Moulty

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Victor “Moulty” Moulton, drummer for The Barbarians. (Photo by Alex Kapelman.)

As an instructor at the Transom Story Workshop, I’m not supposed to have a personal interest in a student’s work. That’s crossing a professional line. But, I must admit, I was rooting for Alex Kapelman to bring home gold.

When I was a teen in the late 70’s, I fell in love with a 60’s, garage rock band called The Barbarians. They had a “Top 100″ song called Moulty which told the tale of the band’s drummer, Victor “Moulty” Moulton who played the drums with a hook on his left hand. In the song, Moulty lamented for a girl, “a real girl, one that truly loves me.” And, for over 35 years, I’ve wondered what ever happened to Moulty. Did he find his love?

Enter Alex who, with the help of a fellow classmate, found Moulty and interviewed him with one question in mind.

I won’t tell you the answer. You’ll have to listen. But none other than Jay Allison said the piece had “one of the best endings in the business.”

When you finish listening, be sure to listen to Alex’s podcast Pitch, especially if you dig rock ‘n’ roll.

Onward!

Rob

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Criminal

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The “Criminal” voicing closet lined with blankets and yoga mats. Phoebe Judge, exiting. Eric Mennel noodling. (Photo by Lauren Spohrer.)

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Criminal is off and running — hard. As of this writing, the podcast has only five episodes, but it sounds like it’s been produced for quite some time.

Maybe “Criminal’s” early success with solid storytelling and production values can be attributed to the experience of the three producers — Phoebe Judge, Lauren Spohrer, and Eric Mennel. All of them work in public radio and met while producing The Story (which, sadly, is no longer on the air).

Or, maybe “Criminal” has had such a strong start because of Phoebe’s enthusiasm. She was so excited talking about the podcast for HowSound, I thought she might start vibrating.

This edition of HowSound will give you a good sense of what Criminal is all about and how they produce the podcast. After listening, subscribe.

And, if you’re in the mood for other podcasts, these are some of the new one’s I’ve been listening to lately. I’ve thrown in a few old ones, too, but they’re somewhat new to me.

Why Oh Why?

Audio Smut

The State We’re In

The Greenpeace Canada Podcast

Ideas

And, of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Radiotopia, the podcast network from PRX. More podcasts than you can shake a stick at.

Cheers, Rob

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Risky Reporting at Fukushima

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Anthony Kuhn suited up to report from a radioactive reactor at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant. (Photo by Chie Kobayashi)

The contrast was sharp one morning — me, eating breakfast in my kitchen, and Anthony Kuhn, on my radio carefully making his way through an irradiated nuclear power plant. I couldn’t help but think about and even feel the risks reporters take to “get the story.”

Anthony is a foreign correspondent for National Public Radio based in Beijing. He’s reported on the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant several times after the plant was struck by a tsunami in 2011. Anthony’s most recent visit to the plant was last February to document the clean up of the plant.

In the photo, Anthony is “dressed to the nines,” as he put it in his story, with several layers of gloves, a radiation suit, and a respirator. “Not a sliver of skin showing anywhere.”

His recorder is wrapped in cellophane. So is his camera. “My microphone I could not (protect),” he told me. “If I wrapped that in cellophane it would affect the sound obviously, so that was unshielded. And, all I could do is measure the radiation before and after and it did not show any significant amounts of radiation.” Indeed, Anthony says he is still using all of his equipment.

On this HowSound, Anthony talks about risk taking and he’s surprisingly matter of fact. “I like the physical challenge of it and the mental challenge of it. Some people would not accept this level risk. Some people would not accept the crazy life style and all that. I find it a welcome challenge.”

Best, Rob

 

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Typewriters Are Unpleasant

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Remington Standard, photo courtesy Rabbit Ears Audio.

Michael Raphael sent me a slew of files for the production of this HowSound…. No, make that a heaping pile of files…. No, actually, I think you could call it a mountain of audio.

Here’s a list of only a few of the recordings of typewriters he sent. Notice the variety of mic locations, typewriter actions, and repetition. Talk about meticulous.

