The Backstory to Great Radio Storytelling, hosted by Rob Rosenthal, for Transom and PRX.
The best episodes ranked using user listens.
The Backstory to Great Radio Storytelling, hosted by Rob Rosenthal, for Transom and PRX.
NPR reporter Uri Berliner breaks from his usual approach to storytelling and finds interviewing his dad about growing up in Berlin in the 1930s to be incredibly difficult and rewarding.
Jun 11 2019
Sewage pipes, a radio crime, and sound designing inner thoughts.... Must be another episode of Rob's fav sounds but this time with a twist -- a sound that annoyed Rob to no end. Clips from BBC 3 and Nathanial Mann, Bodies by KCRW, and No Feeling Is Final from ABC Radio.
May 29 2019
One way to start a story is with a question -- one that focuses and animates the piece. Annie Minoff and Elah Feder of the "Undiscovered" podcast use focus questions as story starters to great effect. But, I had some questions about their questions.
Feb 21 2018
Select telling details... Mete out descriptions... Cast surprising characters... and other tips for dynamic and visual reporting on the arts from the legendary Susan Stamberg.
Jun 12 2018
How can you be fair during an interview with a suspect when a police officer is standing right there? Over the years as a law enforcement reporter for NPR, Martin Kaste has developed an approach to navigate this and several other challenges.
Apr 17 2018
All you need to know for this episode is this: Listen with your best headphones!
May 15 2018
A pile of tape just might be a treasure trove of radio gold. But how do you go manage it? Bianca Giaever has answers and a touching documentary called “Two Years with Franz” produced with Jay Allison here at Transom.
Dec 11 2018
Megan Tan pulled the plug. She stopped producing Millennial at the height of the podcast boom. Her inspiring yet cautionary tale on this episode of HowSound.
Mar 06 2018
Three students. Three stories. One week. Hear what can be accomplished in a very short period of time with barely any sleep.
Jun 26 2018
That feeling you have at the end of a serialized podcast where all you want to do is press play again -- what causes that? Rob talks to Leah Sottlile and Ryan Haas from Bundyville about episode endings that entice listeners to press play again.
Nov 27 2018
This year marks the 25th anniversary of one of the best -- if not the best -- radio documentary: Ghetto Life 101. Producer David Isay and editor Gary Covino recall their landmark work on this episode of HowSound.
May 29 2018
Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda compose music for stories at Reveal. HowSound's Rob Rosenthal talks with them about the way they think about music and scoring. We think you’ll find it instructive, even if your music comes from a library.
Jan 08 2019
On this episode, a fascinating minute of audio - the sound of war and peace reconstructed from the exact end of World War I. Even more fascinating, the producers - Will Worsley and Sam Britton - conjured the sound using audio shadows captured on film.
Feb 05 2019
A few years ago, Chenjerai Kumanyika went to record his narration for his first-ever radio story. And he discovered a problem: "What should I sound like?" Several years later, Chenjerai found his voice on the Peabody Award-winning podcast "Uncivil."
May 01 2018
At a school where I taught radio, in the mic booth, there was a photo of Studs Terkel hanging on the wall. Under it, someone wrote “Talk to Studs.”
The picture was there to help with tracking. Narration will
sound more conversational if you pretend you’re talking to Studs, the thinking
went. After all, that’s the goal, right? To track like you’re just talking to
Hanging up a picture and talking to it may be a good (and slightly weird) first step toward tracking naturally, Sruthi Pinnemaneniof Reply Alltakes things a whole lot further because she’s driven to avoid sounding like she’s reading something written. She very much wants listeners to fall into a story because her voice sounds unaffected and genuine.
“(At Reply All) we try to track in a way that is closer to ‘I’m telling a story to somebody,'” she says. “When we’re tracking, we almost always have a producer or someone in the room where we’re trying to recreate that feeling of ‘I’m here and I’m feeling the excitement and joy that I know exists in this story.'”
She says it’s not just a matter of talking to that person in
the room. They help, too. They offer feedback, of course. But, they also play
tape. Sruthi listens to a quote in her story then, right as it finishes, she
“The tape always carries a certain kind of emotion,” she explained to me. “Either you’re surprised by what the person is saying or what the person is saying makes you laugh. And so you want the tracking, the line that you’re saying out of it, to carry that emotion.”
What else does she do? Sruthi lays it out in this episode of
Apr 02 2019
Jeff Emtmen pulled an audio sleight of hand in an episode of Hear Be Monsters about Mexican free-tail bats. It's a delight to listen to. To understand Jeff's trick, Rob offers a primer on sound and hearing.
Mar 05 2019
Recording equipment? Check. Marketing plan? Check. Theme music? Check. Mindset?..... You can have all the technical and logistical aspects of podcasting in place but if you don't have the right outlook, your effort may fall short. What is that mindset? On this first of two episodes, Phoebe Judge of Criminal answers that question.
Sep 18 2018
Every once in a while, I think HowSound should focus solely on interviewing. To heck with sound design, writing, ethics, tracking, and the like. Just focus on “the backstory to great radio interviewing.”
Why? Because interviewing is how radio producers mine. It’s how we collect the raw material for our work. The better the interviewing, the better the tape. The better the tape, the better the story.
I mean, sure sloppy writing can kill stellar interview tape.
Same with bad production. Conversely a
bad interview can be saved by rock solid writing. But really, if you nail your
interview, the rest will come easy. Okay. Not easy, but easier. And the story
the tape is based on will likely be more satisfying.
Put another way, interviewing is the keystone of audio
That’s why it’s important to examine the work of the best practitioners and Cathy FitzGerald is just that — one of the best. She possesses an uncanny ability to capture “humans being” in her interviews. And she approaches it in unusual ways with her penchant for recording interviews in scene; her use of participant observation, which is a fancy way of saying she doesn’t just ask questions, she gets involved; and her use of props to prompt conversation. On this episode of HowSound, Cathy chats about those approaches and we hear extended examples of her work.
