It’s possible I have a problem. Have you ever noticed how many HowSounds feature stories where death is a theme? It must be approaching ten. Is that a lot? And guess what this episode is about.
Not too long ago, an email came to me from Heather Radke. In it, Heather talked about the death of someone she did a story on while she was a student of mine at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. “It’s a strange loss, his death,” she wrote, “one that’s hard to describe to others. We all spend so much time with our Salt subjects and yet they don’t fit in any traditional definition of friendship.”
Soon after, I learned that Sara Archambault had a similar experience. Sara, too, was a student of mine and, like Heather, a character in her story had passed away. From what I could gather from their emails, both were attempting to figure out what they should be feeling and how exactly they should respond. At issue was their relationship to these people. A character in a documentary story is not a friend — or are they?
Hear what Heather and Sara have to say on this edition of HowSound. And, as a gift for slogging through another HowSound about death and dying, I’m featuring two stories rather than one. Of course, one of them is about…..
“I have a small swastika tattoo on my left arm that I want to have covered up.” From Bruce Roderick’s Craigslist ad. (Photo by Emily Hsiao.)
Here’s what I want to know: On the radio, why don’t we hear more conversations with interesting people? Not newsmakers, not academics, not pundits, not authors…. interesting as they may be. I’m thinking of people telling stories about what journalist Walter Harrington calls “the momentous events of everyday life.”
Emily Hsiao’s radio story, “Leaving A Mark,” is just that. On the face of it, the story is a simple conversation between Emily and Bruce Roderick. But, there is SO much more going on. In fact, you should listen twice.
As you listen, keep in mind, this is Emily’s second story ever. Her first, and this one, were both produced at the Transom Story Workshop this fall. If we don’t hear more stories from Emily — and soon — I will personally hunt her down, put a mic in her hand, and make her start interviewing strangers. Her interview with Bruce is THAT good.
PS – The Transom Story Workshop is currently accepting applications for the Spring 2013 Workshop. Registration ends January fourth.
PPS – “Leaving A Mark” is not for the feint of heart, even after I beeped all the expletives.
Audie Cornish gets my vote for the best smile in public radio. Audie is co-host of NPR’s All Things Considered. (Photo by Doby Photography/NPR)
The interview may be the core of what we do as radio producers. Conduct a solid interview and the rest will follow. Blow the interview and you may have blown the story. Even clever writing might not save the day if an interview goes south.
With that in mind, I figure you can never have enough information about interviewing. And who better to talk about interviewing than Audie Cornish who says she conducts a solid fifteen interviews a week for NPR’s All Things Considered. So, get out a pencil and paper because Audie offers some solid tips from years of experience and a gazillion interviews.
Okay, we’re goin’ in! Grab your earbuds and don your spelunking light. Our destination? Jad Abumrad’s brain.
This could get weird.
Jad’s a co-host and the producer of Radiolab, a science (and more) program produced at WNYC. Several years ago, Ira Glass was quoted as saying of Jad “there’s a new sheriff in town.” Why? Jad’s production style. Stories on Radiolab fall of the edge of the earth, zip back, swirl around your head, and worm their way into your ears.
Arguably, an episode of Radiolab is equal parts story and composition. On this HowSound, Jad talks about the composition element and what influences his one-of-a-kind production style. If you’ve wondered why Radiolab sounds the way it does, Jad explains all.
Below are links to the full Radiolab episodes excerpted in this show as well as the music Jad references.
C’mon, you know you wish you were at this seance! (Photo courtesy Bob Carlson)
I wish I could tell you there are hundreds and hundreds of opportunities for independent producers to get their work on the radio. Sadly, I can’t.
But, one consistently good outlet for indy work is KCRW’s “Unfictional” radio program and podcast. Weekly, Unfictional features a half hour of creative and ear-catching work from freelancers and the program’s producer, Bob Carlson. In fact, I feature Bob’s superb story “The Seance” on today’s HowSound — it’s your Halloween treat.
And, speaking of opportunities for freelancers, maybe there’s one right in your backyard! Check out AIR’s Localore Project. Localore is a national initiative of the Association of Independents in Radio fostering connections between indies and local stations.
Enjoy this HowSound then go get your own work on the air!!
Whatever you do, don’t let a little snow on top of brown lawns get in the way of reporting on a drought. (Image by Krissy Clark, Midland, Texas.)
It’s always a mystery to me — how does a reporter travel to a place they’ve never been to and report a story? It seems fraught. How can you possibly get the story right? In fact, this type of reporting is so risky it has a name, “parachute journalism,” and it’s definitely something you want to avoid.
