a Sound Effect

So, let’s break down a couple of the sound effects you hear in “The Adventures of Captain Radio.” As a science fiction show with heavy speculative elements, the design of our soundscapes fall mainly into one of two camps: something familiar and something strange.

For the familiar, the trick is creating a sound your audiences will recognize and can use to anchor the setting. For a scene that required our characters to trudge through a blizzard on an ice moon, I recorded myself making whistling wind noises and looping it so it felt continuous. I tried some classic techniques for mimicking the sound of footsteps in snow, including pressing on a plastic bag full of cornstarch, but it was difficult to make it sound believable. Thankfully, a real life snowstorm came to the rescue and my neighbors got to watch me stomp around in the fresh snow with my recorder. Easy enough.

But getting the background chatter in the bar on Alpha Centauri was a lot more work. To create a realistic environment, I recorded twenty separate tracks of myself mumbling dialogue, shuffling chairs around my dining room, and pouring water into various bottles and glasses. The end result was tedious to assemble, but it made the space our heroes were in feel like a real place. And hopefully, it didn’t call attention to itself, but rather served the needs of the story by fading into the background of the scene.

For sounds in the second camp, the strange and unusual noises like crashing spaceships, howling space whales, and whirling extra-dimensional portals, the task was to find familiar sounds and make them unrecognizable. This is where the tools within my audio editing software, Audacity, came into play. There, I could take recordings of the clothes dryer and a slamming file cabinet drawer and make them sound like a spacecraft hitting a mountain by adding distortions, reverberation, and extra bass to imply something far larger than the real life source. The same process helped transform my puppy’s growls and play barks into the pained vocalizations of a massive interstellar beast.

When it came to making sounds with no analog in the real world, like the portal to the Eleventh Dimension, I had to build it up piece by piece with help from GarageBand instruments (shout-out to church organs and French horns) and many layers of effects, like playing sounds in reverse and adding distortion until it sounded appropriately spacey.

Worldbuilding with Audio

Sound is a powerful storytelling tool. When used correctly and with restraint, it can suggest an entire universe of possibilities and conjure incredible images in the mind of the listener. Our imaginations are so much richer than anything a Hollywood special effects budget could produce.

With nothing more than a microphone and a struck wineglass, I can make you imagine the bells of a hidden monastery. Loose change can become a broken robot. A wet sponge can plunge you into the digestive tract of the mighty leviathan.

So, the next time you put on your headphones to enjoy a fiction podcast, I hope you’ll take a moment to thank the foley artist who brought that world to life — and then I hope you forget all about what’s happening behind the curtain and allow yourself to be swept up by the story.

– Jonny Eberle, writer and co-producer of “The Adventures of Captain Radio.” New episodes coming early 2023.

Don’t forget to vote for “The Adventures of Captain Radio” for the Audio Verse Awards! Voting closes October 30, 2022! Learn more.


Obscure Studios Talks Audio Drama on the Grit City Podcast

This week, you can catch Obscure Studios president Jonny Eberle on The Grit City Podcast! The Grit City Podcast has a simple premise—in every episode, the hosts sit down with Tacoma-based creatives and entrepreneurs over a couple of drinks to learn more about them and their projects.

In this episode, Jonny joins the crew for a hard cider and talks about the inspiration behind the creation of our science fiction audio drama podcast, “The Adventures of Captain Radio,” learning to be his own foley artist, his enduring love for Sherlock Holmes and why he’s drawn to storytelling in the first place, the prospect of artificial intelligence replacing writers, and the good ol’ public domain.

Listen to the episode on The Grit City Podcast website or find the complete conversation below:

“The Adventures of Captain Radio” is a scripted, serialized science fiction audio drama podcast. It’s distributed free through all major podcast players, including Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsSpotify, and Amazon Music; directly via RSS feed; and anywhere fine audio fiction is found. If you like your rocket ships with a side of robots and rayguns, you’ll love this retrofuturistic show. Listen now on You can support the show and help fund future seasons by donating on Ko-Fi or buying merch on TeePublic.

You can learn more about Jonny Eberle and his writing projects outside of Obscure Studios on his personal website:

Behind the Scenes of “As Seen On TV”

Still frame from As Seen On TV. Copyright 2019 Obscure Studios.

