Radio news is a combination of sound, speed and story. The best reports, be they live or recorded, take the listener to the scene where the news is made and tell a story, using the words of the reporter on scene, the sound of the news or the words of a newsmaker.
Network radio reporters, major-market reporters or small-market broadcasters have a tool kit they rely on to make those stories come alive for the listener.
Eben Brown’s voice is familiar to Fox News Radio listeners. Brown is a national correspondent based in Miami. One would expect him to be able to send a report from wherever his assignment takes him.
“I’m responsible for transporting and operating my own gear. Going live from anywhere is something I’ve often considered my big strength as a radio reporter. One of my recurring nightmares is being sent into the field and not being able to send line-quality audio back to the home base.
“Going live over telephone quality audio, to me, feels like a fail — even when it truly is the only option. With more people listening to our product via digital means or even with so many news/talk stations migrating to FM, the sound of a POTS line can be jarring. So, when I’m on my own in the field, I carry with me multiple options for getting high-quality audio, live, back to New York. But it’s not just my mic I want live. I want to be able to play my own recorded sound.”
Brown rolls with a Comrex Access NX, which allows for connections through Ethernet or multiple cellular paths, and with a second input, allows him to insert actuality with his voice. He also files a copy of his live reports in case the line back to the New York studios drops.
“Nothing is ever 100% foolproof, so filing a backup is always smart.”
He’ll use workarounds like Zoom or Skype or the smartphone if necessary, but those options won’t let him insert actuality. Recording that actuality has become easier, with iOS-based apps like TwistedWave for short recordings. Brown uses TwistedWave, but breaks out a digital audio recorder for longer news conferences.
“I’d worry too much that a smartphone battery could die if made to record 30 minutes of conference.” His choice for microphones: A Shure SM58 and Electro-Voice RE50.
Though smartphone microphones sound good, there’s another reason Brown likes the stick microphone: “Walking up to total strangers can be daunting for both parties. I find that having a stick mic with a flag — and a famous network logo — is a way of presenting my bona fides.”
“If I say I’m a network reporter, and I try to record them only by holding up a smartphone near their face, they tend to doubt my sincerity or professionalism.”
Production in the field for Brown is handled by a MacBook pro running Adobe Audition.
“Being Apple-dependent means I can record something on my iPhone and airdrop the file to my MacBook Pro. I can lay my own tracks into the MacBook via an IK Multimedia iRig-connected mic. I can edit in Audition and can send finished products back to New York via several file transferring methods that are commercially available and not specific to the industry.”
He can also use the iPhone to do all of that, using an app called Ferrite, which is a multitrack editor that allows him to record and mix narration, natural sound and newsmaker actuality, and send the finished product back to New York.
John Sylvester, vice president of Fox News Radio, says “FNR reporters like Brown have been given remote access to Adobe Audition, Amazon Workspace, Slack, Zoom, iNews for writing and editorial newsgathering, and VPN access to our ENCO automated audio systems. In addition, we have provided various other tools and software applications.”
“Whatever Is Most Practical”
Michelle Wright reports for Atlanta’s WSB Radio, heard on 95.5 FM and 750 AM.
“In my bag, I’ve got a laptop equipped with Adobe Audition for editing, a microphone, Zoom recorder, headset and a box that connect to the phone to do live remotes, a wireless hotspot and various charging cables for all the above-mentioned electronics. And of course, my phone.
“I also still have the old-school pen and reporter’s notebook to jot down notes as well.” Back in the newsroom at Peachtree Street, NewsBoss software and email are used to process reports.
Six thousand five hundred miles away, Joey Cummings is the operations manager for KKHJ(FM) Radio in American Samoa.
“We have three full-time news people. Of course, in a small market, everyone is responsible for gathering news. As such, we’re all using whatever is most practical and comfortable in the field.
“If we’re trying to capture a speaker at a conference or meeting, we can’t always get a full-size microphone in place. In this case, we’ll use a small Sony or Olympus field recorder and sneak it onto the table or lectern,” he said.
“Otherwise, I like the wireless Samson HXD1 wireless mic. This connects to a small USB receiver. I typically connect this to my iPhone or iPad using the Apple USB to Lightning adapter. For recording and editing in the field, I am quite fond of the TwistedWave Editor app. Best $10 I ever spent on the app store. Dropbox gets files from A to B.”
Radio World is interested in sharing with readers how other stations and organizations have outfitted their news kits to assure redundancy, efficiency and versatility. Email us at [email protected] to tell us what tools you use to gather, edit and send news audio. And don’t forget to include a photo of yourself using your gear.
Paul Kaminski, CBT, has been a contributor to RW since 1997. He has reported for CBS News Radio, the Associated Press, BBC World Service, CBC Radio and American Forces Radio. Twitter: msrpk_com.