Dan Misener likes the radio

Among other things, Dan is a public radio producer.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

For those who love policy

When people discuss satellite radio in Canada, CanCon is one of the big issues. To put things into some historical perspective, here's the CRTC and Canadian Content (from the CBC Archives).

Friday, November 26, 2004

Audio lomography

Ever since I first heard about it last November, I’ve liked the idea of lomography – people documenting their lives with toy cameras. Moreso than the lo-tech approach, it’s the philosophy that appeals to me:
Lomography emphasizes shoot-from-the-hip photography. Over-saturated colors, lens artifacts, and exposure defects are used to produce artistic, abstract effects and are prized by practitioners. Others use the technique to document everyday life because the small camera size and ability to shoot in low light encourages candid photography, photo reportage and photo vérité. The lomography credo "don't think, just shoot" encourages spontaneity, close-ups, ubiquity, and randomness.
This is cool. Problem is, I’m not a very visual guy. So I’ve been thinking about how the principles of lomography can be applied to audio. Can photographic techniques be applied to the temporal world of radio? I think so. The aim of lomography is to celebrate and document life by viewing it in new and exciting ways. Radio producers would do well to try this out – to start hearing the world in new and exciting ways. There are lots of ways to tell an audio story. Why not invent a new one? So then, after a week of thought and experimentation, I’ve drawn up some thoughts about “audio lomography,” based on (and borrowing heavily from) the 10 Golden Rules of Lomography. Here they are:

The 10 Golden Rules of Audio Lomography

1. Take your recorder everywhere you go

This part is not hard. My MD recorder is small enough to fit in my pocket. Most modern devices (MD, flash, dictation recorders, etc.) are tiny compared to the Nagras of old. Many have microphones built-in. I was able to pick up a small 3-inch omnidirectional mic for next to nothing. It works great. Whatever you use to record, bring it with you. This isn't a technical exercise. Don’t be too concerned with achieving broadcast quality. Some of the best tape I have exists only on minicassettes from a dictation machine.

2. Record anytime – day and night

Record when there’s something interesting happening. And when there isn’t. When you listen back, you’ll be amazed at what you tuned out the first time.

3. Audio lomography is not interference in your life, but part of it

If this were film, it’d be cinéma vérité. Tape is cheap. Make taping part of your life. Listening back at night is a great way to reflect on the day.

4. Try the “shot from the hip”

Photo lomographers don’t look through the viewfinder. Don’t use headphones. Headphones just slow you down and make you hyper-aware of what your recorder is picking up. Where’s the fun in that?

5. Play with perspective

Put your microphone where your ears don’t ordinarily go. Get too close, or too far away. Get down low, or way up high.

6. Don’t think

If you have to ask yourself, “Should I be taping this?” the answer is yes.

7. Be fast

This is probably the most difficult part for me. Many of the record functions on my MD recorder are buried in menus. To start recording, I have to press End Search, Pause and Record at the same time, Mode, then Pause again. Learn the controls of your device. Make them second nature. Sometimes I just walk around with my MD armed to record, so I only have to press Pause to start recording. Again, don’t wear headphones. They’ll only slow you down.

8. You don’t have to know beforehand what you captured on film

You’re not compiling an SFX collection. Don’t take copious notes. Ignore track numbers.

9. Afterwards either

Enjoy listening back. Don’t worry about piecing everything together. Transcribe nothing.

10. Don’t worry about any rules

Experiment. Enjoy. Open your ears. The rest will follow.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Make a nuisance of yourself

From Poynter, Tips for Getting Started in Broadcast Journalism. Nothing you don't already know, but a few pretty good reminders.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Narrationless stories

