The 365 Ways Blog

Michael Norton is author of "365 Ways to Change the World", which provides an issue for each day of the year, interesting facts, inspiring case studies of people doing things to address the issue and ideas for action. Originally published in the UK, versions with local content have been published in Australia, Canada, India, South Africa and the USA. To find out more visit our website:

16 March 2007

Become a radio diarist

Radio Diaries is committed to helps people produce their own oral histories. They work with people to document their own lives for public radio: teenagers, seniors, prison inmates and others whose voices are rarely heard. We help people share their stories—and their lives—in their own words, creating documentaries that are powerful, surprising, intimate and timeless.

The project trains diarists to be radio reporters and gives them a tape recorder for between three months to two years. The diarists conduct interviews, keep an audio journal, and record the sounds of daily life. Most will collect over 30 hours of raw tape. The material is then edited to produce a radio documentary for the National Public Radio show “All Things Considered”.

Technical Tips for producing your own radio diary

1. Get comfortable with the equipment
Play around with the recording device (minidisc recorder, DAT machine, tape recorder) on your own until you are very familiar with all the buttons and knobs. It's important to do this before you begin; if you're relaxed with the recorder and the microphone, the people you're interviewing will be too.

2. Get organized
Always make sure you have enough minidiscs, DATs or cassettes and an extra set of batteries. Don't leave long cables hanging out, or you'll have to spend time untangling everything. Get a shoulder bag to hold everything. The more prepared you are, the more you can concentrate on the important things.

3 Do a test
Always do a test before you begin. Record a few seconds, then play it back to make sure the sound is good.

4. Label your tapes and disks
Always label everything before you start. When you're in the field it's easy to forget and tape over something you've just recorded. (It happens.) And after you're done recording, pop out the safety tabs to make sure you don't erase over anything.

5. Always wear your headphones
Recording without headphones is like a photographer taking pictures without looking through the viewfinder. Headphones help you focus on exactly what you're recording. If something sounds weird, stop and check it out.

6. Beware of the pause button
When recording, make sure the tape is rolling and that you're not in pause mode. Don't use the pause button. It's a very tricky little button it can make you think you are recording when you're not.

7. Keep the microphone close
The most important thing of all: keep the microphone close to the sound source (your mouth or the mouth of the person you're interviewing). About 5-6 inches is good, the length of your outstretched hand. If it's any farther away you will still be able to hear what people say, but the recording will lose its power and intimacy. It's also best to keep the microphone a little bit below the mouth to avoid the "popping P" sound.

8. Collect good sounds
Every time you record, collect all the specific sounds you can think of: dogs barking, doors slamming, the radio being turned on, the sound of your blender, or even your mom snoring. Be creative. You will use these sounds later when you produce the story.

9. Record everything
Long pauses are okay. Umms are okay. Saying stupid and embarrassing things is okay. Often the stuff you think is weird, worthless, or that you initially want to edit out, will end up being the best and most surprising parts of the story.

Taken from the oral history guide for young people, the “Teen Reporter Handbook”, published by Radio Diaries and available on its website.
Act now!
1. Listen to Thembi’s story. One of the most successful radio diaries is Thembi’s story. Thembi is a South African teenager. For more than a year, she kept a radio diary capturing the small details of her life that tell a larger story: her first conversation with her mother about AIDS; a visit to the township clinic to apply for life-saving drugs; facing neighbors and friends as they slowly learn her status; a moment of quiet, late-night dancing at home with her boyfriend.

2. Become a radio diarist. Get a recorder and create your own radio diary – of aspects of your life, such as going green, tackling obesity, setting up a band… or of how you are trying to change the world.


Post a Comment

<< Home