There was a time in my life where I could call up a couple of friends with a wild idea, grab my handheld camcorder and make a short film in an evening or a weekend. It was a freewheeling, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants style of filmmaking that prioritized creative freedom over everything else — including scripts, plot, lighting, sound — and it’s what allowed Obscure Studios, the film company I founded and ran with a few friends, to rack up well over 100 videos in just two years.

After moving from Arizona to Washington and away from my cadre of usual collaborators, filmmaking took a backseat to my writing and other creative pursuits. Last year, with the 10th anniversary of our minor hit, Reilly’s Dorm, looming, I had the chance to travel back to Northern Arizona. There, I carved out a couple of hours with my go-to partner in crime, the incomparable Will McDonald, to write and shoot a brand new short film.

We were a little rusty, but five years between short films can do that. We cooked up a story outline at my favorite coffee shop and the next morning, filmed the opening and closing scenes of the film in the Airbnb where we were staying and the woods behind Will’s house. That afternoon, we set up shop in the basement of Theatrikos, Flagstaff’s community theater and a longtime support of Obscure Studios. We rigged up a lighting setup, cobbled together a campy alien costume for me to wear, and filmed the scenes that make up the heart of the film, as well as a quick promo video.

And that’s all we had time for. We left straight from the theater to catch our flight back to the PNW and dove into a remodel of our house a few days later. It wasn’t until January that I remembered the footage that was waiting on my iPhone’s hard drive.

Over the course of a few weeks, I pieced together the shots we’d captured that summer day. I was pleasantly surprised to see how good most of it was and how well the pieces fit into place. I played around with audio effects to give my voice an unearthly quality, tossed in a couple of visual and lighting effects, and added a 1914 public domain recording of “Stay Down Where You Belong” by Arthur Fields, slowed down to 10% of its regular speed as the soundtrack (I had originally planned to perform my own synthesizer music, but I quickly remembered that I’m not very musically talented, so only a few notes made it into the final cut).

Overall, I’m really happy with how “As Seen On TV” turned out. Much of the credit goes to Will, a fantastic actor who’s immediately likeable on screen and blessed with impeccable comedic timing. And of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my inspiration: my lovely wife who said, “You and Will should really make a movie while we’re in town” and provided both an unplanned cameo and makeup/special effects assistance with the alien goo (aka dish soap).

Filmmaking is one of those things that demands so much time and attention to detail that you always feel exhausted at the end of a day of filming or editing. But, as soon as you see the final product, a dose of endorphins convince you that the sweat and tears were all worth it and all you want to do is make another and another. Making “As Seen On TV” makes me want to break out my camera and tell more stories, so don’t be surprised if you see more in the coming months and years. I feel a renaissance coming.

— Jonny Eberle, Founder and CEO, Obscure Studios


This is What Victory Tastes Like — It’s Cheesy: Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of Reilly’s Dorm

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Let me start by saying that I have no idea what motivated me to open my laptop, turn on the webcam, and hit record on October 25, 2008. I honestly can’t remember if I was merely intrigued by this relatively new technology for film or if the germination of the character who would eventually become Reilly had been sprouting in my subconscious for a time. Whatever I thought I was doing, I was embarking on an experiment without the slightest inkling of how it would change my life.

The first episode of Reilly’s Dorm is actually really boring to watch, in retrospect. A college kid with an afro sits on his bed, talking directly to the viewer through his laptop webcam in a mishmash East Coast accent that’s difficult to pin down. Mumbling the entire time, he introduces the audience to his world and his belongings: A roll of duct tape, a lava lamp, a Deep Purple CD, a tiny statue of the Buddha. After I finished riffing, I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I showed it to my friend and comrade in wild ideas, Will McDonald, and he liked it. But he thought that it was missing something: Reilly needed a roommate.

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The first episode with the character of George is where the series truly comes to life. Reilly’s roommate George is an athlete, a doer, and a bully. There is instant friction between the two characters and it is beautiful. Because from this point forward, the show has sharp dialogue and engaging plot lines springing from that central conflict — two roommates who didn’t get along.

