National Public Radio
Next Generation Radio

Just Do It...Yourself

Editor's note: We get e-mails from visitors who seem to be moving toward developing audio production/reporting skills. Some are in school, some are out. And there are site visitors who have 20 years in one medium and are now wanting (or needing) to learn something else.

Former next gen student reporter Jason Frazer (UNITY '04) is now a part-time reporter for NPR member station WBGO in Newark, New Jersey. He told us he was building his own studio at his home. So, we asked him to tell us why.

By Jason Frazer Originally, I decided to build my own studio because traveling back and forth to the studio was a pain. In Journalism, time is our biggest enemy. WBGO is located about an hour from where I live. The distance meant delays in getting my stories on the air. I decided several months ago to build my own studio and am happy to say that it's now an option. I can now produce stories for WBGO and it didn't even cost that much money! New technology has made building a portable studio quite inexpensive. What would have cost you about $5-15,000 several years ago can now run just under $2,000.

If you want to build a studio, there are several things you want to consider.

  1. Purchase the right equipment while staying in your budget

    Your basic supplies for building your home based studio include a voice recorder, external microphone (optional), batteries, USB cables, headphones, computer and audio editing software program.

    • Audio Recorder

      A new voice recorder released on the market several months ago is the ZOOM H2 (Retail value $199.) The great part of this new device is that any one operating this equipment can change the microphone recording vertex settings so that you can record at 90 degrees, 180 degrees and on all four channels. This versatility allows your listeners to hear a crisper sound whether you're doing a one on one interview or obtaining natural sound for a concert you're reporting on.

    • Editing Station

      The age old question - Laptop versus Desktop? I preferred a laptop because again time is always a factor in producing stories. If I was out covering breaking news, I wanted to be able to edit the story as it happens and not have to worry about traveling back to the studio to edit. However, in exchange for this convenience, you will end up spending more money. A desktop can cost about $600-$900 while a decent laptop can cost about $900 - $1,400.

    • Audio Editing Program You will need some type of audio editing program to compile all of those lovely news reports. I purchased the Sony Sound Forge program for about $55. I intended on using the program just for editing and voiceovers. Many professional studios use either ProTools or Adobe Audition. Both programs can run anywhere from $300-$400. While Sound Forge doesn't have all of the capabilities of the ProTools and Adobe Audition programs, it has many of the basic functions of the ProTools and Adobe Audition programs and will allow you to get the basics of audio editing done inexpensively.

    • USB Cables

      Depending on the device that you have, you need to ensure that you have the proper wiring to connect with your editing system. How will your sound get from your recording device to your editing station?

    • External Microphones (optional) Many audio recorders now have standard microphones built into the actual recorder. However sometimes you might prefer to use an external microphone. You can purchase a microphone and an XLR cable to connect the recording device for $25-$45. My external microphone came in handy one night when I was covering the Rockefeller Christmas Tree Lightning. I had forgotten to pack my microphone cover for the built in microphone cover. Because it was a windy night, I could hear the wind against the built in microphone. I plug the external microphone in and it significantly reduced the wind sound.

  2. Find a quiet place

    This might seem like basic advice but it's worth mentioning. If your house is next to a busy street or a place where there can potentially be noisy at times, move to a location inside your house where a listener won't be distracting by noise from your voiceover. Remember this is radio! The smallest sound can ruin your entire story.

  3. Listen to your sound quality

    Depending on the type of microphone you are using and the setting you have it on, it might result in a different type of sound quality for your listener. Ask yourself if this is the clearest sound I can provide to the listener. While producing at stories can be fun, be patient with your new system. However as with any new computer system, there may be a glitch or might take you a bit longer to file radio segments. It initially took me an extra two hours per story to learn the new audio editing software and how to upload the files to the radio stations website. In the end however, I am elated with my new purchase and am capable of producing more stories in a shorter period of times.

Jason Frazer is a reporter for NPR member station WBGO in Newark, New Jersey and a former student reporter for npr's next generation radio.

Next Generation Radio:
A series of week-long student training projects, designed to give students who are interested in radio and journalism the skills and opportunity to report and produce their own radio story.
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