001 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Paper Feed,Carriage Return,Close x2.wav
001 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Paper Feed,Carriage Return,Distant x2.wav
001 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Paper Feed,Carriage Return,Under Keyboard,Close x2.wav
001 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Paper Feed,Carriage Return,Under Typebars,Close x2.wav
002 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Paper Pull,Close.wav
002 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Paper Pull,Distant.wav
002 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Paper Pull,Under Keyboard,Close.wav
002 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Paper Pull,Under Typebars,Close.wav
002 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Single Key,Close x9.wav
002 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Single Key,Distant x9.wav
002 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Single Key,Under Keysboard,Close x9.wav
002 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Single Key,Under Typebars,Close x9.wav
003 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Jammed Keys,Close x17.wav
003 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Jammed Keys,Distant x17.wav
003 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Jammed Keys,Under Keyboard,Close x17.wav
003 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Jammed Keys,Under Typebars,Close x17.wav
004 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Shift,Close x6.wav
004 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Shift,Distant x6.wav
004 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Shift,Under Keyboard,Close x6.wav
004 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Shift,Under Typebars,Close x6.wav
005 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Shift+Key,Close x8.wav
005 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Shift+Key,Distant x8.wav
005 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Shift+Key,Under Keyboard,Close x8.wav
005 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Shift+Key,Under Typebars,Close x8.wav
006 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Spacebar,Close x5.wav
007 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Spacebar,Double,Close x6.wav
008 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Backspace,Close x4.wav
008 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Backspace,Distant x4.wav
008 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Backspace,Under Keyboard,Close x4.wav
008 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Backspace,Under Typebars,Close x4.wav
009 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Backspace,Repeated,Close x8.wav
009 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Backspace,Repeated,Distant x8.wav
009 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Backspace,Repeated,Under Keyboard,Close x8.wav
009 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Backspace,Repeated,Under Typebars,Close x8.wav
010 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Tabulator,Fast,Close x11.wav
010 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Tabulator,Fast,Distant x11.wav
010 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Tabulator,Fast,Under Keyboard,Close x11.wav
010 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Tabulator,Fast,Under Typebars,Close x11.wav
011 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Tabulator,Slow,Close x7.wav
011 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Tabulator,Slow,Distant x7.wav
011 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Tabulator,Slow,Under Keyboard,Close x7.wav
011 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Tabulator,Slow,Under Typebars,Close x7.wav
012 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Tabulator,Slow,Distant x6.wav
012 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Tabulator,Slow,Under Keyboard,Close x6.wav
012 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Tabulator,Slow,Under Typebars,Close x6.wav
013 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Tabulator,Slow,Distant x5.wav
013 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Tabulator,Slow,Under Keyboard,Close x5.wav
013 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Tabulator,Slow,Under Typebars,Close x5.wav
014 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Bell,Carriage Return,Close x3.wav
014 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Bell,Carriage Return,Distant x3.wav
014 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Bell,Carriage Return,Under Keyboard,Close x3.wav
014 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Bell,Carriage Return,Under Typebars,Close x3.wav
015 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Typing Slow,Close.wav
015 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Typing Slow,Distant.wav
015 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Typing Slow,Under Keyboard,Close.wav
015 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Typing Slow,Under Typebars,Close.wav
016 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Typing Medium,Close x2.wav
016 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Typing Medium,Distant x2.wav
016 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Typing Medium,Under Keyboard,Close x2.wav
016 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Typing Medium,Under Typebars,Close x2.wav
017 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Typing Fast,Close x2.wav
017 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Typing Fast,Distant x2.wav
017 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Typing Fast,Under Keyboard,Close x2.wav
017 Typewriter,Remington Standard Model 10,Typing Fast,Under Typebars,Close x2.wav

That’s just the Remington Standard files. It doesn’t include all the audio files he sent of the Royal Standard, Woodstock Standard, Corona Sterling, Royal Companion, Smith Corona Classic, and the Olivetti Lettera 22 typewriters. And then there’s the files of trolleys and rockets and winter sounds and city scapes and…

Michael records sound effects. He makes careful, detailed recordings of all manner of sounds for his company Rabbit Ears Audio. They’re used in radio — Radiolab, for instance — but mostly in movies and video games.

On this edition of HowSound, Micheal talks about his work, he offers a few tips on recording, and he explains why recording typewriters can slowly destroy your soul.

Listen hard.

Rob

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Southern Flight 242: Bringing My Father Home

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On this HowSound, a gift. A gift from producer Will Coley and editor Viki Merrick.

Frequently, what takes place between a producer and editor during production is private, behind closed doors. As it is in many fields, their creative process is not intended for the public.

So, I was ecstatic when Will and Viki agreed to talk about what happened between them during the production of Southern Flight 242: Bringing My Father Home. While they had a solid, amicable working relationship, they faced Will’s on-going reluctance to, as Viki puts it, get in the “emotional ditch” in order to fully tell the story. And Viki says, months later, she remains “mortified” at the incident that surprisingly created a breakthrough.

