New York, NY (June 4, 2020)—“One of the goals was to make this sound like a very big production and have it feel cinematic in its scope and sound,” says Henry Molofsky, producer of the hit podcast, Wind of Change. Capturing the vibe of a big-budget spy thriller was crucial for a podcast that asks an intriguing but potentially dangerous question: What if the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency wrote “Wind of Change,” the enormously successfully 1991 power ballad by hard rockers Scorpions, in a bid to bring the Cold War to an end?
Wind of Change, the eight-episode podcast from Pineapple Street Studios, Crooked Media and Spotify, explores how that may have actually happened, as host Patrick Radden Keefe unpacks layers of connections and coincidences among the CIA and people near to the German rockers’ inner circle.
The setup is storytelling gold: Scorpions frontman Klaus Meine has always said in interviews that he was inspired to write “Wind of Change” after playing the Moscow Music Peace Festival at Lenin Stadium in 1989 alongside Bon Jovi, Mötley Crüe and other titans of late ‘80s hard rock. But did Doc McGhee, who managed all three bands at the time, arrange the whole affair to escape drug trafficking charges so the CIA could score a cultural hit with young Soviets?
For the record, all parties deny that salacious spy-games premise—but the intrigue doesn’t end there. While Keefe and Molofsky chased leads and operatives from New York to Russia and Germany, Molofsky was tasked with capturing audio in a multitude of environments—a Scorpions stadium concert held in Russia, a boat on the Moskva River in Moscow on a windy night, telephone calls with secret agents, and even random hotel rooms with former CIA spies.
Molofsky typically tracks at Pineapple Street’s Brooklyn headquarters, in a studio outfitted with Wenger isolation and a custom-made table with spots for four Shure SM7B dynamic microphones, which run through a Universal Audio Apollo 8 into an Apple Mac Mini. That’s where he tracked one of the podcast’s most dramatic moments, which featured a former spy who is still not allowed to admit she was in the CIA.
“We had the spy, whose pseudonym is Rose, call in remotely,” Molofsky explains. “Then I left Patrick’s original track in, and had Briana [Feigon, a voice-over actor] re-read Rose’s lines in my apartment on a table-top microphone. I added a phone effect to make her sound like she was on the phone.”
Molofsky’s rig for recording audio on location around the world was a Zoom H6 recorder paired with Rode NTG-2 shotgun mics. When he had multiple speakers, he used one mic for each speaker, and made use of the Zoom’s built-in stereo mics to get a different fidelity and tone for entry and exit scenes. This same setup captured the podcast’s climactic scene, when they met Meine at a hotel in Hanover, Germany to talk about the origins of “Wind of Change.”
“We got there more than an hour early just because we were so nervous,” he says. “We set up mics, we set up the table. We got coffees for him and had everything prepared so he could just come on in. We were rolling as he walked in [and] I had my phone on just in case disaster struck and we missed our one interview.”
Luckily, he pulled off the audio that day, but the podcast soon ran into a potentially disastrous snag toward the end of the year-long production, when COVID-19 hit before they had recorded a single word of Keefe’s narration. Molofsky had to outfit the host with a home-recording setup and run trial and error remotely to get the audio as good as possible. With narration recorded, he then relied on processing in post-production to bring the audio up to par: “It was disappointing that we couldn’t do all the final tracking in a studio. At that point, my goal was basically not to kill the production that we’d put so much time into with this final step—which is most of what people are actually hearing, time-wise.”
The result is a podcast that’s become a smash hit, rewarding the podcast team after an uneasy year of production. “It was very nerve wracking at times,” Molofsky says now. “We would be texting with someone who’d spent years undercover in Moscow and say, ‘Hey, can you meet us in the room 212 at this hotel in Adams Morgan in [Washington] D.C.?’ I wouldn’t know who’s showing up. And it’s even scarier in Russia.”