Read David Kattenburg's The Art of the Narrationless Documentary tonight, and was reminded of something I read in Ira Glass's Manifesto on Transom. Early in his career, Ira "invented this series of stories where I'd interview people and then edit myself out of the tape completely. They'd tell stories and reflect on what the stories meant. No script. No narration." Which is a nice idea. I like hearing people tell their own stories. You know those introductory segments on TLC's A Wedding Story? The ones where the bride and groom each explain how they met and fell in love? The stories would be intercut, often with touching or humorous results. Though I hate to admit my original point of reference, I love that technique. I employed it over the summer in a story I did about a guitar prodigy. I got him and his mom to tell the same story (how he got his first guitar) at different times, then spliced the two together. Even though they weren't even in the same room, they played off each other wonderfully. I was really pleased with the end product. But I disagree when Kattenburg says that narrationless stories are "free from journalistic meddling." He goes on to explain that "the three key tasks for the narrationless documentarist are editing, editing and editing." Editing is a big component of journalism. Meddling might be too strong a word, but I don't think narrationless stories approach the level of pure objectivity that Kattenburg suggests. If you're doing an interview, you're doing an interview, and cutting yourself out of the tape can't change that. Ira's suggestion? Embrace the reporter's voice in interviews. From Part One of his Manifesto:
Like most beginning radio reporters, I didn't like to hear myself on tape. I didn't like how I sounded asking the questions. So much of the time I was awkward or cloying. Trying too hard in one way or another. It was embarrassing. But at some point I decided that omitting this kind of tape meant I was accidentally omitting a kind of drama from my stories, neglecting some of the tools at my disposal, neglecting part of the power and fun of the medium, and I forced myself through it, in story after story. Even today, if I had to give just one piece of advice to beginning reporters about the single fastest way they could improve their stories, it'd be to get themselves into the quotes. Asking tough questions. Cajoling the interviewee. Joking with the interviewee. Thinking out loud and chatting with the interviewee. The daily reporting on public radio would be so much more fun to listen to, and so much more informative about the character of the interviewees, if there were more of this.
There are lessons to be learned from both arguments. Personally, I prefer narrated stories, with (if you can achieve a good string of "perfect matches") narrationless clips islands. Remember that an on-tape interviewer can be part of the "artful juxtaposition of voices." Maybe it's the Hunter S. Thompson in me, but I think the reporter/interviewer is part of the story by definition. Listeners should be made aware of that.

Thursday, November 18, 2004


This past week, I started my part-time job as a "Digital Media Assistant" here at Ryerson. My job is to sit in the 229 digital media lab and help people with software. Since I work evenings and weekends, there is rarely anyone in the lab. So it's a great opportunity for me to work on schoolwork, features, and pitches. Tonight, for example, I've been listening to This American Life's Apologies episode. Act two is particularly moving. I've been checking Jobs@CBC/Radio-Canada. I've also been looking through Tod Maffin's Radio Freelance Opportunity Database. Am particularly looking forward to more details on pitching to CBC Radio 3. I submitted a story idea to the CBC Fresh Voice competition, but I really think it's more suited to an online radio/photo essay. I like pitching to shows. I think it's a good habit to get into. I try to pitch as many stories as I can, not necessarily because I'm interested in doing (or even able to do) them, but because the act of pitching is a skill I think I should be developing. With every phone call I make or email I send to a prospective commissioner, I think I'm getting better. Feedback is generally helpful, and I try to use it to make future pitches better. By the time I might have to rely on my pitching skills, I want to be really good at it. Tod's database is a great idea. So is the AIR pitch page. Resources like this are wonderful for independent producers, especially in an age where we may have to sell the same story to multiple shows/networks. I've been thinking a lot about intellectual property rights when it comes to radio. More on that later.

Story meetings, vetting scripts

Earlier this week, I was invited to sit in on two regional program story meetings -- one for Metro Morning, another for Here and Now. I've attended a few "real life" story meetings, and I always find it amazing and impressive that these meetings somehow turn into a radio show in a matter of hours. I took some good notes, and shooks some good hands. Plus was nice to meet Andy Barrie. Also, things with my Sean Ward piece seem to be going well. In a strange turn of events, I submitted a script to Nick Davis on Sunday night, and when I arrived at the CBC security desk on Monday morning, they somehow thought I was there to see him. I wasn't. I was there to see Joan Melanson, who had invited me in the first place. But Joan hadn't yet arrived, so when "Matthew" came downstairs to get me, he told me that Nick knew I was there, and though he didn't know why I was there, he wanted to see me. So, after the story meetings, I vetted my script with him. I always enjoy working with people like Nick who have a really intimate knowledge of "story" and how it works in the context of radio. He had lots of really great suggestions, which I tried to incorporate into my next draft. We should start tracking narration soon, in time for the piece to air before the release of Sean's next book on December 5th. Also, while I was there, I chatted more with Joan about internships. She told me to stay in touch, and promised that "we'll make it happen," hopefully for a January 2005 start. I pitched her a variant on Atlantic Public Media's Sonic ID project, and let her know that I've got another proposal in the works for a series of short regular features. Sent her off an email this week outlining what I'm hoping to get out of an internship. Fingers still crossed.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

