Behind the scenes at USS Midway Museum

Country: United States of America
City: San Diego, California
Institution Type: Maritime Museum
Year Founded: 2004

With soft, sandy beaches and year-round sunshine, it’s no wonder San Diego is one of the most visited cities in the U.S. Among its must-see destinations is USS Midway Museum, a maritime museum aboard the aircraft carrier Midway that receives more than one million visitors every year.

When Midway opened in 2004, they chose Antenna International to produce their audio tour. Originally written by Midway’s historians, the tour focused on the history of the ship, the technical aspects of the aircraft on board, and the working operations of an aircraft carrier. The tour was well-received and has become the center of the Midway visitor experience. In fact, visitors rank Midway the number one attraction in San Diego, often citing the audio guide as one of the reasons for its appeal.

However, over time – as visitor data evolved – Midway’s team discovered that their visitor demographics were much broader than the military veterans and history enthusiasts they originally imagined. Locals and travellers, families and children were flocking to Midway.

This finding sparked questions for the Midway team. Was the original audio guide – made more than 10 years earlier – resonating with and meeting the expectations of today’s visitors?

Midway’s visitor experience team determined it was time to refresh their audio guide. With that mission in mind, they turned to Antenna, capitalizing on their successful ten-year creative partnership to talk about new voices, new stories, and a new approach to exploring the ship.

To start, Antenna led the Midway team – including Museum leadership, the exhibit design team, docents and more – in an all-day “StoryJam” workshop. Developed out of Antenna’s decades of experience, the workshop helps participants re-evaluate their programming to surface and explore new ways to tell their story.

The workshop shed light on important realizations. The Team all wanted a similar visitor outcome – for the tour to be even more emotionally compelling than it was. They wanted visitors to leave filled with inspiration, gratitude, awe, and a deep understanding that “freedom isn’t free.” During the StoryJam, Midway realized their story wasn’t about the pieces of metal that comprise the ship, but rather, the people who inhabited it, and who made incredible sacrifices during its deployments. To achieve this, the tour would have to shift the storytelling to be more human-centric.

To start, Antenna and Midway examined every stop of the old tour and decided whether to keep it or scrap it for the new tour. If the stop was to be kept, they examined what new story could be told, who had a personal connection to it, and what fresh angle could be taken.

Antenna’s creative team conducted 12 new interviews with veterans, families, and refugees whose lives were affected by Midway during its active duty. From the interviews, Antenna uncovered powerful untold stories about love, loss, sacrifice and determination, which became central elements of the new tour.

Now, when visitors look at an aircraft on the deck, they’ll hear the breathtaking story of a 15-year-old Vietnamese refugee who escaped the Fall of Saigon, carried by helicopter to Midway to start a new life in the U.S. When they visit the engine room, they’ll hear the first-hand accounts of servicemen who crawled inside the boilers to light them.

Visitors will be guided around the ship by a new narrator, too. Larry Renner, a retired Navy pilot, stepped into the sound booth to lead the tour. Larry flew 195 missions off Midway and shares his personal stories, off-the-cuff observations, and behind-the-scenes knowledge throughout the tour.

“The team is thrilled for the new tour to go live in January 2018. It’s a great example of how valuable it can be to take a fresh look at storytelling,” said Christine Murray, Senior Creative Strategist at Antenna International who led the Midway project. “Many museums made their permanent collection audio tour years ago before strong visitor metrics were available. Now, there’s so much more we can do to re-craft and hone based on that information. It’s an incredibly fun and engaging process to work with a client to unlock new, untold tales that can redefine the visitor experience.”

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