August 4, 2020
There needs to be a radio and podcasting merit badge: reporters and producers earn one when they stretch above and beyond for a story. If there was one, I would present it to Lauren Chooljian of New Hampshire Public Radio for a pandemic diary she produced.
July 21, 2020
Rob's secret hope with every HowSound is that you'll hear creative storytelling and production and think "Oh wait! I wanna do that!" He has no doubt that Fiona Benson's and Mair Bosworth's sound poem about 17-year cicadas will do just that.
July 7, 2020
Emily Green says she "walked in the margins" of journalism ethics to report a story on kidnapping at the US/Mexico border for This American Life. Emily and producer Lina Misitzis join me on this episode of HowSound to parse out how they navigated the reporting and how TAL addressed it in the story. This story was part of a Pulitzer Prize winning episode -- the first for audio journalism.
June 23, 2020
This American Life's Sean Cole is the guest on this episode of HowSound. Rob dug this one out of the HowSound archive from 2010. It features a fantastic story Sean produced in '05 as well as a discussion about the value of including a reporter's question in a story.
June 9, 2020
This episode is aptly named: “A Feast For Your Ears”. Rob features a handful of ear-catching clips. From a psychedelic road trip in Australia in the 1970s to a crowd-sourced poem produced by NPR to.... well, you'll have to listen!
May 26, 2020
You may know Jay Allison for his work on the Moth Radio Hour and in his role as the founder and executive editor of Transom. But, back in the day, Jay produced a trove of strange and ear-catching pieces about dog's dreams, talking horses, and freaky neighbors. Headphones on, people.
May 12, 2020
Selly Thiam says producing an LGBTQ podcast in Kenya is incredibly challenging. There's homophobia, government censorship, and a potential audience that still doesn't quite know what a podcast is. And, yet, AfroQueer, the podcast Selly hosts and produces, is winning major awards for the reporting.
February 4, 2020
Got your ears on? You'll want them as Rob threads his way through a wide variety of clips  that caught his attention over the last few months. A man injects Fentenyl into his neck... Toni Morrison speaks about beauty... Jad Abamrad waxes about the power of radio... and more.
January 21, 2020
Shereen Marisol Meraji of Code Switch told me she's sick of her voice -- the authoritative narrator. In response, Shereen recently experimented getting out of the way and letting the tape do the talking for a shocking documentary about a lynching in the 1930s. "A Strange and Bitter Crop" was her first non-narrated story in fifteen years and she can't wait to make more.
January 7, 2020
Let's face it: Use of the pronoun "I" has gotten out of hand. There's much too much navel gazing and self-indulgence in so many podcasts. And yet, sometimes using the first person as a reporter is the best approach for a story. Leila Day of The Stoop podcast relates how she and her co-host Hana Baba navigate those waters.
September 17, 2019
July 9, 2019
Who are all those people at the end of an episode of Reply All, given credit for putting it together? One of them is Jessica Yung. She's an Associate Producer. On this episode of HowSound we shine a light on Jessica's hidden work as an AP.
June 25, 2019
When you have guests as famous and interesting at Tan France, Ramy Youseff, Wazina Zondon, Ryan Harris, and Alia Shawkat, why does the host  of Tell Them I Am start each episode talking about herself? Misha Euceph has the answer.
June 11, 2019
NPR reporter Uri Berliner breaks from his usual approach to storytelling and finds interviewing his dad about growing up in Berlin in the 1930s to be incredibly difficult and rewarding.
May 29, 2019
Sewage pipes, a radio crime, and sound designing inner thoughts.... Must be another episode of Rob's fav sounds but this time with a twist -- a sound that annoyed Rob to no end. Clips from BBC 3 and Nathanial Mann, Bodies by KCRW, and No Feeling Is Final from ABC Radio.
May 14, 2019
Every once in a while, I think HowSound should focus solely on interviewing. To heck with sound design, writing, ethics, tracking, and the like. Just focus on “the backstory to great radio interviewing.” Why? Because interviewing is how radio producers mine. It’s how we collect the raw material for our work. The better the interviewing, the better the tape. The better the tape, the better the story. I mean, sure sloppy writing can kill stellar interview tape. Same with bad production.  Conversely a bad interview can be saved by rock solid writing. But really, if you nail your interview, the rest will come easy. Okay. Not easy, but easier. And the story the tape is based on will likely be more satisfying. Put another way, interviewing is the keystone of audio storytelling. That’s why it’s important to examine the work of the best practitioners and Cathy FitzGerald is just that — one of the best. She possesses an uncanny ability to capture “humans being” in her interviews. And she approaches it in unusual ways with her penchant for recording interviews in scene; her use of participant observation, which is a fancy way of saying she doesn’t just ask questions, she gets involved; and her use of props to prompt conversation. On this episode of HowSound, Cathy chats about those approaches and we hear extended examples of her work. As a bonus, during our chat, Cathy turned the tables and asked me questions about interviewing. And that led us to talk about our weaknesses and what we both would like to improve and to this positively lovely analogy for interviewing — weeping with one eye.