The CBC internship run-around

For those of you who don't know, I've been trying very hard over the past couple of months to get some type of CBC Radio internship. This is partly on the suggestion of Deb Woolway in Halifax, who listed an internship as a requirement for me to be considered for any type of Halifax summertime fill-in work. Here's the latest update. What follows all happened yesterday. It may read as long and boring, but is extremely relevant to people (like me) who are interested in CBC internships, especially in Toronto. I awoke at four o'clock, showered, ate, and headed down to the CBC to do a job shadow following veteran reporter Geoff Ellwand around for a day. Robert Fisher let me in the building, and before Geoff arrived, I ran into Joe Cummings who seemed surprised to see me. "Holy shit," he said as we shook hands. A slow newsday, I spent most of the morning reading papers and watching Geoff monitor CP24, the wires, CBC, and 680 all at the same time. He's an impressive multi-tasker. When I wasn't reading papers I was trolling the directory for phone numbers. We finally decided to go to the courthouse -- a former black panther was up for bail. On the way to the elevators, I recognized Chuck Jutras from my visit last week (Joe Mahoney tried to introduce us), and he invited me into his office. We chatted for about fifteen minutes. I told him what I was interested in, and he said he'd check into internship possibilities for me. I'm to call back in two weeks. The courthouse was interesting -- got to see just how quick radio news can turn around. Watching Geoff work was really quite something. Around lunchtime, I decided that since I was in the building, I might as well give Joan Melanson a call. She's my contact for Here and Now and Metro Morning. We've been corresponding over the telephone and via email for a while now, so it was nice to finally meet her in person. We chatted about internship possibilities, and she told me that though she'd been hearing positive things, the policies were still somewhat up in the air. Confident that she hadn't forgotten about me, we shook hands and I reminded her that "I'd love to come work for you for free." (It's important to note that Joan is in charge of local CBL programming -- no network shows.) Sitting beside Geoff was Marilyn Roback, another name I recognized from the local news. I introduced myself, we chatted, I brought up internships, and she pointed me in the direction of a woman named Kate Pemberton. Marilyn introduced us, and again, more chat. Kate explained that she's part of a collaborative effort working to establish a working global policy on CBC internships. Another person working on this is my good friend senior recruiter Sophia Hadzipetros. Basically, the deal is this: for a long time, the CBC had a whole bunch of different ways to handle internships. Each show, each region, etc. managed them in a different way. This was, of couse, confusing. And for me, extremely frustrating. I want to work for free, shows want to have me, but no one seems to know how to let me, because there are so many conflicting messages (e.g. interns can't be paid, interns must be paid, interns must be working towards school credit, etc.). What Kate and Sophia and others are working on is some sort of across-the-board standard to make things fair. Not just for the shows and for the interns, but also taking into consideration the concerns of the union. When everybody plays by the same rules, it's easier to play fair. That's the idea, anyway. This is good. In theory. But in practice, it's not so good for me. Because it's a centralized policy, and because it's the CBC, there are a lot of hoops to jump through. The process Kate explained to me is:
  1. Student applies to their school's internship contact
  2. School contact screens applicants and suggests candidates to the CBC (i.e. Sophia)
  3. Sophia matches interns up with shows
  4. Student gets credit
This sounds OK. But, for me in particular, there are some problems:
  1. The selection process happens maybe twice or three times per year. I graduate in the spring. Not nearly enough time to get an internship for after Christmas (which is what I want)
  2. As far as Kate knew, Ryerson RTA (my program) didn't exist
Yikes. At Kate explained this to me, my heart sank. My dreams -- of getting an internship, cooking up an awesome demo, knocking Deb Woolway's socks off and moving back to Halifax and the girl I love -- were fading fast. But then, incredible news! It was somehow mentioned that this centralized, global internship policy wouldn't apply to CBL, only to network programming originating in Toronto. Apparently the higher-ups at CBL were asked to participate in the project, and they said nay. I asked Kate, "So if I wanted to intern on Here and Now or Metro Morning, what's the policy?" "Well, it's pretty much up to them." Pretty much up to them! If only I could get Joan (who's unclear on the intern policy) and Kate (who's got the straight goods) to talk to one another. Well, I got an email from Kate today:
Joan and I did talk so I hope it all works out for you.
So, things are looking good. Or at least better than they were a month ago. And remember, this all came out of one day. This is after months and months of banging on doors (apparently not the right ones). Most of the conversations I have with CBC folks about radio internships make me slightly depressed. I had absolutly no idea that it could be this difficult to convince someone to let me work for free. But walking home yesterday, I couldn't stop smiling. Maybe it's premature. I hope not. This sounds like it could be good news.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Can satellite CBC Radio still be CBC Radio?