Before we started filming, Will and I agreed on the simple rules that would guide the entire development of the show from that point on: Reilly’s Dorm would be unscripted. Aside from a vague scenario to work from, each episode was an unfolding creation that relied on improvisation. I didn’t know what Will was going to say or do. He didn’t know how I was going to respond. We would discover what was going to happen in real time, in one take, with a single camera that never moved and never cut away.

Looking back on that insane premise, it’s surprising to me that so much of Reilly’s Dorm is watchable at all, let alone interesting and funny. (Like so much comedy, not all of Reilly’s Dorm’s jokes aged well. There are moments of sexism, homophobia, and stereotyping that surface in some episodes that are sadly indicative of the time when it was made that I’d sooner forget.) But when the show clicks, it’s just as watchable as it was 10 years ago.

Soon after George’s introduction, the show took off and added a slew of memorable recurring characters: melodramatic villains Holmes and Lucy, college mob boss Fred, drunken frat boy Scott, dueling RAs, Reilly’s ex Kessie, and a host of others. Each episode was produced in a mad flurry of activity with the crew and I sometimes making three or four episodes in a single night. The audio was terrible; the lighting was worse. And yet, people seemed to connect to it.

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Over the short run of Reilly’s Dorm, I started to get recognized around Flagstaff by complete strangers. I made a couple of good friends with people who were fans of the show. We even sold a poster that claimed “Everything I Need to Know I Learned From Reilly’s Dorm” with 100 quotes, tropes, and jokes from the web series. For a short blip, we were YouTube famous and we didn’t know what to do with it. Above all, it was fun to make.

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Rewatching my favorite Reilly’s Dorm episodes always transports me back to that crazy year in my life when I somehow conned a lot of my friends to come over to my house and play pretend for a few hours. It was altogether delightful and I think you can tell when you’re watching that we were enjoying ourselves (and often trying not to break character and burst out laughing). All these years later, that sense of fun is still infectious.

This week, I hope you take a few moments to laugh with us and we revisit some of our favorite moments from the 96-episode run of Reilly’s Dorm. Thanks for watching!

Join Obscure Studios as we celebrate the 10th Anniversary of Reilly’s Dorm with our top 10 favorite episodes this week on our website and Facebook page!

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-Jonny Eberle, President and CEO, Obscure Studios

Why We Do What We Do

VHS tapes
Photo by DS stories on

I recently watched the film, Be Kind Rewind. In the movie, the main character works for a small video rental business on the verge of losing everything. When all of the VHS tapes in the store are accidentally erased, they remake the films in a nearby junkyard and become local celebrities.

Watching this film reminded me of Obscure Studios. We’re small and the budgets of most of our films are less than $10 or $20. I know that we’re not the greatest filmmakers that ever lived. We have technical problems and time constraints that hold us back, but when you watch an Obscure Studios short film, you are watching a labor of love.

Hollywood is in the filmmaking business to make money off of you; to take 90 minutes of your time for the price of a movie ticket and go live in opulent mansions far from people like you and me. At Obscure Studios, we have yet to turn anything akin to a profit off of our work and that’s okay, because we don’t do this for our wallets or our egos. We do this because this is what we love.

I certainly don’t want to treat anyone like a dollar sign to be exploited. I want to remove you from reality for a few minutes and provide you with original entertainment. If only you could see the love and care that goes into everything we do here. People give up their time and energy, skipping out on leisurely activities and spending their precious free time making the little works of art that we feature on this site. Filmmaking is a passion, and as long as you’re enjoying it, we’re happy and we’ll continue to work hard to bring you more.

We’re far from perfect. We haven’t achieved the level of technical prowess as the big studios in Hollywood, but at Obscure Studios you’ll find more originality and more heart. We’re dreamers and storytellers, not corporate movie-making tycoons. If that makes the big studios better than us, that’s fine — but they can’t match our small studio where it counts.

I dare you to find a more talented and dedicated group of people than all of my friends who have bought into my crazy dream and turned Obscure Studios into a reality. I thank them for making this little business come to life and I thank you, our small band of viewers, for having fun with us. That’s what makes it worth the time and effort. It’s all for you.

– Jonny Eberle
Founder and CEO

Editor’s note: Originally posted on our old site on June 23, 2010