April 30, 2019
On this episode, the convention-busting production choices of "10 Things That Scare Me."
April 16, 2019
Sometimes, there's just too much good work to feature on HowSound. To solve the problem, from time to time I feature a slew of ear-catching clips on one episode. On this episode, work from Believed, 99% Invisible, This American Life, and Threshold.
April 2, 2019
At a school where I taught radio, in the mic booth, there was a photo of Studs Terkel hanging on the wall. Under it, someone wrote “Talk to Studs.” The picture was there to help with tracking. Narration will sound more conversational if you pretend you’re talking to Studs, the thinking went. After all, that’s the goal, right? To track like you’re just talking to someone. Hanging up a picture and talking to it may be a good (and slightly weird) first step toward tracking naturally, Sruthi Pinnemaneniof Reply Alltakes things a whole lot further because she’s driven to avoid sounding like she’s reading something written. She very much wants listeners to fall into a story because her voice sounds unaffected and genuine.  “(At Reply All) we try to track in a way that is closer to ‘I’m telling a story to somebody,'” she says. “When we’re tracking, we almost always have a producer or someone in the room where we’re trying to recreate that feeling of ‘I’m here and I’m feeling the excitement and joy that I know exists in this story.'” She says it’s not just a matter of talking to that person in the room. They help, too. They offer feedback, of course. But, they also play tape. Sruthi listens to a quote in her story then, right as it finishes, she narrates. “The tape always carries a certain kind of emotion,” she explained to me. “Either you’re surprised by what the person is saying or what the person is saying makes you laugh. And so you want the tracking, the line that you’re saying out of it, to carry that emotion.” What else does she do? Sruthi lays it out in this episode of HowSound.
March 19, 2019
Since 2009, Julia Barton's edited a lot of radio and podcasts you probably listen to including Revisionist History. On this HowSound, Julia talks shop about her approach to editing.
March 5, 2019
Jeff Emtmen pulled an audio sleight of hand in an episode of Hear Be Monsters about Mexican free-tail bats. It's a delight to listen to. To understand Jeff's trick, Rob offers a primer on sound and hearing.
February 19, 2019
Why do students at Transom's Traveling Workshops produce such solid work on very little sleep? Because they're driven to learn? Yup. Because they want to leave the workshop with something they're proud of? Absolutely. But, it may also be because they want to do justice to the people they profile in their stories -- to get it right. You can definitely hear that effort on this HowSound.
February 5, 2019
On this episode, a fascinating minute of audio - the sound of war and peace reconstructed from the exact end of World War I. Even more fascinating, the producers - Will Worsley and Sam Britton - conjured the sound using audio shadows captured on film.
January 22, 2019
Back in September, Barrie Hardymon and Dana Cronin produced a short, sharp, shock of a story. One that featured tweets recorded by listeners including a tweet that had to be approved by NPR legal before broadcast. And they did it all in about eighteen hours.
January 8, 2019
Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda compose music for stories at Reveal. HowSound's Rob Rosenthal talks with them about the way they think about music and scoring. We think you’ll find it instructive, even if your music comes from a library.
December 26, 2018
Up now on HowSound, a recent doc from BBC 3 called "Right Between the Ears" features ear-catching sound design and reveals how ears aren't the only part of the body involved in hearing.
December 11, 2018
A pile of tape just might be a treasure trove of radio gold. But how do you go manage it? Bianca Giaever has answers and a touching documentary called “Two Years with Franz” produced with Jay Allison here at Transom.
November 27, 2018
That feeling you have at the end of a serialized podcast where all you want to do is press play again -- what causes that? Rob talks to Leah Sottlile and Ryan Haas from Bundyville about episode endings that entice listeners to press play again.
