“We Now Pause For Station Identification” — Gary Braunbeck

Gary Braunbeck’s most recent novels are Far Dark Fields and Coffin County. Other novels include Prodigal Blues, Mr. Hands, Keepers, and In the Midnight Museum. The sixth novel in his Cedar Hill Cycle, A Cracked and Broken Path, is forthcoming. Braunbeck is a prolific author of short fiction as well, with publications in numerous anthologies, such as Midnight Premiere, The Earth Strikes Back, Tombs, and The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, and in magazines, such as Cemetery Dance, Eldritch Tales, and Not One of Us. The third installment of his collected “Cedar Hill” stories will be published in the first half of 2011 by Earthling Publications. Braunbeck is a five-time Bram Stoker Award-winner, including once for the story that follows.

In ancient times, bards and storytellers would speak face to face to their audiences. They could gauge the mood and reactions of the crowd and adjust their entertainments accordingly. And of course, they always knew exactly how many people were listening. Artists who perform live—stage actors, stand-up comedians, street performers—still have this (sometimes dubious) luxury, but artists directly addressing a live audience is becoming increasingly rare. Most modern entertainment consists of distributed reproductions—books, blogs, movies, TV, and, of course, radio (and its new media equivalent, podcasting). With these sorts of entertainments it can be very difficult for artists to judge exactly how large their audience actually is, especially smaller artists and outfits who don’t have the benefit of Nielsen ratings and the like. The publishing industry is notoriously lacking in data about their audience, and many small-time radio hosts speak into the microphone without any real idea of how many people are tuning in. (This is one reason why it never hurts to blog about or email your favorite lesser-known artists; they probably get less positive feedback than you might imagine, and would probably appreciate the attention.)

Most entertainers today, even if they fear that nobody is listening, can be confident that anyone who is listening is, at the very least, alive. The determined radio host who stars in our next entertainment—which brings new meaning to the phrase “dead air”—doesn’t have that luxury.