Posted by: Ginny Prior | January 22, 2012

SMC Travelers launch production of radio vignettes for NPR

NPR host Tom Wilmer after audio bootcamp - Photo by Marielle Coyne

Our class has been commissioned by NPR Audiolog host Tom Wilmer to do a 15 minute travel log on Moraga and environs. The is the second year we’ve partnered with this 22-year radio veteran. He came to class, recently, to do some training. Here is Marielle Coyne’s blog on his visit:

Tom Wilmer seemed very subdued as he entered our classroom, hiding behind the rim of his baseball cap. However, as he warmed up his excitement for travel radio became apparent. Wilmer has had his own travel radio show on NPR for the past 22 years and has done shows on everything from Palau, Micronesia to the 58th Confederate regiment. Because of his experience, he brought expert advise to our class, who will soon be writing and making podcasts of our own.
Wilmer began by stressing one point: “There’s only one thing that separates you from the rest of the world: how you see the world.” The purpose of broadcasts is to portray what you see in the best way possible so that the listener may feel that they are experiencing it with you. Because of this, Wilmer stressed that the show should not be about the broadcaster but rather about making the reader feel included in the experience. This means that during the show there should be limited talking from the broadcaster and more focus on the person being interviewed. Also, the show should be fairly short, sometimes only two to three minutes, because the listener may lose attention.
Because radio broadcasts are an “auditory experience”, the only instrument the broadcaster has to portray the place to the listener is sound. Wilmer encouraged us to close our eyes when on site to be better in tune with the auditory sense of the place. He believes that sound should “ideally be recorded on location.” This allows the background noise of the place to be audible during interviews or be played as an introduction or description of a place. Both of these are great ways to make the listener feel they are present in the place. Wilmer also insisted that we should always capture more sound than we think we will need because it may very well be used later when putting the broadcast together.
As far as the format of a travel radio show, Wilmer believes that a sound bite from the place can often be a great way to start. This immediately brings the reader into the experience and makes them feel more present than just a description by the broadcaster. Whether through a sound bite or some other means, the introduction must be something that will capture the listener’s attention so that they will be willing to listen to the rest of the show. Next, there should be interesting interviews from people in the place with transitions or descriptions by the broadcaster separating them. Last, there should be an ending that wraps up the broadcast or “fades into the sunset” so that the listener feels some kind of closure.
Finally, Wilmer discussed the technicalities of actually record a show. He told us that the best way to record with a microphone is not to hold it right in front of the person’s mouth, but rather off to the side to avoid popping noises in their speech. Also, the recorder should monitor what is being recorded through a good set of headphones so that it is the highest quality possible. If the microphone is intimidating the person being interviewed, Wilmer encouraged us to not start the interview right away but to let the person become comfortable. In addition, however, we should leave the tape rolling once the interview is “over” to capture anything the person might say once they have relaxed. This, he believes, can often be the most interesting material. When recording our own voices, Wilmer encouraged us to reread our script multiple times before and then smile when reading it. This can make the broadcaster sound more interested and happy with what they are saying.
All of Wilmer’s expert advice on travel radio will certainly be useful and I think made the class much more enthusiastic to record our own shows.
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