November 13, 2018
A student once asked me “How do you find the stories you feature on HowSound?” I’m asked that a lot, actually. And, I’m sorry to say, I don’t have any secrets to reveal. I probably find stories and podcasts the same way everyone else does. Here’s my very quick and cursory list. * I listen to the radio. A lot. * I ask people “What are you listening to that was really interesting? Or that pissed you off?” * I pick the brains of my students. They often get out their phones and rifle through what they subscribe to. * I’m always scouring newsletters and emails on radio listserves I belong to: a. The list for the Association of Independents in Radio b. The Transom Story Workshop Alumni listserve c. The list for the Sonic Soiree, a local listening group in Boston (I bet there’s a group near you). d. The newsletter from the Bello Collective e. The newsletter from Hot Pod f. Sam Greenspan’s occasional newsletter YSLTF: You Should Listen to Fridays. * I’m a member of a couple of Facebook groups: a. The Podcasters Support Group b. The BEA Teaching Audio Production Group * I subscribe to podcasts that feature work from a lot of different producers: a. Short Cuts from the BBC b. Unfictional from KCRW c. The BBC’s Between the Ears podcast * I search for subject matter I’m personally interested in. For instance, I might search for “Arctic” and “podcasts.” Or, “podcasts on the environment.” I’m sure I’ve left something out. (What would you add?) Perhaps the short answer is: my ear radar is always on; I’m constantly on the hunt. I should mention, too, that as I’m listening, I look for a way into the story for a HowSound episode. Is there a “teachable moment” in the piece? Did the producer do something unusual and notable? Do I find myself wondering “How the heck did they do that?!” Sometimes it’s just a matter of being satisfied by the story or a production technique. That’s what this episode of HowSound is about. On a recent road trip, I listened to several hours of stories and made a mental list of segments from those stories that caught attention, that I found satisfying. This is a different way of producing HowSound. Typically, I find one story and interview the producer. But, today, I feature a slew of clips that caught my ear and I offer some thoughts about what worked and what didn’t. Stories from Earshot, The City, and Sound Africa. If you get a chance, let me know if this episode worked for you. And, tell me what I should be listening to next.
October 31, 2018
Jennifer Kingsley was so nervous when she started "Humans of the Arctic" she didn't eat for a week. But, she stepped off the boat in Svalbard with her mic and recording gear and learned a valuable lesson - you just won't know if you don't ask.
October 16, 2018
Producer Morgan Givens lays out his elaborate thinking behind a few sound effects he recorded for a historical fiction story he produced about an escaped slave.
October 2, 2018
It's a hackneyed idea, but it bears repeating: you can have all the right gear and marketing and everything else to make your podcast successful, but the most important asset is you. On this second episode of two, Vanessa Lowe of Nocturne lays out her podcast mindset.
September 18, 2018
Recording equipment? Check. Marketing plan? Check. Theme music? Check. Mindset?..... You can have all the technical and logistical aspects of podcasting in place but if you don't have the right outlook, your effort may fall short. What is that mindset? On this first of two episodes, Phoebe Judge of Criminal answers that question.
September 5, 2018
Often, sound brings to light the visuals in a radio story. But, narration can paint pictures, too. NPR's John Burnett talks "color notes" in radio storytelling.
August 21, 2018
For some radio inspiration, make sure to listen to these three stories produced in a week by students at a recent Transom Traveling Workshop in Marfa, Texas. Then, sign up for a workshop yourself!
August 7, 2018
The narrative arc in recent story about the drug epidemic by NPR's Rachel Martin was like being taken down into a basement and having the light turned off. The piece was bleak and the ending was, perhaps, the darkest point in the story. Rachel talks about that choice and offers other thoughts about story endings on this episode of HowSound.
July 24, 2018
Radio producers talk about the scenes in their stories all the time. "What are the scenes in your story?" "Oh, I got some great scene tape today." But what is a scene? On this episode, Rob dissects one of the best scenes he's heard in a while.
July 10, 2018
It's possible I love David Weinberg's "Louie Louie" doc because I love the song. It's "Louie Louie" for God's sake. But, really, what hooked me was David's writing. Especially the opening.
June 26, 2018
Three students. Three stories. One week. Hear what can be accomplished in a very short period of time with barely any sleep.
June 12, 2018
Select telling details... Mete out descriptions... Cast surprising characters... and other tips for dynamic and visual reporting on the arts from the legendary Susan Stamberg.
