Radio is usually an intimate medium — we bring listeners into people’s homes, their hospital rooms, their communities. For most reporters, this pandemic is changing that — we are stuck in our homes, using social media to connect with sources and making phone calls. Lots of phone calls.
But in the age of social distancing and shelter-in-place, reporters don’t have to sacrifice audio quality or scene tape. Here are a few ways to gather sound safely.
The smartphone tape sync
If your source is comfortable with their smartphone and has access to both a smartphone and another phone, ask them to do a smartphone tape sync. You speak to them on one phone, and the smartphone records high-quality audio that makes it sound as if you were in the same room with your interviewee.
You can send sources this PDF guide that will walk them through how to use Voice Memos for your interview.
Aspen Public Radio also made this video that explains the process. In my experience, the audio quality will be better if the interviewee holds their cellphone as they usually would. They can also put on headphones or a headset with a microphone.
If you feel your source has the hang of how to use Voice Memos, ask them to gather some scene tape for you. If the story is about health care workers, can they gather a minute of ambi from the hallway of the hospital? If it’s about how parents are teaching their kids from home, can they record a few minutes of their interactions with their kids? Think about what ambient sound you would normally want to gather for a piece and see whether your source can help gather it.
If you’re working on a longer-term story, consider asking your source to keep an audio diary. As this situation develops and their life changes, ask that they take a few minutes out of their day to record themselves talking about what is going on. I have a few families sending me audio about their “new normal” that might evolve into a feature or a non-narrated piece. In my experience, people have seemed at least receptive to this idea. Some folks are even eager to have an outlet.
Grab scene tape from home videos
Another option for scene tape is to see whether your source has videos of them doing something. You can record the audio from a video into your recorder. Once you have the video on your phone, connect your phone with a 3.5mm cord to your recorder’s EXT in jack. Change the settings to record from EXT in instead of mic and play the video. Here’s what that looks like, featuring a video of my very stupid cat.
And … don’t forget to ask your source for pictures
Your web editor will thank you!