What’s in the Bag of a Freelance Radio Reporter?

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Friends have asked me why I’ve invested so much time and expense in radio gear since I mostly write for print. Simply put, I love turning in fully produced, turnkey stories and radio shows pay more for the effort. Piecing together music, interviews and sound effects is like creating an editorial illustration, which is something that I’ve done for years and enjoy. Both are very visual and conceptual mediums.

Of course, you don’t need as much gear as shown in the photo to freelance in radio, but I plan on doing more in the near future – an eye-opening experience for any freelance writers who want to do more.

A: Marantz PMD670 digital, two-track audio recorder – Marantz makes smaller, lighter recorders now (PMD 660, 661) but they don’t have as many features as the full-sized recorders, and their preamps are a bit noisy. Oade Brothers offers a nice retrofit that really improves noise on all Marantz digital recorders

B: Sennheiser MD46 cardioid dynamic microphone – Great interview mic with low handling noise and a heart-shaped pickup pattern that records from the front and sides. Durable, too. It’s survived a few drops

C: Gooseneck mic stand – Heavy but solid. Cast iron base isn’t easily knocked over

D: Audio-Technica microphone shock mount with hotshoe adapter for use on my DSLR camera

E: Audio-Technica AT835b condenser microphone – Directional mic that’s useful for noisy rooms or to record sound from afar. Very sensitive to handling noise

E: 2 XLR mic cables 5-foot/15-foot for use with the Marantz recorder

F: Sony MDR-7502 field headphones

H: Church Audio preamp – Gives my small recorders a pickup boost when using less sensitive dynamic mics. Also improves the sound on my DSLR when recording video

I: JK Audio Quick Tap – Allows me to record decent quality telephone interview sound for broadcast use

J: Audio-Technica ATR-3350 wired lavalier mic – Great way to get clean and consistent sound from a subject that’s either moving or in a loud room. I’ll use this lav mic with the Olympus LS10 clipped to the subject’s belt or in a pouch

K: Olympus WS-300M digital recorder – It’s small and can plug directly into the
computer like a USB thumb drive. I still use it to record ambient sounds or sound effects like a closing door, footsteps, restaurant noises. A single AAA battery doesn’t give you much recording time

L: Olympus LS10 digital recorder – Great small recorder that I use for all of my print story interviews. It has good preamps so also works very well for radio

M: JVC earbuds – Low profile way to monitor sound

N: Church Audio 1/8” plug-in omnidirectional dynamic mic – Cheapest way to drastically improve recording quality on a small recorder

O: Sony MDR-V6 studio headphones – I use these “cans” while doing sound editing on my desktop computer at home

Not Shown:
1 XLR to 1/8” mic cable for small recorders

Bogen monopod – I use this if I need a boom for the mic. Works alright but heavy. I’ll eventually buy a Rode Boompole

Asus 15” laptop and desktop with Sony Sound Forge and Audacity. Ideally, Pro
Tools is the standard software editor in radio but it’s expensive and has a steep learning curve.

Audacity is free, feature rich and Sound Forge allows me to clean up the work

Sennheiser G3 wireless lav mic – Great wireless system but pricey. I borrow this from a friend when needed

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.

Ebyline Adds Video Uploading Feature for Multimedia Journalists and Digital Newsrooms

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Today, we have some exciting news at Ebyline.

When we started Ebyline, we spoke with many editors and freelancers who wanted an easy-to-use system to create and to collaborate on content. We call it the virtual newsroom, and today, we are taking our vision of a digitally-integrated, multimedia environment to the next level with a new feature: Video Uploading.

We created this new feature as a response to what we have been hearing from many editors from many different outlets. Few editors, these days, are confined to just the written word. Now, editors are feeling an increased demand for multimedia assets to accompany their stories. Editors are encouraged to imagine a broader scope of each story they assign and to answer the question: how will this story exist online? With Ebyline’s new Video Uploading feature, we have provided a simple, streamlined solution for editors to create a rich online experience. Imagine the possibilities: Breaking news, intimate interviews, audio pieces, Podcasts. These multimedia story-telling opportunities are now within reach.

For freelance journalists and investigative article writers, Video Uploading opens a wide variety of new opportunities. Now that ubiquitous smart phones and Flipcams have made journos into multimedia journalists, our Video Uploading feature allows freelancers to sell video footage through the Ebyline system. Already, you have probably used our photo uploading feature to send images to an editor. Now with our multimedia uploading feature, you can upload a video or an audio file to your editor, allowing for new opportunities to sell your content. Multimedia uploading is another great way Ebyline can make you money.

We are really excited about Video Uploading, and we hope you are too.

-Allen Narcisse, Co-Founder Ebyline

Can You Tweet While on Vacation? Radio Reporting Via iPhone? Top Newspapers on Twitter

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Can you report entirely from an iPhone? Are newspapers and copywriting services missing the boat when they don’t engage their readers via blog posts? How do you tweet while on vacation? For today’s media roundup, we found some stories that address these questions and more. We also have some reports on how different media outlets are doing on Twitter. Are they gaining or losing followers? Finally, we have a report that researched the way readers interact with links in stories. You may be surprised to see what they found.