May 29, 2018
This year marks the 25th anniversary of one of the best -- if not the best -- radio documentary: Ghetto Life 101. Producer David Isay and editor Gary Covino recall their landmark work on this episode of HowSound.
May 15, 2018
All you need to know for this episode is this: Listen with your best headphones!
May 1, 2018
A few years ago, Chenjerai Kumanyika went to record his narration for his first-ever radio story. And he discovered a problem: "What should I sound like?" Several years later, Chenjerai found his voice on the Peabody Award-winning podcast "Uncivil."
April 17, 2018
How can you be fair during an interview with a suspect when a police officer is standing right there? Over the years as a law enforcement reporter for NPR, Martin Kaste has developed an approach to navigate this and several other challenges.
April 3, 2018
What do you do when the main character in a story is strange, bizarre, and weird? So crazy listeners might tune out? One answer is to find a sympathetic character, someone the audience can relate to. Producer Ann Heppermann explains how Glynn Washington was the perfect sympathetic character as the narrator of the "Heaven's Gate" podcast, the series about the cult that committed the largest mass suicide in the United States.
March 20, 2018
Bradley Campbell couldn't believe it when I told him I'd like to interview him about sports stories. He knows how much I hate them. But, a sports story he produced and other episodes of Gamebreaker are well worth the listen. Bradley explains why.
March 6, 2018
Megan Tan pulled the plug. She stopped producing Millennial at the height of the podcast boom. Her inspiring yet cautionary tale on this episode of HowSound.
February 21, 2018
One way to start a story is with a question -- one that focuses and animates the piece. Annie Minoff and Elah Feder of the "Undiscovered" podcast use focus questions as story starters to great effect. But, I had some questions about their questions.
February 6, 2018
"The Promise," a podcast from WPLN in Nashville, is an inspiring example of the journalism of empathy. And, it's easily some of the best local reporting I've heard in a long time. Meribah Knight explores this approach to reporting on this HowSound.
January 23, 2018
A shooter guns down twenty-six people in a church. Soon after, Debbie Elliott from NPR shows up, a stranger with a microphone. She says it's hard not to feel like a pariah when reporting in traumatic situations. So, how do you avoid that?
January 9, 2018
Planet Money's Noel King says the best way to write for radio is to not write. Instead? Tell.
December 26, 2017
Two solidly produced, fun stories from students at the Transom Traveling Workshop in Marfa, Texas. Both are well worth your listen.
December 12, 2017
"Radio is the most visual medium." Aviva DeKornfeld's story "After the Storm" is proof. So much so, it's just as much a photo essay as it is a radio story.
November 28, 2017
Jad Abumrad of Radiolab delivers the goods on sound design in radio stories. A must listen if you're thinking of sound designing your next radio story.
October 31, 2017
A recent story on NPR about the Confederate flag got Rob wondering about the practice of correcting interviewees in narration. Producer Zach Hirsch produced the story and he explains why he felt challenging the interviewee's viewpoints was necessary.
October 17, 2017
Greg Warner is one of Rob Rosenthal's favorite radio writers. He deftly put the "broken narrative" to good use in an episode of his NPR podcast "Rough Translation." In fact he's so good at it, you'd have no idea he was using it. What is the broken narrative? You'll have to listen.
October 3, 2017
Why is it so hard to sound like yourself when reading narration for radio stories? Transom's Viki Merrick offers some voicing coaching gold. You'll wanna take notes.
September 19, 2017
After teaching documentary storytelling for seventeen years, I feel confident in the advice I give students, most of the time. But, as soon as someone brings up sound design, I’m flummoxed. I feel like my advice is next to useless. Typically, what happens is this: a student feels like their story is boring so they want to throw some sound in — something from a sound effects library. They think it will make the story more dynamic. And, typically, I respond by saying, “If your story is boring, write better. Or, play around with the structure. Or, find better quotes. Don’t expect to solve a problem by tossing in some sound. It will end up sounding cheesy.” I do think that’s solid advice. But, in reality, there are times when a bit of sound design might actually help a story. Not to make it less boring, but to drive home a point or help the story be more visual. That’s when I return to my problem as an instructor: I don’t know how to help. But here’s the good news. I produce a podcast about audio storytelling and I can actually ask people for advice! And so, I did. My first stop was Matthew Boll. Matt works at Gimlet as a lead producer and music composer. Of particular interest to me was his work on Crimetown, a podcast on crime and politics in Providence, Rhode Island, that uses a lot of sound design. Matt and I covered quite a bit of ground but I feel like I’ve only started to understand how sound design works. So, consider this the first in an ongoing, from time-to-time, set of episodes on sound design that will appear over the next few months.
