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!
I don’t know if this makes any sense to anyone under 60, but I found this SCTV send-up of a small-town Lawrence Welk-type polka music television show hilariously true to form. John Candy and Eugene Levy lead the proceedings.
“There’s Rhythm in My Lederhosen.”
More at SCTV
I’m not a big fan of clothes shopping, so when I needed some lightweight chinos last week, I ducked into the first store I saw, rifled through the pants on the first table as one walks in the door, and found two pairs in my waist and inseam size. As I carried the two identical slacks to the cashier, the clerk chased after me, asking if I was going to try them on.
I was in a hurry for another appointment, and I know my fit pretty well, so I told him no thanks. He shrugged his shoulders, and I continued walking over to the cashier. The cashier rings them up, and for the two of them it comes to $200 plus tax. I was non-plussed. I have never paid that much for chinos in my life. I would have expected that for such a price they would have diamonds and rubies embedded in the slacks. But I swallowed hard, paid for them, and headed back home with them.
A week later, I still haven’t tried them on or cut out the labels, but I figure, let me see why these chinos are worth $100 apiece. As soon as I start to try to get into them, the awful truth becomes apparent: they are way too small. I can barely squeeze into them. My memory of my correct waist size was, shall we say…faulty.
My wife’s reaction makes it clear that, “No, Jack, that’s not the style, and onlookers should not be intimately aware of whether you dress left or right.” So it’s clear I look even more foolish than usual in those pants. So with a sigh. I’m resigned to exchanging the pants for a better size that would not force me to use a crowbar to get into them.
I’m more than annoyed, since the shop was an hour subway ride away, and this is going to kill a whole weekend afternoon, but I took a book along with me to pass the time on the trip. Turns out it was a pretty interesting book, Tyrant: Shakespeare & Politics by Stephen Greenblatt.
I go into the store, and fortunately I’m able to find some sizes of the same chinos I had bought that look like they might be candidates for fitting me properly. I take them into the fitting room and actually try them on—what a concept!—and one of them fits perfectly this time. So I grab another pair of the same size, and go up to the cashier for the exchange.
As the young woman at the cash register starts to swap my pants for the exchange, she glances at the Shakespeare book in my hand and asks me if it was an interesting book.
“Yes, sure. It’s a very interesting book. It’s got a lot in common with your store. It’s about Banana Republics.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s about the kings and emperors in Shakespeare. The author asks, “What did Shakespeare have to say about tyrants?”
“In what sense?”
“What’s the psychological make-up of a tyrant? Where does that personality come from? How are tyrants allowed to come to power? How do they rule, how are they resisted, and most importantly, how are they finally stopped?”
“Well, Trump’s name is never mentioned, but it’s clear that that’s who the author is directly pointing to. Julius Caesar, Richard III, Coriolanus. The lust for power, the appeal to a false populism even as he despises the common people, and the demand for narcissistic approval from all around him.”
“Like King Lear, who had to have the approval of all three of his daughters, or else he would retaliate with vindictive power.”
“Exactly. Are you an actor?”
“No, I read a lot of Shakespeare. I was an English major in college. That’s why now I’m a cashier. Speaking of which, instead of doing an exchange of your pants, I got a better idea. I just noticed that these pants just went on sale yesterday. They’re actually on a two for one sale. So rather than exchange them, I’ll put this transaction in the system as a return of the ones you bought last week, which will give you a credit on your card for $200. Then I’ll ring up these two new pants as a separate transaction so you’ll be eligible for the two for one sale for $100.”
I was beyond happy.
And so, thanks to Shakespeare, Stephen Greenblatt, and a very kind young woman, I got the right size pants, $100 off my original bill, and met another Shakespeare lover.
A good day after all.
Was there anyone cooler than Louis Jordan? Wild singer, saxophonist, songwriter, and bandleader who also had dance moves of elegance and wit to compare with Fred Astaire. Monday morning, the call goes out to “Caldonia.”
Thanks to YouTuber vintage video clips
Here’s our radio version of the little sketch, Gun Shy, as broadcast yesterday on WBAI, during the Arts Express radio program. Many thanks to The Mighty Arts Express Players, composed of Pearl Shifer and Mary Murphy, and thanks again to Prairie Miller for all the encouragement.
Click on the triangle to listen.
There were giants in those days. Monday morning, the Gershwin brother’s standard, sung by two greats. According to the pre-performance chit-chat, this was the first time the two had sung together.
Thanks to YouTuber rockinhillbillies
In 1972, Groucho did a one man show of reminiscences at Carnegie Hall called An Evening With Groucho. In this short clip, he shares what happened when he encountered the magician Harry Houdini.
Click on the grey triangle to play.
Thanks to https://archive.org
Yesterday, WBAI’s Arts Express radio show broadcast my interview with Noliwe Rooks, author of the new book, Cutting School: Privatization, Segregation, and The End of Public Education.
Ms. Rooks argues that the current charter school movement is just one more scheme in a long history of school hustles which go back to the 19th century. What these schemes have in common, she says, is the transfer of education and tax dollars from minority and oppressed groups to the pockets of white entrepreneurs, in a process she calls segrenomics.
You can listen to the interview with Noliwe Rooks by clicking on the grey triangle above.
