About Dennis Nishi

Dennis has been a freelance writer and blogger for over 15 years, covering business and lifestyle topics for various publications, including the Wall Street Journal, NPR and the BBC World Service. He currently writes and illustrates for a syndicated career column in the Sunday Journal section of the Wall Street Journal. He has also fully produced radio segments for the WNYC program Studio 360 and done photography for Speakeasy, the WSJ.com entertainment blog.

How to Repurpose Print Stories for Radio and the Gear You Need to Do It

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Many journalists and investigative technical writers try to maximize their time by repurposing their stories for multiple publications. You can do the same for print to radio stories with some preparation, and you don’t need to know how to use Pro Tools sound editing software. You just need a suitable story slant and some decent quality recordings. Public radio shows like “Marketplace” work with print journalists all of the time so can assist with sound production and fine tuning stories for format.

Ideally, a two-track digital recorder with XLR inputs like the Marantz PMD 661 will work best for radio. It offers a stable, noise-free platform with a lot of recording options like the ability to use two lavalier mics. But you can get away with using an Olympus LS10 or newer LS11 which both have good preamps that are not too hissy when the recording gain is increased. Just using an external mic with any cheap digital recorder can drastically improve sound quality.

You want a recorder with sound levels that can be adjusted while recording. This allows you to keep the meter out of the red where the sound will “clip” or distort. You also want the ability to record uncompressed wav sound files with a sampling rate of 44.1 KHz. That’s the same quality as an audio CD. Even the cheap Zoom H1 has this capability.

Don’t use the internal mic since holding the recorder will pick up handling noise. And leaving the recorder on the table is too far from your source to get clean sound. Get a decent handheld mono microphone like the Electro-Voice RE50 , a Sennheiser MD46 or a wired lapel mic and practice using them. You want to learn how to cradle the mic in your hand to minimize handling noise.
A few tips:

  • Hold the mic close to the speaker’s mouth. The farther away you are from your subject, the more that you will have to increase recording levels, which will increase background noise and hiss. This is especially true in noisy rooms or with soft-spoken subjects.
  • Position the mic to the side or below the speaker’s mouth but pointed towards the mouth. This is called being “on axis” and it helps to reduce clicks and pops. A mic windscreen will help as well. Foam windscreens are cheap but fur windscreens work best.
  • Always keep your headphones on and listen to the interview through your recorder. I use the Sony MDR-7502 headphones (http://amzn.to/na31T5) but you can also use earbuds. Turn off automatic sound level settings and limiters, which will wildly fluctuate the volume of your recordings and make them unusable. Frequently check your sound levels and manually adjust them as needed. I find that interview subjects get louder as they get more comfortable.
  • Limit how much movement you make while holding the mic to minimize handling noise. Sit or stand close to your interview subject so that you’re not swinging the mic back and forth.

Record 20 seconds of background sound at the beginning and end of the interview session. This extra helps the sound engineer to make clean editing transitions.

Radio is actually a visual medium so record any extra sounds that are related to the story that can give the story more presence like milk bottles rattling if you’re doing a story on dairy farming.

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