There’s much to learn from this HowSound for both producers and editors. Listen close. And, thank you Will and Viki.

Rob

PS. For more on interviewing victims of trauma, listen to HowSound episode 100%. It features an interview with Bruce Shapiro of The Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma.

PPS. Our friends at Unfictional, who have very good taste in radio storytelling, were the first to air Southern Flight.

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Baking Tape

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“You young whippersnappers have no idea how lucky you are,” said in a shaky old voice by an old radio fart pointing a cane, menacingly, in your direction.

I hope I never have to go back to the days of editing audio on reel-to-reel tape. While I sometimes miss the tactile nature of moving the tape back and forth manually and cutting with a razor blade, I oh-so-much-prefer “highlight and delete” on a digital editor. What took minutes, now takes seconds.

On top of the trials and tribulations of editing, tape was fragile and needed to be handled and stored with care. And, eventually, despite your best preservation efforts, tape gets old — dried-out, brittle, squeaky… What a pain!

Believe it or not, one method of salvaging old tape is baking. For reals. If you stick the tape in an oven following some very specific instructions, you stand a chance of  hearing what’s on the tape again.

On this edition of HowSound, a trip down memory…. okay, I’m not going to finish that…. a story about baking tape from Audiobrien, a commercial production house in Sydney, Australia. After listening, you’ll wipe your brow and say “Whew! Glad I don’t have to mess with tape.”

Cheers, Rob

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To Scene or Not To Scene

When Nina Totenberg reports on legal affairs for NPR, I stop and listen. Nina has an uncanny ability to deliver complex legal facts and courtroom dialogue clearly and dramatically. Her stories are worth turning up. And that’s what I did back in January when she reported on buffer zones at health clinics in Massachusetts.

I was surprised this time to hear Nina reporting from the street in front of a Planned Parenthood clinic. Most of the time, it seems, Nina is either in a studio or recording in a quiet place in the field. Rarely, in my listening experience, do I hear her recording a stand-up or interviewing people on location. Aside from her dramatic recreations of court dialogue, her stories are rarely scene-driven.

I was so impressed with her approach, I commended her in an email. I was completely taken aback by her response. You’ll have to listen to find out what she said.

Best, Rob

PS – Thanks to Dan Tritle at WCAI for recording my interview with Nina.

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Dear Birth Mother

 suz_loretta_mediumSuzanne and Loretta ten years ago (photo courtesy of Suzanne via Long Haul Productions).

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I hope you don’t mind if I get a little personal. February of 2014 marks the first anniversary of my reunion with my birth mother — my “first mother,” as I like to call her. I was placed for adoption in 1962 and, long story short, we made contact in August of 2012. A few months later, we met face-to-face. Reconnecting, even after fifty years, was the exact right thing to do.

As you might imagine, a big life event like that prompted me to think about adoption stories. There are quite a few at PRX well worth listening to. Two in particular catch my ear: “Inside the Adoption Circle” (produced by my partner and others I work with at at transom.org, for full disclosure) and the story featured on this edition of HowSound, “Dear Birth Mother,” produced by Elizabeth Meister and Dan Collison in 2005. “Dear Birth Mother” won a first place award from the Third Coast International Audio Festival.

If, after listening to HowSound and all of the adoption stories at PRX you’re still hungry for more, I recommend Ann Fessler’s book The Girls Who Went Away. Ann produced a movie, too.

Thanks for listening. And, happy anniversary “First Mom!”

Rob

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Recording Not By The Book

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Some radio producers ask interviewees to wear USB headphones with a built-in during interviews recorded via video chat.

When students of mine say to me “I’m going to record an interview via Skype,” I tend to freak-out. Recording the best possible sound is so ingrained in me, a Skype interview is close to the last thing I’d consider because of the poor sound quality. And yet, I’ve succumbed to the dark side.

Recently, I produced a story for the Greenpeace Canada podcast where I recorded all of the interviewees via Skype. And, get this — they all wore USB headsets with a built-in microphone. A sacrilegious act in my book, but one that worked… sort of.

I’m not the only producer making these choices. I hear Skype interviews on public radio with increasing regularity. Colleagues collect sound using smart phones. Others will even ask interviewees to record themselves using an app on a smart phone or tablet. What!??!