It’s all the news fit to blog at Ebyline’s Daily Dose:

How One Radio Reporter Ditched His Equipment for an iPhone 4

“It’s been more than a year since I packed away my laptop computer, digital recorders, microphones, cables and cameras, and began covering Washington, D.C. with only my iPhone.”

The Top 25 Newspapers on Twitter — Who’s Up, Who’s Down

“Last fall, the blog Journalistics published a list ranking the top 25 newspapers on Twitter, based on their follower counts. (TheWrap followed up with a similar list for magazines.) I figured it’s time we update the newspaper list, to see how the troubled print industry has fared — and at what pace the audience for their tweets is growing.”

Newspapers and Social Media: Still Not Really Getting It

“Many traditional media entities have embraced social-media services like Twitter and Facebook and blogs — at least to some extent — as tools for reporting and journalism, using them to publish and curate news reports. But newspapers in particular seem to have a hard time accepting the “social” part of these tools, at least when it comes to letting their journalists engage with readers as human beings. A case in point is the new social-media policy introduced at a major newspaper in Canada, which tells its staff not to express personal opinions — even on their personal accounts or pages — and not to engage with readers in the comments.”

The Way You Combine Text With Links Can Enhance Reader Interest and Understanding

“Our latest study, forthcoming in Science Communication, shows that non-expert audiences become more engaged with – and comprehend complex news better – when explanatory text is combined with specific explanatory links (not just links to other websites).”

How to Keep your Twitter Account Active – Even When You’re on Vacation

“Going on vacation doesn’t mean leaving your social media presence to sit dormant. There are a few things you can do to keep up your Twitter appearance while you’re away basking in the summer sun. And these tips can be put into use if you just want a mini-vacation from your Twitter account or the computer in general, too.”

From Print to Radio And Back Again: How to Start a Radio Show

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Back in 1993, I had the semi-brilliant idea of channeling my longtime sportswriting expertise into a radio show.  It led me in directions I could not have foreseen.

Eighteen years later, the radio show, “Diamond Gems,” which began in January 1994 and focused on baseball past and present, has been retired after syndication on as many as 35 stations, as far away as Alaska and Hawaii. But some 30,000 words of interviews from it were transcribed into interviews from my latest book, “When The Game Changed: An Oral History of Baseball’s True Golden Age 1969-79.” Print to radio and back to print again. And some of the book interviews were transformed into audio segments in “Diamond Gems’” final on-air audio seasons.

And yet, in many ways, the hour-long weekly “Diamond Gems” is the little show that can’t be killed. It now lives on in the form of shorter on-line video segments aired on many of the radio affiliates web sites along with projected postings on newspaper and magazine sites.

Print to radio to print to video to internet. Cross-pollination of media, no matter what combination, is the way to go.

The concept of using one’s print/internet journalistic talents in broadcasting is very much alive and kicking.

If you’re want to create a radio show, consider these ideas:

1. Focus on a topic. Ensuring the show’s theme is not duplicated elsewhere in the market, is the first step to creating a new radio program. What makes your program unique, where nothing on the subject matter is covered elsewhere in the market or on-line?  Legal-advise, handyman and pets shows abound. What is in your background that would make it one of a kind?

In “Diamond Gems’” case, it was vintage baseball broadcast highlights from decades past that were long lost to history. I always loved baseball nostalgia and history. I also had a modest-sized collection of early 1970s-vintage cassettes with long-erased baseball highlights. Through the years, I dramatically expanded my archives, mostly from fans who had taped games off radio or TV. The rarest highlight was a 1965 game in which Jackie Robinson worked as the first network African-American baseball announcer on ABC, with the pre-game show featuring Howard Cosell interviewing Sandy Koufax and Willie Mays together. Talk about a confluence of big names. Both listeners and program directors loved the unique nature of this nostalgia, presented in a kind of pop-culture motif of the era in which the highlights originated.  Stations and sports franchises often give short-shrift to their history, worried that would skew too “old” for advertisers. But I proved there was a market for nostalgia.

2. Check what programming is offered in your market. If your area of expertise is not being served and a logical audience seems to exist, go for it. And try to format your program beyond the “talking heads” model. That’s a sure way to turn people off. Extra work will be required in the editing and production process, but inclusion of interviews, audio bites, and other pieces of audio to vary the flow and sound of the show are a necessity to make the program stand out.

3. Be Frugal. You can do a radio show for as little as $50 or $75 a week, which covers studio time and an engineer, if you don’t mind starting on a small station in the suburbs or a small city.  In any market of size, at least half a dozen to 15 stations will try to broker time. They don’t want to not generate revenue from weekend timeslots, so it might be possible to cut a deal on the broker fee. Of course, the larger the station, the bigger the ratings, the higher the fee. I was knocked off WHB in Kansas City in the late 1990s when it went to a more powerful signal. The sales manager wanted $300 an hour for a weekend slot. If you’re willing to cover that kind of nut, the time will be yours. The biggest stations in the top five markets will charge around $1,000 an hour or up.