Bob and Ray’s “World’s Oldest Lady Caddy” is one of the first Bob and Ray routines I ever heard. My son can still break me up laughing by simply saying “With increased leisure time…” It’s kind of the catchall sociological explanation for everything.
Thanks to YouTuber The Classic Archives
My friend Alan who is a prolific playwright asked me if I’d like to write a very short three-minute curtain raiser for his new play reading. I said yes, having no idea at all what I would write. As it happened, the Parkland school shootings and the government response were still on my mind, so out came this merry little sketch.
Mother in the breakfast room; two children ages seven and eight (should be played by adults) offstage.
Mother: Justin, c’mon you’re going to be late to school.
Justin: (off) I’m coming.
Mother: You, too, Mercy, the school bus is going to be here any moment.
Mercy: (off) I’m coming. Give me a chance. (Justin enters with backpack on hand)
Mother: Look at you. Your hair’s a mess. And what about your sweater?
Justin: Yes, Mom. I have it.
Mother: And did you remember about your homework?
Justin: Really, Mom, you don’t have to remind us about every little thing. (Mercy comes down with her backpack in hand)
Mother: Can’t you get yourself together a little earlier so you don’t have to rush each morning?
Mercy: I’m sorry I was just packing up my backpack. We have a lot of equipment for our new class. And it’s so lame, they make us drag everything back and forth.
Mother: What class is that?
Mercy: Oh, the target class.
Mother: Target class?
Justin: It’s a new required class we have to take in school. We have to be able to kill 65% of potential intruders in order to pass the class, graduate, and go on to middle school.
Mother: How do they know if you’ve done that?
Justin: Well, a wound in one limb counts as a score of 30%, an eye counts for a score of 25%, for a kill you obviously get a 100.
Mercy: Well, unless someone else hits the guy first, in which case you only get 50% for an assist. It’s so unfair. So the thing to do is, if you can’t get a clean kill, try to mix and match so that it adds up to over 65%.
Justin: So two eyes and you pass.
Mercy: No you idiot, that doesn’t add up. That’s only 50—25 and 25.
Justin: I’m not good in math. It’s not my fault. My math teacher only has one eye. She was mistaken for an intruder.
Mother: Well all right, put on your backpacks. Wait a second. What’s that you got in there?
Mercy: Just a gun.
Mother: Oh. Okay. And what’s that?
Mercy: That’s another gun. Hi-powered, semi-automatic.
Mother: All right. (to Justin) You’re looking very guilty young man. And what’s that ?
Justin (ashamed looking down at the floor) Gum.
Mother: Gum? Gun or Gum?
Justin: Uh, Gum.
Mother: Oh my gosh. What is wrong with you? Hand that over young man. You should know by now you’re not allowed to chew gum in school. It’s not allowed. It’s really disrespectful to the teachers and staff. Didn’t I bring you up right?
Justin: I’m sorry. I just couldn’t…
Mercy: Ooh I’m telling.
Justin: Be quiet, you.
Mother: I am really, really so disappointed in you, Justin. Wrigley’s Spearmint. The most deadly flavor. In my day, you know what we did with students who brought gum to school? (pause) We shot them. Of course we were only allowed to graze them in my days. Old-fashioned I suppose, but the world has moved on. I guess you can’t stop progress. I don’t know what we’re going to do with you, Justin.
Mercy: (reluctantly) Ohhh…I guess you can have one of mine. But not the AR-15. Just one of the handguns.
Mother: That’s really kind and unselfish of you, Mercy. Maybe I did bring you kids up right after all. (Sound of bus horn honking) Okay here’s the bus. (kids run off) Don’t forget your lunches. Love ya. And children—No chewing in class! Knock ‘em dead!
Yesterday, WBAI broadcast my interview with actor/playwright/essayist Wallace Shawn on the Arts Express radio program. You can listen to his provocative discussion of privilege and denial by clicking on the grey triangle above.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students sing “Seasons of Love” from the play Rent.
It gave me the chills watching it.
Thanks to YouTuber CBS
Monday morning, Peter and Gordon’s 1964 terms of endearment are seconded by the Austrian MonaLisa Twins.
The song was written by Paul McCartney, who was dating Jane Asher, Peter’s sister.
More MonaLisa Twins at MonaLisa Twins
Yesterday, the Arts Express radio show on WBAI FM broadcast my interview with Richard Rothstein, author of an important new book, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America.
Rothstein makes a compelling case which challenges the Supreme Court’s view that nothing from a government standpoint can be done about segregation, due to segregation’s supposed de facto nature. Rothstein’s overwhelming brief charges that the construction and maintenance of segregation is in fact largely a governmental de jure set of policies, and thus demands immediate governmental remedy.
You can listen to my interview with Rothstein by clicking on the grey triangle above.
Last week I had the pleasure of being one half of the performers of the classic Abbott and Costello sketch, “Who’s On First?”
I think it is the most perfect piece of comedy ever written—if your native language is English.
My colleague Adam Pisco and I performed it before an auditorium of our public international high school English Language Learner students, none who have English as their native language, and many who have come here with no English at all. They represent dozens of countries and languages.
So we were afraid we were taking a big risk, and we were afraid that the students might not be able to understand the sketch, and not be quite able to get the wordplay involved.
But I’m very happy to report, as you can see and hear by clicking on the video, that we were absolutely wrong.