Image: Classic old radio 1960s or 70s style by Robert Ashworth.

 

Feel like you can up and leave your city/town/shack for Chicago and start broadcasting for NPR like a total boss yet?
 

No?

Whoops. Then we’ve neglected our duty. To round out this series, I had a chat to Dan Buhagiar about how you actually get into the radio industry as a, like, job. She’s a senior producer for Double J, formerly a senior producer at Triple J, a station she grew up listening to. When it came to specific MUST DO advice for getting good at making audio, we came up with basics. Here she is talking about her history with community radio:

 

Note: I recorded this one by connecting my phone to a Zoom mic using a 3mm cable. If you do this, check the levels first, people! Things will be much clearer. You see, we all learn as we go along. Excellent!

 

A NOTE ON RADIOS AND COMMUNITIES

 

The first time I was ever on air, we produced an hour of work, 60% of which was my one of my co-hosts growling into the microphone as we interviewed him, pretending he was a possum.

He was an incredibly convincing possum, but the final podcast result did raise questions from our listeners as to what our goal was. It was hilarious radio, just not quite in This American Life territory.

In the years since, I’ve been let loose on SYN 90.7 in Melbourne, which as provided such funtimes as:

 

• Destruction of a gingerbread house live to air, by hitting it over my co-host’s head.

 

• Dressing as a panda and producing three hours of breakfast programming.

 

• Chatting with musicians supporting the Rolling Stones.

 

• Participating in a Spanish soap opera, interviewing musicians from aerobridges, cupboards, youth hostel kitchens and peak hour trams.

 

• Interviewing ventriloquists, actors, artists and once hiccupping through a twenty minute long interview with Wes Anderson’s co-curator for a Spanish film fest.

 

My producers have passed out mid show and my co-presenters have vomited in a song break one minute, then interviewed senior public servants the very next. Phones have been on mute for entire interviews, meaning well known actors had to just guess the questions we were asking. Audio panels have exploded and people put to air mega accidentally. This is how I learnt how to make the radios.

It’s only actually been in the last year or so that I’ve really learnt how to put together podcasts without a studio right in front of me. That'’s because I’ve had the help of people much wiser and more tech savvy than I am, who have sat down with me and explained how they do things – I found these people through community radio.

 I’ve made tonnes of things that sound really terrible. I’ve broadcast a piece about Julia Gillard’s book that had 15 seconds of roaring truck noise at the end, because I forgot to edit that bit out before saving my file. Another time I accidentally reported the death of a Prime Minister because I combined two news headlines into one - a pretty massive fail only partially excused by me waking up at 4:45am for a morning news shift.

I know this might seem like the most obvious thing in the world, and now it’s probably double-y obvious because Dan (a total pro in every sense of the word) has said it above: making audio stories is about the trial and error of it. Only with that time to stuff up will you work out how your phone/microphone/sound booth or recording studio really work.

With that in mind, here are some places you can hit up for advice for both broadcast and podcast production:

SYDNEY

AFTRS

FBi Radio

MELBOURNE

SYN

Triple R Melbourne

CANBERRA

2XX Canberra

PERTH

RTR 92.1FM Perth 

HOBART

Edge 99.3 Hobart

ALICE SPRINGS & DARWIN

8CCC Community Radio Alice Springs and Tennant Creek

Territory FM Darwin\

BRISBANE

4ZZZ Brisbane

EVERYWHERE ELSE, CHECK OUT

Community Broadcasting Association of Australia

 

Some of these places offer formal training courses; some are only open to youth contributors. Some have waiting lists, but whatever the set up, if you’re interested, it is two hundred-per cent worth hitting them up and being patient to get involved. Nowhere else will you find people in real, human form who will be willing to help you make things sound fantastic and experiment in a safe environment. Go forth and make friends and stuff.

 

INTERVIEWING AND SOUNDING 'NATURAL'

As we round the bend and look to polish our work, let's revisit the idea of sounding au natural on the airwaves.

I KNOW IT IS UNHELPFUL, but everyone we have spoken to for this series has said that aiming to 'perform' your work is not all that useful. Much better, they've said, to imagine you're having a normal conversation with a kindly acquaintance who wants to hear your work. Cos that's what you're kind of doing when you record, I guess. We are kindly and we want to hear your work.