The traditional way of breaking into radio, if you’re not lucky enough to draw a paycheck from a station, is the widespread use of “brokered” airtime by many stations, particularly on weekends. Under pressure to generate revenue, stations feel they don’t want to sell commercial time on weekends — it’s more lucrative to sell off half-hour or hour-long chunks to independent producers, who then in turn sell their own time to meet the station’s fees and try to get into the black. On a bigger scale, sports franchises at the pro and college level have often purchased the airtime and re-sold it themselves.

Now, “brokered” radio does not necessarily have a wonderful reputation. Quite a few independent producers do it for vanity, as a hobby, or to promote their business. The airwaves are dotted with attorneys, financial advisers and vitamin peddlers. But legitimate journalistic talents do get their start this way.

You have the ability to shop around for the best deal. I did not have the additional outlets that are available now to would-be producers/hosts. In 1993 only terrestrial radio existed. In a new century, satellite radio is established. Better yet, the internet has given birth to audio talk networks and production houses, where programming never beams out over 1,000-watt transmitters. On-line talk networks like TalkZone.com, WSRadio.com and AllTalkRadio.net have set up shop and produce dozens of shows a week. You can reach anyone in the world.  But on terrestrial radio, total airtime and signal coverage have specific limits. Not so on the internet.

4. Covering that production cost. The easiest way is knowing someone who shares your passion, runs a related business and can promote his/her product or service by covering the weekly broker fee.  Failing that, a tactic is to approach marketing departments of colleges to recruit a student who desires experience in sales and marketing. They can work on a commission basis — say, 15 to 25 percent if you’re really generous — and could have an on-air role as a reward for producing sales. It’s tough to sell airtime, to be sure, but everyone wants to be on radio (or the internet). You tap into the enthusiasm of youth. Everyone wants to get a start — remember your own? That’s the carrot you use.

The most frustrating way to sell is trying to do it yourself. That’s why editorial and sales departments at media outlets exist in different worlds and are posted in different parts of the office  – they are like apples and oranges. They require radically different skills and temperments. Rejection is the sales person’s constant companion. You can also try sales and marketing firms, but make sure they share your passion. If they don’t, it won’t work. Most often they want upfront money or the assurance they’ll make money — too few of them are in the rainmaking business. Beware of anyone who makes too many promises. You can get burned. Been there, done that.

I got lucky in starting Diamond Gems by getting ad commitments from magazines for which I worked or people that I had met over the years who ran businesses. Later I was extremely lucky to land State Farm Insurance. That mega-advertiser alone kept “Diamond Gems” afloat  to last as long as it did. Amazingly, I got a modest ad deal from the Chicago Cubs in eight different seasons, but not after 2003, when the team began selling out 98 percent of its seats — no reason to plug tickets on my show anymore.

5.  Syndicate online. The concept of syndication is easier if you want to go internet-only. Prior to the advent of online networks, you had to affiliate with a regional radio network if you wanted multiple stations to pick up your show. My method was producing “Diamond Gems” at the Chicago-based Illinois Radio Network starting in the program’s second season in 1995. The show was offered up on satellite, with any network affiliate or any station tuned into the satellite’s coordinates able to pick it up. I simply got on the phone and pitched affiliates. Over the years enough signed up to boost the station count to around three dozen, with some stalwarts with me all the way through since around 1996 and 1997.  At different junctures, I distributed the show via cassette, then CD, and finally via an internet download system, which stations prefer now. I also worked out of two independent production houses, paying them between $3,000 and $7,000 a year to produce and distributed the show after I left the Illinois Radio Network.

The longevity of “Diamond Gems” built up some great relationships with station executives.  Some of these same loyalists are picking up the video show for their web sites as “Diamond Gems” soldiers on.

I did self-syndication, but a lot of independent producers are trying the same method. Stations are inundated with such pitches. Meanwhile, national networks like ESPN do a “land grab” of many stations’ weekend schedules — they do an all-or-nothing hard sell with affiliates. That limits the airtime for new, unaffiliated shows. As a result, I’ve lost affiliates over the years. Others, under financial pressure, want you to broker the airtime.

So in a radically changing media landscape, going the internet route seems the best best if you want to have a widespread audience, and you can also connect to other article writers to spread the word. If you don’t care about being limited to one market, you’ll keep your costs down by programming on a smaller station. You’ll always have the shot of being heard by a station exec who might just want your show for his station.

You were forewarned. If you still desire to proceed and do your show, you have a lot of options. You won’t make a lot of money under the best of circumstances. Yet you have the chance of cross-pollination across media platforms if you maintain your other work. One platform promotes the other. It’s a cliche, but better to have your fingers in one too many pies than not enough.

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