By Thomas J. Sullivan–
Frogs, crickets, large flocks of birds and the sonic tapestry of many other insects found in day and evening hours at C-Bar-C Park in Citrus Heights are some of the local elements featured in a new audiobook, “Silent Warriors: Submarine Warfare in the Pacific,” narrated by Citrus Heights audio book narrator and producer Bill Bird.
Bird recently finished the 22-hour audio book, written by Cold War Navy submarine veteran Gene Masters. He said he auditioned for the role in November and was selected by the author over several others who also wanted to narrate the book.
A veteran radio newsman of KFBK and KSTE radio, Bird provided the voices of five different characters serving aboard the fictitious submarine USS Orca. The hunt is on as the audio book listener is quickly drawn into a confining undersea environment where enemy depth charges can explode at any moment and stealth prevails.
The book follows the exploits of Lt. Cdr. Jake Lawlor, captain of the submarine USS Orca during the Pacific conflict in WWII from Pearl Harbor through final victory — and Lawlor’s 11 war patrols in Orca. Along the way, friendships are forged, and love affairs and marriages are created — and destroyed.
Some 16,000 U.S. submariners battled in the Pacific theater during World War II. Collectively, they served on 263 submarines and made 1,472 war patrols while taking that fight to the Japanese.
“Auditioning for the narration and production of an audiobook is similar to trying out for a play or a role in a movie or TV series,” Bird said. “You submit your best work for an audition script that the author provides and hope the author and publisher like your style.”
Bird used his home audio studio to replicate many of the day-to-day sounds a submariner would likely experience onboard a submarine in a combat patrol environment. Specific to the needs of this novel, and on land, in other chapters, Bird also needed to accurately create the sounds of Philippine guerilla soldiers who were traversing a jungle at night with American submarine crews who had landed commando teams, or were on a mission to rescue downed pilots.
“I’m a long-time fan of classic old-time radio,” Bird said. “It’s all about setting the mood and great storytelling.” He has a natural radio voice which he said he often modulated with different inflections and tones throughout the audiobook to create tension and drama.
The project took a little longer than he thought, as midway through the recording process he said he lost his voice and some of his narration had to wait. While waiting for his voice to heal, he had plenty of research to do, including recreating the famed Fireside Chats of Presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry Truman and getting just the right engine sounds of an amphibious Higgins landing craft into the audio mix.
The collaborative effort between himself and the author was a challenging, yet rewarding learning process, Bird said, as both were sticklers for historical accuracy and proper World War II-era U.S. Navy submarine operations language.
Bird was on his own as he created the specific environmental sounds against his narration which bring Masters’ wartime novel truly to life.
“The effects I used for the audio book production would have taken days to put together using analog Ampex tape and a grease pencil. Digital audio editing changed all that. What was once difficult, is now child’s play.”
Important sounds that he needed to accurately reproduce included the launch of a torpedo, a diesel submarine engine, submarines surfacing or diving and numerous other effects. Much of the available wartime audio was in generally unusable condition, he said. He received research help from the museum staff of the USS Pampanito (SS-383) and the San Francisco Maritime National Park Association.
“One of the biggest challenges was recreating the audio of what a real torpedo launch sounded like aboard an American submarine during the war,” Bird said. “Fortunately, a sink full of water, banging plates, an electric hand mixer and a running garbage disposal made for a good stand in.”
Specific locations in C-Bar-C Park in Citrus Heights are home to large flocks of birds that are quite noisy in the early morning hours. At night, when the sun has gone down, frogs, crickets and other insects take over. Bird used his iPhone to record activity during the day and at night to produce a “jungle sound” using an audio editing program.
A location where a seasonal stream enters a storm drain in C-Bar-C Park recreated the sound of the BongaBong River on Mindoro Island in the Philippines.
With the right studio craftsmanship, the moody sounds of a thunderstorm recorded during the winter months in Van Maren Park and the Stock Ranch Nature Preserve mixed with a recording of a fish tank at the PetSmart in Citrus Heights proved just right for the final needed bubble effect, he said.
“Was it a perfect match, I don’t think so. But it was close enough,” Bird said. “Does the engine on my Ford F-150 truck accurately sound like a diesel engine on a Gato-class World War II submarine? Probably not. But, if you change the pitch, speed and tempo of the Ford F-150 engine, plus add in some other sound effects, you can get close enough,” Bird said.
He considers the project a tribute to his late father, a veteran of World War II who was captured by German forces during the raid at Dieppe, France in August 1942.
“My father passed when I was just a child,” Bird said. “I never got a chance to thank him for what he did. This is my small way of doing that.”
Bird is also currently working on producing a new audiobook that accompanies a print edition of a memoir written by a veteran of the Iraq War and has his eyes on other projects.
Silent Warriors: Submarine Warfare in the Pacific, was written by Navy submarine veteran Gene Masters and published in 2018. It can be purchased in paperback, Kindle, or in audiobook format on Amazon.
Bird is also offering promotional codes for a free copy of his audiobook by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.