Intro from Jay Allison: As with all shows on Transom, there are two things to talk about here… the piece itself and how it was made. Regarding the former, using the death penalty is one of the fundamental choices a society makes. We are all implicated in it, and no one more than the jurors themselves. This piece is important for that simple reason: Any of us might find ourselves with this decision before us, and who among us has prepared? On the latter, Alison made this piece the grassroots way… from cobbling up old gear to do the interview, to narrating in the closet with the winter clothes, to taking a crash course in digital editing and mp3 file transfer on deadline. She had help from Steve Young and Josh Barlow, and I hope they’ll all talk about the process, as it would be instructive.
Notes From Allison Freeland
I’ve worked on a lot of stories about changes in people’s lives. This story happened during changes in my own. Close to two years ago I left the life of a radio reporter in Vermont and went to work in public relations at a start-up company in North Carolina. It was there I heard Amy talk about being on a death penalty jury in North Carolina. The case concerned a 17-year-old boy with a gun, and a 16-year-old victim. His guilt wasn’t in question, but his punishment was. By the time Amy’s story turned into a Transom submission, the technology job was over, and my family was moving back to New England. I made the last audio edits late at night, sitting on a porch chair in an empty kitchen with the moving truck in the driveway. A few hours later, the Internet connection was turned off.
It took a while for me to focus on this story, because I had stopped thinking of myself as a reporter. Nevertheless, Amy and I worked together, and I was curious about her experience. She invited me to her house after the trial was over, and as an afterthought I brought along my old radio equipment. By the time I realized she was telling an unusual tale with unusual genuineness, it was too late to go back and set up with the attention to detail I should have. It was just two of us sitting at a kitchen table, with me periodically waving my fingers to remind Amy to hold the microphone closer to her mouth. I felt there was only one take, and I didn”t want to interrupt. I hoped the tape recorder was working.
After I listened to the tape, I mentioned it to a former public radio editor of mine named Steve Young. His enthusiasm for the material helped me snap back into reporter mode. I put together a rough piece and submitted it to Transom using the only radio voice I remembered, that of a news reporter. Jay Allison worked with me several times to flesh out the more accurate voice of co-workers talking. Then came the technology hurdles as I was rusty with my radio skills, and had no access to familiar equipment. With support from Josh Barlow at Transom, I went through a one-day, crash course in multitrack editing and the use of free conversion and ftp software. After a final, late-night edit, I submitted the piece to Transom and locked the door on the North Carolina house. When someone asks what I’ll do next, the word radio comes to mind.
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I recorded Amy on my Sony D8, using a Beyerdynamic Mic that I bought while working as a radio reporter. The mic jack has never fit the Sony well, and I get terrible static if the plug moves. The headphones were something inexpensive I picked up at Radio Shack. I bought a USB audio interface called Waveterminal U2A in order to load the sound from my DAT recorder into my computer. My computer is a Dell Latitude laptop. I loaded the sound bites into Cool Edit Pro, and did multitrack editing. After downloading free software from download.com, I used Cdex to convert my wav file to MP3, and then used LeechFTP to transfer it to Transom.
Being on deadline is not the ideal time to learn how to edit and mix sound at home, but it was certainly motivating. My husband figured out how to get the sound from the D8 recorder into the computer. I recorded my tracks facing into the winter coat closet. Editing for the first time on a PC meant that I wasted hours saving tracks in the wrong format, losing tracks completely, and not being able to move them about as freely as I wished.
Additional support for this work provided by
with funding from the
The National Endowment for the Arts