September 5, 2017
With the glut of first-person stories these days, how do you make yours stand out? Neil Sandell has some ideas.
August 22, 2017
Producer Samantha Broun and This American Life's Christopher Swetala join me to talk about fact-checking "A Life Sentence" on this episode of HowSound.
August 8, 2017
If you have one day to produce a story for KCRW's 24-Hour Radio Race, reach for low hanging fruit, right? Not if your Esther Honig. On this episode, Esther recounts how she and her team produced an emotionally difficult story for the race in 2015 -- and won! An inspiration to sign up for this year's race.
July 25, 2017
Filmmaker Tally Abecassis learned a lot about audio storytelling when she jumped in the deep end & started producing "First Day Back." The lessons she learned are useful for filmmakers thinking of producing audio stories -- & radio producers, too.
July 11, 2017
Irish radio producer Ronan Kelly has a great ear for compelling radio. He plays story DJ on this archive episode of HowSound from 2010.
June 27, 2017
I was so nervous talking to Ashley Ahearn the producer of KUOW's new podcast about the environment "terrestrial." I should have been. I asked her about her appearance.
June 13, 2017
Sook-Yin Lee describes the combination of improvisation and structure that informs the production of Sleepover, a hit podcast from the CBC.
May 30, 2017
Sometimes, pitching a story is the last thing you want to do. Just press record and see what happens. Jay Allison is the guest on this episode of HowSound.
May 16, 2017
"Live like the truth is true and go where love has not yet arrived." Words Al Letson of Reveal lives by, especially when interviewing a racist.
May 2, 2017
Heed Arwen Nicks' warnings. Arwen explains when a good idea for a podcast is really a terrible idea for a podcast.
April 18, 2017
Never say to yourself: "I'll fix it in the mix." Fixing recording mistakes in the studio can lead to more problems. Instead, prevent issues before they happen. Rob Byers, from NPR's Training Team has tips for avoiding basic, pesky recording problems.
April 4, 2017
Rachel Matlow had a head slappingly simple idea: make a conversation out of the interviews she recorded with her mom after her mom died. But, simple it was not. Rachel explains the backstory on her Third Coast award-winning doc.
March 21, 2017
The series "Seeing White" is essential listening. John Biewen reports on whiteness and white people for his podcast "Scene on Radio."
March 7, 2017
How does Lu Olkowski get such intimate interview tape? She shares some of her approaches including a couple that are a bit unorthodox, I'd say.
February 21, 2017
After 5 years producing a successful podcast, Aaron Hendkin & Wendel Jenkins of WYPR's "Out of the Blocks" have decided to remake the show. On this first of 2 episodes, they introduce us to the podcast and the process they're using to make change.
February 7, 2017
Take a deep sonic dive as we listen to "Jump Blue," by Nicolas Jackson and Afonica. Remember to hold your breath.
January 24, 2017
Did Robert Smith of Planet Money go to far to make the uninteresting interesting? Robert talks about using "Oblique Strategies" for reporting an arcane topic in economics.
January 10, 2017
Get your headphones ready and listen! Two buried treasures from Transom students. A story about domestic violence. Another about eels.
December 27, 2016
Some print essays make great radio. Jay Cowit, Technical Director for The Takeaway, tells us how they recently did it.
December 13, 2016
A lot of the music This American Life uses to score stories is composed for the program. Producer Jonathan Menjivar and musician Matthias Bossi of Stellwagen Symphonette talk about the music that works and doesn't work for the show.
November 29, 2016
There are no rules about starting a story but, there are some common approaches. Jessica Terrell dissects several story-starting tricks she used in the first episode of Offshore, the podcast about the off-beat side of Hawaii.
November 15, 2016
Story twists are the hallmark of Love + Radio. Nick van der Kolk dissects the blind-siding reveal in "A Girl of Ivory."
November 1, 2016
Rob dissects an episode of 99% Invisible to reveal a common but effective story structure -- the 'e.'
October 18, 2016
Outside/In host Sam Evans Brown narrated the first few minutes of an episode of the podcast just fine -- really well, in fact. Then he switched gears and brought two colleagues into the studio to tell them a portion of the story. Why?
October 4, 2016
A son. A father. And an alien abduction. What more do you need to know?!
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