Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘Audacity


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Dog with Tilted Head

I know people who can’t take a tone above about 4000 cycles per second, or hertz.  That’s about the frequency of the standard 1950’s plastic whistle.  Spending so much time in TV and radio, you get used to hearing test tones, squeals, hums and buzzes as you wander through a station and past various studios, editing bays and engineering benches.  But you assume they are temporary; the equipment is warming up, somebody is checking gear, whatever.

But tonight I heard something in an NPR story by Tom Bowman that I’m sure couldn’t have made him happy.  While he reported on a story, I heard a tone at about 12,000 hertz.  At that frequency, the sound is like a teeny, needle sized drill going into the side of your head.  And I know how it happened.

Sometimes, when you’re working in a studio, something isn’t quite right.  There is a mismatch somewhere, a loose cable, a bad circuit, a bleedthrough, an open pot – something.  And you think you’re hearing it but you’re just not sure.  So you record your narration and you edit the soundbyte and the piece is finished.  But then, you hear it later and you hear that thing you hoped wasn’t there, but clearly now; 12,000 hertz that isn’t in the soundbyte.  And you know what that means … it was you.  Not the field gear, not the phone, you.

And to the audience, they might think they’re hearing something else coming from somewhere else; it’s the refrigerator, or the TV or the computer.  Maybe it’s the Android.  But for Bowman and every newsie or producer/editor who spends their day hunched in front of Audacity or Adobe Audition, they know it’s not that.  They know the audience isn’t imagining things.  They’re hearing something that shouldn’t be there, they just aren’t sure what it is.

But we know, and man, that sucks.

Written by Interviewer

December 2, 2015 at 11:24

Counting to Ten

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I’ve been plagued with low mic levels for my interviews for months. People say they have trouble hearing me. So I did a few things to deal with the issue. I ordered a Shure SM7b, which is the microphone you’ll see in about half of the radio stations around the country. It’s what Michael Jackson used when he recorded “Thriller”, so I’m pretty sure that won’t be part of the problem.

I also decided to try two gadgets that are supposed to be better for my signal than the Behringer mixer I have. The Tube MP Studio Preamp, and the Onyx Blackjack Audio Interface. The preamp, I’m told will boost the output from the microphone. All it did was add hum. And the interface becomes a soundcard for my PC that will provide better, digital sound to my recording software than the analog output the mixer currently delivers. Instead, all it did was give me very low microphone output and delete my previous and primary sound device/driver within Audacity. Maybe they work well in other configurations, but I couldn’t make it happen. And there was collateral damage.

I found that out when I went to Dragon, a transcription software that I use with Audacity. Audacity used to show that device as one of a series of selections when I opened it to use with Dragon. That selection is gone now and I’m pretty sure it went away after I installed the Onyx software. And, I guess that selection was also used by my telephone answering software because now, it won’t play the outgoing message I recorded. As an aside, I had also ordered a new USRobotics 56K USB modem that is supposed to work with this software and let me add high quality voice functions, but the modem I got was data and fax only. I have been wrestling with different modems for this software, called EZVoice, for months. Anyway, I had to dig around to discover USRobotics had a firmware update that added voice. I was about to send it back because I thought I’d ordered the wrong one. Turns out it was the right one but nowhere on the box did it say “voice” even though it did in the online description. Ugh.

Why do companies do that? Why do they design their installations to kill anything else in your PC that is even remotely like whatever it is you’re installing? They say it’s to prevent conflicts. But it seems to me it’s more about market share by eliminating the competition. And what if it doesn’t work and you have to uninstall it? You can’t go back to your old software because it’s been destroyed.

So, I uninstalled the Onyx software thinking that maybe it was blocking or hiding the original sound device, called “Line 10 – High Definition Audio Device”. When I open Audacity, it’s still not there. And when I go to “Sound” in Windows, it’s there for speakers and microphone; the Onyx is gone. But I can’t make the microphone or the speakers, under either the recording or playback tabs, enable the old software. I go a couple forums and figure out that HDAD is a Realtek product, a generic. So, I download it and reinstall it onto my PC (Thank you, Realtek). Meanwhile, I unplug all of the new stuff, repackage and rebox it while I dig around for my receipts. As pretty as this new stuff is, pretty don’t mean shit if it doesn’t work. At least my old setup worked, if poorly. This stuff doesn’t work at all and I tried every configuration I could think of. Annoying.

So now, everything is working as it was … no, I take that back. The telephone answering system with the USRobotics modem configured to Windows 7, works. Two small victories; a well done undo, and a voicemail system that finally works as designed.

What I Can Talk About

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You can tell you’re talking to a professional if, in the course of the interview, they say something like “What I can talk about is …” But it’s not a good sign about how the interview is going. I’ve talked a lot about what interviewers do to get an interviewee on track. But sometimes, an interviewee has to get an interviewer back on track. Usually, an interviewee says this when an interviewer is getting too personal, or asking the interviewee to talk about things beyond their realm.

I just listed to John Goodman being interviewed for his part as Sully in Monsters University. Out of the corner of my ear, I heard him say this phrase, which to me, sounded like a car alarm going off, and I swung around in my chair. One of the CBS This Morning anchors had asked him something like, did he have any idea the movie would be as successful as it had become. And Mr. Goodman spoke to what he knew, which was his passion for the part. How could he possibly have known whether the movie would’ve been successful? It’s the kind of blue sky, prognosticator question that makes the audience tear out their hair. Interviewers ask stuff like that when they don’t have anything more substantive to ask. Or maybe, in that situation, they ask it because their producer has only given them two minutes for this segment before the break, “So get him to say something cutesy or something deep, but remember, only two minutes.”

I once snagged an interview with Kenny Rogers. He was playing in Nashua, NH and I was working at a closed circuit radio station near Boston. When I got there, it was a press pool type of situation. A side room had been set up for the media and there were probably about 15 or twenty reporters from different media there. I had three or four questions. And this was in the days before the Internet, so I had gone to the library and looked up newsclips about him. My questions were about how his style had changed since he had left The First Edition, and about his strained relationship with his daughter. And even though I was new to interviewing, I noticed everybody else was asking questions about his tennis game. They were yukking it up. I guess they were thinking, “We’re just shooting the shit with Kenny,” like this opportunity comes up everyday. But I thought, “What the Hell?” I knew this was work, so I asked my questions. When he started to answer, everybody dropped their heads and started writing. When it was done, and he left to get ready for his show, his publicity person came up to me and said, “You asked the best questions.”

I’m not working at a CBS or a CNN. But hackers who created Linux don’t work for Microsoft either. What I’m saying is the rules for being good at what you do aren’t just the domain of the big names. Little gals and guys out here with podcasts and field recorders and Audacity can do it good, and do it right. And sometimes, that not only means asking questions with meat, but not trying to take your guest outside of where they want or need to be. Only your research can help you draw those boundaries. And if you’ve done a good job, you’ll be surprised at just how big that space can be.

P.S. About gals doing it good and right, Constance A. Dunn on Soundcloud is doing some great interviews with Serbian thinkers and musicians. Ren Green at KBOO is rocking her author interviews on her new podcast, “Experience Points”, just like Courtney Crosslin with her guests at and Deanna Woodward, The Veteran’s Coach. Give them all a listen.