Marketplace Reporter Krissy Clark has a strategy for combating the pitfalls of “parachute journalism.” Krissy reveals her tactics on this edition of HowSound. She talks about living in Los Angeles but reporting on the drought in west Texas — with only two days in the field. Talk about risky! And, we’ll hear her story “The Green Lawns of Texas” which was produced for the podcast Freakonomics.
On this edition of HowSound, set the “Way-Back Machine” to 1977 for a legendary story — Larry Massett’s psychedelic “A Trip to the Dentist.”
The piece is legendary in public radio circles for two reasons. One, it was assembled on three, reel-to-reel tape decks — a process Larry says pushed the limits of the studios at NPR where it was produced and aired on All Things Considered.
Second, “A Trip to the Dentist” represents a time gone by, a time when NPR and public radio in general experimented a lot more with sound.
Maybe with the advent of Radiolab and 99% Invisible along with the popularity of the Third Coast International Audio Festival (which sold out this year, by the way), we’re seeing a return to risky, experimental story-telling. That would be a good thing, if you ask me. But I’m not quite sure we’ve reached the halcyon days of the 1970s and early 1980s when flagship public radio programs and stations encouraged and broadcast sonically challenging work.
If you’d like to hear more of Larry’s work, visit HearingVoices and Larry’s collection of pieces at PRX.
Antonio Rivera is featured in Ailsa Chang’s award-winning story on New York City Police Department’s alleged illegal searches.
Rivera claims the police removed marijuana from under his clothes then arrested him for displaying marijuana publicly. (Photo courtesy Ailsa Chang/WNYC)
Ailsa Chang is relatively new to reporting and boy-oh-boy did she hit the ground running. A year or so after Ailsa began reporting for WNYC in New York City, she won an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Journalism Award for her two-part series “Alleged Illegal Searches by NYPD May Be Increasing Marijuana Arrests.” In fact, Ailsa says the series was her first-ever investigative story.
On this edition of HowSound, Ailsa shares her approach to reporting the criminal justice beat in New York City. In short: make connections, confirm everything you can, be prepared to sit for long hours in court, make more connections, and report the truth.
By the way, Ailsa recently left WNYC. You may start hearing her voice on signature NPR programs reporting on economics from New York City.
9/15/12 – CORRECTION – In the podcast I state that weeks after Ailsa’s report, New York’s Governor Cuomo “introduced a proposal that would re-define marijuana misdemeanors to reduce incentives for police to conduct illegal searches and arrests.” Actually, the governor didn’t make his proposal until a more than a year after the report. It was state legislators that drafted legislation in the weeks after the report.
It used to be people would say “Oh, the 1940s and 50s, that was the Golden Age of radio.” Maybe ten years ago they were right.
Now, I’d say the 2010s are Golden Age of Radio. Take radio itself then add on satellite radio, HD radio, the internet, podcasts, mobile devices… the deluge of audio content is ridiculous. And, I didn’t even mention audio tours, the topic on this edition of HowSound.
Radio producer Pejk Malinovski has ventured into the world of producing audio tours. He thinks other radio producers should, too, if for no other reason than they both use the same tools and skill set. Pejk’s first audio tour production was Passing Stranger: The East Village Poetry Walk. On HowSound, Pejk talks about the tour and some of the differences between producing for radio and producing for a tour.
You should be sure to visit the Passing Stranger site AFTER you listen to the podcast. It’s fascinating to see how they repurposed the audio tour for the web. Insanely clever, I’d say.
“Fan Man” from Michele Iversen’s Night Surveillance Series, 2006.
Finally. A LONG overdue HowSound on scoring — using music in a story. Jonathan Mitchell’s provocative piece about photographer Michele Iversen goes under the HowSound audio microscope.
Jonathan is a master at using music in stories for Studio 360, Radiolab, the PBS science program Nova, and elsewhere. He shows us how he uses music for transitions and mood and he reveals his process — it’s all incredibly helpful if you’re thinking about using music in stories.
If you’re thinking of using music in stories, keep copyright in mind. For broadcast on public radio, use whatever music you want. But, if you audio work is distributed via CD or on the web or in videos, copyright is another story entirely. There is a lot of copyright free music available. And, there’s music you can license under a Creative Commons copyright. Here are just a few you might want to keep in mind for your next production.
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Rob is a radio teacher and freelance producer. He's the lead instructor at the Transom Story Workshop. Previously, he launched and taught in the radio program at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. In his freelance work, Rob produces documentaries, podcasts, audio tours, and multi-media stories. Reach Rob at firstname.lastname@example.org.