I’m not convinced the results are good. Passable, maybe, but not good. And when I say “passable,” I’m being very generous in some cases. But, alas, this seems to be a direction producers are taking more and more.

On this HowSound, I speak with three people who’ve tried alternatives to recording by the book: Andrew Norton of Greenpeace Canada, print reporter and radio freelancer Jenny Gustafsson, and long-time audio producer Dmae Roberts. If you’re adventurous and looking to try new recording methods, you’ll find their experiences informative.

One big challenge they spoke of when employing not-by-the book recording methods is asking an interviewee to do your job. If you were on location, you’d take care of mic placement, extraneous noise, cell phone interference, monitoring levels, etc. But, since you’re not there, the interviewee pays attention to all those details. That seems fraught to me. And, we already ask a lot of our interviewees. Now we’re going to require them to monitor recording levels and mic placement, too? Hmmmmmm….

But, sometimes, recording in person or hiring a producer for a tape synch is logistically or economically not feasible, like the interviews I did for Greenpeace Canada. The people I spoke with were in northern Canada, rural Sweden, and London. Of course, there’s always the option to record an interview over the phone. Yet, if you’re like me, you don’t have the gear at home to do that. So, it may be worth looking into recording alternatives and asking interviewees to help.

When preparing for, say, a Skype interview, Andrew says he starts from the premise that a producer is at the mercy of the interviewee. “You have to keep your ears peeled while you’re talking to them,” he told me, “because there’s not a person there who’s trained in audio and knows what the different things are that could come up in the tape that would suck, that wouldn’t sound good.”

The instructions Andrew and the others I spoke with give their interviewees is pretty standard:

  • Find a quiet room to record in.
  • Turn off your cell phone.
  • Turn off radios and television sets.
  • Speak close to the mic, even if it’s a built-in computer microphone.

Other directions are unique to the way the interview is recorded. For Skype recordings:

  • Close anything on the computer that might take up bandwidth such as iTunes, email, and web browsers. Turn off the video chat, too. (Though, it may be useful to leave it on at first so that you can see what the interviewee is doing and offer suggestions to improve the sound if need be.)
  • Let them know they can’t multi-task during the recording because typing and sounds from software can be heard on the recording.
  • Tell the interviewee that you may need them to repeat some answers in the event that the internet connection is glitchy and the audio drops out from time to time.

If the interviewee is recording to a smart phone or tablet:

  • Be sure they use a good app such as Tascam’s PCM Recorder (I’ve written a short outline on how to use this app). Avoid apps like the iPhone’s Voice Memo. It records files that are too compressed for broadcast.
  • You’ll need to tell them where the files are located on the phone and how to download them.
  • Instruct the interviewee on proper levels in the VU meters.
  • Make sure it’s in “record” not in “record pause.”

And, lastly, if you decide your interviewee should use USB headphones with a built-in mic, tell them to move the mic down toward their chin to avoid p-pops.

So, in the end, after speaking with Andrew, Dmae, and Jenny and taking a couple of stabs recording not by the book myself, I’m still rigorous about collecting the best sound possible in all the tried-and-true ways. But, now I’m willing to add a chapter to my book, if you will, and remain open to alternative recording methods when standard practices won’t work.

Cheers, Rob

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The Hospital Always Wins

 Laura_Starecheski_photo_by Bob Torrez.crop-1Have mic, will travel. Producer Laura Starecheski. (Photo by Bob Torrez)

Not too long ago, Laura Starecheski and I were chatting about stories where the producer worked for years in the field. Dave Isay came to mind.  But, Dave “only” spent a week with the young people in Ghetto Life 101 and three months at The Sunshine Hotel. This American Life producers worked in the field for five months on Harper High…. The only producer who came to mind was Tony Schwartz. Tony recorded his niece for much of her early life and produced this time-lapsed audio piece.

And then there’s Laura herself. She spent a decade — ten years! — working on “The Hospital Always Wins.” That’s an inordinate amount of time. She started in 2004 and finished in 2013. Laura laughs when she says “Doing the piece basically spanned my career in radio, so far.”

The documentary follows the story of Issa Ibrahim, an artist and a patient at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center. The twists and turns in Issa’s story are remarkable and so is Laura’s production backstory.

“The Hospital Always Wins” aired on The State of the Re:Union in the fall of 2013. I’ve excerpted a portion of the documentary on this edition of HowSound but you should make sure to listen to the whole story, start to finish. It won’t disappoint. Believe me.

Best, Rob

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