“I actually started feeling a little crazy, you can ask my girlfriend. It was like the guy had never actually existed, that he was just a ghost voice floating through the radio waves.”
It’s hard to make radio seem “cinematic,” and yet that’s exactly what Andrew Swant achieves in Silently Steal Away. Spurred on by the cult status of WCFW – 105.7 FM — an adult contemporary station based out of Chippewa Falls — Swant leans into the mystery of Jack Raymond and the man behind the voice behind one of the Midwest’s longest running syndicated radio programs. With sweepingly nostalgic reenactments and a flair for the dramatic, Swant’s deep dive leads him to the station’s current proprietors as well as an array of Jack Raymond Show fanatics, including Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and Gayngs’ Ryan Olson. Their varying impressions of Raymond, both of his whereabouts and (more comically) his appearance, drive the low-stakes suspense which is only further propelled by Mark Borchardt’s earnest narration.
It’s quite the gear change for Swant, whose dadaist collaborations with Bobby Ciraldo via Special Entertainment have racked up millions of YouTube views and legendary status in the annals of absurdist aficionados. This particular hobby horse is balletic by comparison, a throwback to the old-fashioned sensibilities that continue to fascinate WCFW listeners. I asked Swant “5 Questions:”
1. It seems like this story is a personal investigation for everyone you talk to, what their impressions are of Jack Raymond and of his show. Do you have a connection to The Jack Raymond Show, too?
I delivered pizzas for Rocky Rococo’s in Eau Claire while I was going to college in the late 90s. All the delivery drivers would listen to The Jack Raymond Show every night from 11:00p to midnight and some of us, including myself, were borderline obsessed with the show. The show was so mysterious and had kind of a David Lynch vibe. It seemed like it was from a different time period, maybe 30-40 years earlier, so I felt really lucky that I had this odd, otherworldly time capsule available every night as a soundtrack to my last hour of work. A couple summers ago I was in Eau Claire for a wedding and The Jack Raymond Show came over the airwaves! I couldn’t believe it was still on, in the same time slot, 15 years after I left Eau Claire.
2. The influence of this one WCFW program is remarkable. How did Ryan Olson and Justin Vernon get involved?
Ryan is one of my closest friends and he’s also a huge Jack Raymond and WCFW fan. Outside of The Jack Raymond Show, WCFW mostly plays soft rock from the mid-70s to mid-80s. That music partially influenced him to create the band Gayngs, which has a similar soft rock kind of feel. Justin is a member of Gayngs and I met him at their Last Prom on Earth show at First Avenue. Years later when I was at Justin’s studio, I noticed a little radio tuned to 105.7 (WCFW) and I asked him if he was a fan. It turned out he was also borderline obsessed with The Jack Raymond Show and we decided I should make a documentary film about the show and get to the bottom of things. The film premiered at Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival last summer.
3. The intrigue surrounding Jack Raymond’s identity is a tremendous hook into your story. How much adversity did you encounter when doing your research?
It was impossible to find any information about Jack Raymond. He’d be 103 if he were alive today, so most of his peers have passed away. He had very little family and they’ve mostly died too. I lot of Milwaukeeans in their 80s remembered listening to Jack Raymond in the 1940s and 50s, but nobody actually knew him. I made so many phone calls, searched libraries, historical societies, courthouse records, knocked on doors, and 99% of my leads ended up being dead ends. I actually started feeling a little crazy, you can ask my girlfriend. It was like the guy had never actually existed, that he was just a ghost voice floating through the radio waves. But then a guy who knew a guy told me to contact a radio repair guy named Cranky Uncle Trotsky. Trotsky got me in touch with a guy who actually worked with Jack Raymond. This guy, who shall remain nameless, declined to be interviewed on camera, but he filled me in on a ton of info about the show. He was really kind and helpful and I wouldn’t have been able to make the film without him. Around that time I figured out Jack Raymond’s real name and discovered a whole backstory about his childhood that ended up being incredibly fascinating.
4. Why Mark Borchardt?
I love Mark’s matter-of-fact, likable, Wisconsin-accented delivery, which I thought would fit well with the Wisconsin-themed subject matter. Mark’s voice is just kind of quirky and fun and I wanted the film to feel quirky and fun. He’s really great to work with and he even re-wrote some of the lines so they suited him better.
5. You spend some time visualizing what your interviewees think the man looked like in their minds. It’s a funny and fascinating sequence and in some respect, the truth behind Jack Raymond is less important than the perception of him.
Everyone seemed to have a different image of him in their heads and I thought it would be fun to try to reproduce some of that. There’s actually a different Jack Raymond who was a radio personality in the 60s that pops up when you do a Google search. This added to the confusion and mystery. In a way, the mystery around the show is almost as engaging as the show itself. But the music Raymond plays is really dreamy, so there’s a sort of synergy happening between the actual and the imagined.
- Silently Steal Away plays as part of “Transmissions From the Heartland — Wisconsin’s Own Short Documentaries” on Thurs, Mar 30 at 7:00p in the Barrymore Theatre.