I’ve been producing, editing, and conducting interviews on the radio for a number of years now, and I thought it might be interesting to talk about how I go about creating a radio segment from start to finish in a weekly series of posts here. It’s my intention that after this series is over, you should know pretty much how to do what I do. For examples of the kinds of interviews I do, simply put the word “WBAI” into the search bar of this blog, and you should come up with a fair sample.
Let me set the scene here: I do most of my work for a weekly radio show called Arts Express on a listener-sponsored, non-commercial public radio station based in New York City, WBAI 99.5 FM. We are part of a larger network across the United States, Pacifica, which has five flagship stations. There are also scores of much smaller affiliate stations which from time to time also pick up content from the network.
Pacifica has been around since 1960, and because it is non-commercial and listener funded, the scope and depth of what we do is quite different from commercial radio. We are freer to pursue avenues that commercial radio ordinarily would not follow, and there is often a strong political aspect to what we broadcast. Part of the Pacifica Foundation’s mission is
“to engage in any activity that shall contribute to a lasting understanding between nations and between the individuals of all nations, races, creeds and colors; to gather and disseminate information on the causes of conflict between any and all of such groups; and through any and all means compatible with the purposes of this corporation to promote the study of political and economic problems and of the causes of religious, philosophical and racial antagonisms.”
On our weekly show, Arts Express, we tend to focus on the intersection of where Arts meets Politics, although from time to time, we’ll talk with a guest who has nothing directly to do with politics. But we generally do 15-minute segments with novelists, actors, directors, poets, musicians, dancers, comedians, artists, playwrights, academics, and anyone else who we think might be engaging, entertaining, and thought-provoking.
It should be clear that the kinds of radio segments I am talking about here are those which are pre-recorded and then edited for later broadcast. I have many colleagues who do live on-the-air interviews during their shows, and that is a very different talent and skill. While I much admire those who can do that, I much prefer to work in a situation where I know I can edit the conversation down to its most essential and interesting parts.
I should add that I am pretty much self-taught. So what follows—even when I seem to be dogmatic–is just how I do things, what seems to work for me, in my situation. I am by no means expert in any of this, and I’m always trying to learn more. Take what you like and leave what you don’t. If you are in a similar situation to me, or thinking about putting together a podcast, or just curious, I hope you’ll find something useful in this series.
So with that background, let’s begin.
First off, what equipment are you going to need? I am very rough and ready, and do most of my work away from the actual radio studios. Fortunately, the medium of radio is pretty forgiving, and the three main essentials for doing this kind of work are:
1) A digital recorder and headphones
2) A microphone
3) A sound editing and mixing program for your computer
That’s really about it. With just that, and an outlet to broadcast your work, you can achieve quite a bit. And later on in the series, I’ll talk about how you may not even need the first two items on the above list!
1) There’s all kinds of money one can spend on equipment, but I have just very basic but serviceable equipment. The digital recorder I have is a Sony PCM-M10 Portable Linear PCM Voice Recorder, which cost me about $225 in 2014; there are certainly equivalent recorders on the market for a similar price today, though for some reason now this particular recorder is much more expensive. You probably want a recorder that can record natively in WAV and MP3 formats, and one that has built-in stereo mics and a playback speaker. Also make sure the recorder is compatible with the kind of computer you have, either Mac or Windows, though I suspect most recorders on the market today will work with either. Make sure that the proper cable is included in order to transfer your recordings to your computer. Typically, this will be a USB cable. Headphones which plug into your recorder are also important, so that you can monitor what is actually being recorded by your recorder. For now, we won’t worry about anything too fancy.
2) Microphones are a tricky subject, but generally you want to make sure you have a mic that is compatible with your recorder. It should be capable of capturing in stereo (even if your segment eventually ends up in mono). Microphones tend to be omnidirectional or unidirectional. I find that for the kind of work I do, the omnidirectional mics are best, although they tend to pick up more stray noise. The mic I use is an Audio-Technica AT8010 Omni-Directional Instrument Condenser Microphone which cost me about $150. A table mic stand and a ball-type foam windbreak for the head of the mic are useful as well. Important is to have the proper cable for the mic that will also be compatible with your digital recorder. Typically the cable does not come with the mic. This may take you a bit of research. The mic cable I use for my equipment is a LyxPro – 3 Ft – 3.5mm (1/8″ TRS mini input) to XLR Female Star Quad Microphone Cable. It is no longer made, but if you look up the specs you’ll know you want something similar to that if you have the other two items I have.
But in a pinch, you can—and I have—used the built in mic on the digital recorder, and I’ve even used just the voice recorder function on my Smartphone in an emergency. Fortunately, with the use of editing software, you can recover from a multitude of sins. So next week I’ll talk about editing software, and begin to talk about how to prepare for the actual interview itself.
Hope this starts to inspire you!