As a bonus, during our chat, Cathy turned the tables and
asked me questions about
interviewing. And that led us to talk about our weaknesses and what we both
would like to improve and to this positively lovely analogy for interviewing —
weeping with one eye.
May 14 2019
Bradley Campbell couldn't believe it when I told him I'd like to interview him about sports stories. He knows how much I hate them. But, a sports story he produced and other episodes of Gamebreaker are well worth the listen. Bradley explains why.
Mar 20 2018
Radio producers talk about the scenes in their stories all the time. "What are the scenes in your story?" "Oh, I got some great scene tape today." But what is a scene? On this episode, Rob dissects one of the best scenes he's heard in a while.
Jul 24 2018
When the reporting gets violent, the reporter suits up. Casey Martin of KUOW tells stories about staying safe on the front lines of reporting during the violence of the BLM and far-right protests of the last year.
Feb 16 2021
There are a lot of photographs and incredible footage from the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th. But wait until you hear the startling, unguarded conversations between the rioters that day. Micah Loewinger of On the Media gives the backstory on how he acquired the recordings.
Feb 02 2021
If Dr. Suess was going to write a book about podcasting, he'd probably call it "Oh, The Sounds You'll Hear!" That's what's in store for you on this episode of HowSound. From an Inuit oral history project to prisoners in Darwin, Australia, to the sound of a wife's broken heart and more. It'll perk up your ears!
Jan 19 2021
What's the sound of climate change? Walk down 7th Avenue in Calgary and you just might hear it thanks to "Herald/Harbinger," a sound installation from data artist Ben Rubin.
Jan 05 2021
I wish I had a nickel for every time someone says, "I think that story would make a great podcast series." In my head I usually think, "Nope. Wouldn't work." But why? How do you know you have a story worthy of a podcast series? Emily Guerin of Southern California’s KPCC has a few answers. She produced a five-and-a-half-minute feature and turned it into a 9-part series called "California City: The Dark Side of the American Dream."
Dec 22 2020
It's always good to be reminded of the best writing practices. That's why we dusted off this old episode of HowSound with This American Life's Brian Reed about the writing maxim "show, don't tell."
Dec 08 2020
Raise a mic in the air with Rob in honor of "Nancy," the now-cancelled podcast from WNYC about the LGBTQ experience.
Nov 24 2020
Cleaning out the "closet" of audio stories and found a few choice cuts to share from podcasts like Resistance, Louder Than A Riot, and Latino USA.
Nov 10 2020
Chana Joffe-Walt is one of my fav writers. She excels at portraying character. Chana and I listen to some of her ninja moves from "Nice White Parents," the podcast she reported and produced for Serial and The New York Times.
Oct 27 2020
If you were producing a podcast on climate change, what tone would you choose to approach the topic? Serious, right? Well, there's a lot of serious reporting in Gimlet's "How to Save a Planet." And there's also a light, "chatcast" feel woven throughout the show. Gimlet co-founder and co-host of the podcast, Alex Blumberg, explains why in this episode.
Oct 13 2020
Step 1: Find a comfortable place to sit. Step 2: Make sure you’re free from interruption. Step 3: Put on headphones. Step 4: Place a mask over your eyes (or just close them). Step 5: Listen to Sam Harnett and Chris Hoff of The World According to Sound take you behind the scenes of the online audio event they produced during the pandemic.
Sep 29 2020
What do you get when you mix folklore, radio journalism, and a pear? An award-winning story from Canadian producer Rebecca Nolan that brings it all together in an unexpected way.
Sep 15 2020
From time to time, you might learn something unfavorable about a character when reporting a story. Inevitably you ask yourself: should I include this detail or not? To help answer that question, take the squirm test.
Sep 01 2020
History podcasts face a serious problem: sound. So much documentation from the past lacks audio. The Last Archive solved the problem in a very unique way: Produce the podcast like it's a radio drama from the 1930s. But, how do you do that? Producers Ben Naddaff-Hafrey and Sophie McKibben have the answer on this episode of HowSound.
Aug 18 2020
There needs to be a radio and podcasting merit badge: reporters and producers earn one when they stretch above and beyond for a story. If there was one, I would present it to Lauren Chooljian of New Hampshire Public Radio for a pandemic diary she produced.
Aug 04 2020
Rob's secret hope with every HowSound is that you'll hear creative storytelling and production and think "Oh wait! I wanna do that!" He has no doubt that Fiona Benson's and Mair Bosworth's sound poem about 17-year cicadas will do just that.
Jul 21 2020
Emily Green says she "walked in the margins" of journalism ethics to report a story on kidnapping at the US/Mexico border for This American Life. Emily and producer Lina Misitzis join me on this episode of HowSound to parse out how they navigated the reporting and how TAL addressed it in the story. This story was part of a Pulitzer Prize winning episode -- the first for audio journalism.
Jul 07 2020
This American Life's Sean Cole is the guest on this episode of HowSound. Rob dug this one out of the HowSound archive from 2010. It features a fantastic story Sean produced in '05 as well as a discussion about the value of including a reporter's question in a story.
Jun 23 2020
This episode is aptly named: “A Feast For Your Ears”. Rob features a handful of ear-catching clips. From a psychedelic road trip in Australia in the 1970s to a crowd-sourced poem produced by NPR to.... well, you'll have to listen!
Jun 09 2020
You may know Jay Allison for his work on the Moth Radio Hour and in his role as the founder and executive editor of Transom. But, back in the day, Jay produced a trove of strange and ear-catching pieces about dog's dreams, talking horses, and freaky neighbors. Headphones on, people.
May 26 2020