I've been thinking a lot about the proposed CBC/Standard/Sirius subscription-based satellite radio service lately. The CRTC public hearings started this week, and details have surfaced about the CBC's programming contributions. According to Broadcasting Notice of Public Hearing CRTC 2004-6:
The proposed service would initially offer 78 channels, four of which would be produced in Canada by the CBC. The applicant proposes to charge a basic monthly fee of $12.95.
And via Tod Maffin this week:
The first English channel will air a CBC Radio One stream (the Ottawa feed) and the second English channel will air content provided by CBC Radio 3 (cultural, youth, new media) and complimentary CBC Radio 2 content (arts and classical/world music).
Even though this proposed service will address some problems the CBC has always had (particularly coverage in remote areas), it also creates new problems. Here's what I'm trying to figure out:
  • Is satellite radio the future distribution model for public radio?
  • Will standard terrestrial broadcast be replaced?
  • If so, how do you reconcile Sirius's subscription model with the CBC's mandate?
The Canadian Broadcasting Act says that the CBC should (among other things), "reflect Canada and its regions to national and regional audiences, while serving the special needs of those regions" and "be made available throughout Canada by the most appropriate and efficient means and as resources become available for the purpose." CBC Radio and Television are, right now, freely available over the airwaves, in accordance with the Broadcasting Act's declaration that "a range of broadcasting services in English and in French shall be extended to all Canadians as resources become available." All Canadians. A Canadian satellite would be great, because it could cover the whole country, including areas that aren't currently served by over-the-air CBC signals. Were it free, CBC programming would be available to all Canadians. But I see two problems here. One, it's not free. It's $12.95 per month. Which is fine now, because my regular old clock radio still works fine. But what happens when they shut off the terrestrial transmitters and sell the frequencies to cell phone companies? I'll have to pay the fee or not receive CBC Radio, which my tax dollars are paying for. Or perhaps this is a transitional strategy -- run both satellite and terrestial broadcasts for a few years, then shut down the towers and make the satellite CBC channels free. That's a little better, but I'll still have to go buy a new radio. The second problem is regionality. How is the CBC supposed to reflect Canada and its regions with a single Radio One channel (coming out of Ottawa, no less)? Satellite radio doesn't really work for regional content. Where is my local news, sports, weather? I don't care about the traffic in Ottawa. So, how can the CBC do exclusively satellite radio and still be the CBC? To my mind, they'd have to fly their own bird, provide digital equivalents for all their existing local channels, not charge a subscription fee, and if the price hasn't dropped considerably, subsidize the purchase of new receivers. It'll be interesting to see how this all plays out. So far, I've not found any documents dealing with the CBC's long-term satellite radio strategy (if one exists). I've just downloaded Sirius's CRTC filings, and plan on taking a look soon.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Good news and bad news

The Good: Yesterday I got word that I won Tod Maffin's Third Coast International Audio Festival t-shirt contest. The Bad: Yesterday I took my tape recorder (Sony TCM-5000EV) to an electronics repair shop, and they basically told me that it was irreparable. There is some sort of weird hiss coming through the speaker and headphone jack whenever the motor is engaged. Back in Sackville, when I took it to Munroe's TV repair, Jim told me that he knew what was wrong with it -- a filter problem. These electronic hotshots in Toronto think I'm plum out of luck. Perhaps I'll bring it back to Sackville with me.