The Story of the Moon Landing Radio Spot

Footprint on Moon

Twenty or so years ago, I was asked to locate the audio of Neil Armstrong’s first words from the moon for use in a radio spot. The commercial was to illustrate, across its sixty seconds of life, major milestones in the development of the human species – of which our client’s low price on a 20 oz. fountain beverage was one.

This was before most businesses had access to the internet (we were still working on analog tape, as well), so I was not able to locate the Armstrong clip in twelve seconds as I am now. If memory serves, we lifted the historic audio from a commemorative LP my parents had purchased shortly after the 1969 moon landing. I believed the clip to be in the public domain, but that was the job of the business managers to sort out.

We assembled the commercial and send out cassette copies for the account team to pass on to the client.

The next morning, we got a call from one of the account guys.

“Hey, I think there’s a problem with the tape.”

What do you mean? Says I.

“Well, on the Moon Landing bit, the guy’s voice drops out on “giant leap.”

We explained that there was nothing wrong with the tape. Go back and listen to the quote one more time. He was right, of course; Armstrong’s voice does drop out and the “g” in giant just isn’t there. The dropout was an artifact from some glitch in the transmission from the Moon to Earth, most likely. I knew this; my boss knew this. Not only had we spent the previous 2 days listening to Armstrong’s words over and over as we’d mixed the spot, we’d also heard them innumerable times just from growing up in America. We knew the dropout was there. It was part of the event. It quite simply never occurred to us that it was something you’d fix.

I explained this to the account guy.

“Well, is there anything you can do? It sounds weird.”

I’m only slightly less snarky now than I was then…I said something about a time machine and enough lengths of XLR cable to reach from Houston to the moon, and then backed off and said, well, we could probably try to pull a “g” sound from somewhere else in the very limited sample of Armstrong’s lunar transmissions we had on hand but it would take a while. More importantly, I argued, we’d be messing with an iconic piece of audio, and I’ll bet you people would notice. He asked if we could cast a sound-alike and recreate the transmission. Well, sure, we could, but why? Again, you’re using this iconic moment in your commercial for a reason. Plus, we don’t think that’s in the budget.

In the end, we prevailed and the spot aired with Armstrong’s not-quite-intact transmission intact.

Happy 45th anniversary, Apollo 11! Have a 20 oz. soda, any flavor now only 59¢ while supplies last.

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