Rank #1: When The Going Gets Tough, Keep Asking Questions
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.
Rank #2: Some Fav And Not-So-Fav Sounds
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.
Rank #3: A Question To Start A Story?
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.
Rank #4: Hang A Picture In Front Of The Mic
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.
Rank #5: Police Ride-Alongs
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.
Rank #6: Recording Binaurally
All you need to know for this episode is this: Listen with your best headphones!
Rank #7: Making Sense Of A Pile Of Tape
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.
Rank #8: Stopping A Podcast
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.
Rank #9: Three Student Stories Produced In Only A Week
Three students. Three stories. One week. Hear what can be accomplished in a very short period of time with barely any sleep.
Rank #10: Enticing Listeners To Press Play Again
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.
Rank #11: 25th Anniversary Of “Ghetto Life 101”
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.
Rank #12: Taking Control Of The Music
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.
Rank #13: A Sonic Conjuring
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.
Rank #14: Finding Chenjerai The Storyteller
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."
Rank #15: How Sruthi Tracks
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
Rank #16: All The Sound We Can Not Hear
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.
Rank #17: The Podcast Mindset: Part 1
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.
Rank #18: Getting Inside Someone Else’s Skin
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.
Rank #19: Sports Stories That Work
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.
Rank #20: Anatomy Of A Scene
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.