That said, as you edit your stuff together, you're going to find patterns in the squiggly lines (technical term alert) of the levels of your recording.

Ideally the sound will be pretty even in terms of height, and there won't be any huge gaps (flat-lining) of silence. You'll be able to see just from looking at your audio file in Garageband or Audacity if it's going to be easy to edit, based on whether you have some little gaps where people have naturally paused to take a breath, for instance.

Keeping these things in mind while you record (especially with someone else), will probably help this process later:

• Record about 20-30 secs of silence (or as silent as you can get, so no talking or deliberate noise), before you start. You can use this to bridge between any clips you cut up later and it all runs smoothly.

• Check your levels and the levels of your co-host of interviewee before you start. You can even ask them to start talking and then play that test back to see how loud it is. It'll save you the heartbreak of wrapping a whole recording and realising it's pretty crap anyway.

• Remember that silence in interviews isn't such a bad thing. I have trouble remembering this, and you can hear it in the way I sometimes say 'sure', or 'great' underneath the talent's answers. Giving the other person space to talk might feel unnatural/like you're ignoring them, but when you come to edit you'll be able to hear their words and only their words really clearly, then a break before your words, which you can easily snip out without things sounding terrible.

• Practice recording as though it's a totally normal conversation: as Phill English said a couple of weeks back, initially Tim and Phill Talk About Games was full of totally awkward pauses, even though the duo had been friends for ages and could presumably hold a conversation normally other times. If you're going to record yourself and some mates for an ongoing podcast, maybe do a couple of trials prior to putting your Episode 1 out into the world.

PRO TIP: even in community radio, heaps of programs have a dedicated producer - someone who guides the interviews, comes up with talk topics, and, for pre-records, nods towards interesting parts of your topic (usually by saying, 'That bit was boring, talk more about X'. If you can rope a mate in for this or have someone keen to get a production credit on their CV, all the better.

• Do at least 3 takes if you're recording yourself reading work out loud. Go with the universal rule of the pancake - the first couple are going to be weird and inedible.

 

Things that our WB ears like…

Nothing says procrastination and delight like listening to some stellar examples of storytelling. At this point we need to STOP PRESSES, for two reasons:

1. Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales, of Australian political journalism/baking/tweeting/being excellent fame, have started a podcast. This in itself might just about override everything I have told you, and I will instead just redirect your attention to the Chat 10 Looks 3 website. In all seriousness, even if you don't even know them, this is a lovely example of podcast conversations. There aren't bells and whistles, it's just a conversation, and they rely on their wit and friendship to talk about all kinds of culture and ideas.

2. A lot has been said about Serial lately, a podcast series by the people at This American Life. It's a week-by-week true crime investigation, considering facts and sides of a 1999 murder case in Baltimore (and we're talking about it at Bloc Club). C'mon, you might be thinking, it's TAL, of course there will be hype - but this is actually really fascinating, because they've been able to create the feel of a true crime book or the story arc of a TV series, using the frame that audio-only formats offer. It's intimate and compelling. Even if you find yourself yelling at your radio, you're probably going to want to know what happens next.

This is a mix of hard news journalism, investigation, performance of a radio script, integration of music and a variety of different audio sources. If you want to see how it all fits together as a template for what the podcast form, head here. Episode 7 is released today.

Other stuff you must go forth and find...

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OK. So let’s back up and talk about the point of all of this. All The Best radio from FBi in Sydney have helped us out with tips and tricks for this series, and are always on the lookout for quick audio pieces to broadcast for their themed, weekly docos. We’re handballing your submissions to them to check out, and will also be featuring your work on our blog. If you look back through the past weeks of instruction, you should be able to whack together a short bit (this can be fiction or non-fic in the form of memoir) and shoot it through to us.

So look back through our weeks of advice and send us your dulcet tones. Send .wav files to us or share them on Dropbox - send to our email reviews@thewritersbloc.net by NOVEMBER 14. Good luck!

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This series has been produced by Emma Koehn for The Writers Bloc, with the assistance of All The Best Radio. Thanks to Features EPs Jess O’Callaghan and Heidi Pett, and fiction producer Zacha Rosen for all the advice. Check ‘em out at allthebestradio.com

 

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