World’s First iPhone Show

Jeff Towne, Transom Tools Editor, must be a very wealthy man….unless he didn’t take my advice. I wrote to him a few years ago to say how much gear I was finding from his column. Not only me, but also I passed on his observations to other media people. This led to equipment, he wrote about, being bought by radio people and newspaper photographers in Ireland and Australia. So, the logical thing, I suggested, was for Jeff to get a few cents from every tool that was bought as a result of one of his reviews. So, Jeff Towne, rich? I hope so. [Editor’s note: Jeff is not rich.]

Ronan Kelly editing with an iPhone
Ronan Kelly

Lately Jeff’s been writing about iPhone recording and editing. I’ve been messing with jailbroken iPhones for a couple of years and a few weeks ago decided to get the latest, a kosher one, from a phone company. It is the Swiss Army knife of my adult years. I use the torch on it to find things in the shed at night for God’s sakes! This is the kind of kit we used to draw on schoolbooks when we were kids – improbable space guns that made toast too.

There’s a lot of useless stuff on these smartphones (and I do include games) but I had a problem that I hoped Jeff and his iPhone reviews would help me solve: pockets. I always carry a recording machine with me – it’s for if I ever come across that news scoop that’ll make my name – you can laugh but some day it’ll happen. (Actually, it has happened but with gentler stories that would never make the news but have become more valuable to me. Remind me to tell you the story of the kids on the railway bridge some time.)

However, carrying gear on a bicycle is a chore but, as it got smaller, less so. Until lately, I always carried a Zoom H2 in one pocket and a phone in the other. Then Jeff wrote about the Blue microphone that sticks on the phone. I couldn’t afford the mic but I downloaded the free Blue recorder (Blue FIRe) and discovered that the sound from the bottom mic on the iPhone4 was OK. A bit ‘toppy’ (too much treble) but useable.

So, I had a piece of kit that wouldn’t take an extra pocket (and, no, it’s nothing to do with spoiling the line of my figure – if you saw me you’d know that.) Not only that, but it didn’t look like a recorder. So, the first interview I did with the iPhone was in an immigration queue of a major international airport. If I had taken out a microphone, the security would have been all over me. As it happened, we just chatted away no problem. (Actually that’s a very good example of the persistent conversation between production and technology that shapes media; one influences the other in a way that producers and tech people often downplay.)

A quick word on the recorders/editors: I tried the Blue versions and Monle with a view to reporting on them for my colleagues. They record fine and ftp fine but Hindenburg has two features that I needed: you could email your piece (not everyone gets the whole ftp thing) and you can monitor your recording. Now, the monitoring doesn’t quite reflect the final version but it’s better than nothing. (I also have an issue with the use of a tragedy like the Hindenburg Disaster to sell things – even if it was a moment of radio history.)

And so to the latest edition of my programme, “The Curious Ear”. It’s billed as “World’s First iPhone Show – Possibly the first time a radio show has been recorded, edited and sent for transmission using a smartphone.”

There was only one reason I decided to do this show: Google. It’s not the most honorable, story-centered reason to do a programme but it’s important. My programme is a tiny fringe programme on Irish public radio. Our audience measuring system shows pretty low audiences for Saturday evenings, but, there are hits and downloads too. They’re not counted officially but they do reflect an interest. So, if I can do a show that gets a lot of returns on a Google search (iPhone, world’s first) then I stand a chance of raising my hits and justifying the show in the slot.

It doesn’t always work, this non-story reasoning for doing shows. I made a show a few years ago in a small town in a certain region, purely so I could enter it into a media competition in that region – in the hope I would win something and get a few stories in the paper.

Guess what? Just after I made the show, the media competition was cancelled.

But guess what some more? It ended up being a good show – it captured a moment in the history of that small town with humor and sensitivity. And that’s what happened with the iPhone show too. I recorded in a city in the south of Ireland, Cork, where the people have a beautiful, singsong accent. I ended up getting some laughs but also telling a story of the role of the mobile phone in the way people maintain their friendships and family relationships.

Finally, some more tech stuff: I edited the whole show on Hindenburg Field Recorder (Monle waveform is not precise enough). Editing a whole show on a small iPhone screen was crazy – you would never have to do this except in the most extreme circumstances but I did it, as it was the task I set myself to keep true to the show’s billing.

However, here’s an interesting thing, although the screen is small, the functions are good and manipulating the sound with my fingers reminded me of the old days of tape. It’s hard to describe – keyboards are precise but there’s something quite fluid about moving sound around with a part of your body. When people started to cut with keyboards sometimes some of the rhythm of editing was lost – you’re tapping your feet to music or following the rhythm of a speaker and, with tape, you often naturally dropped your ‘out’ point at the next beat point.

Of course digital editing brought lots of new rhythms and sounds to the process too – and, mercifully, speeded up the pace of documentary radio.

So, the next versions of our editors may be on tablets or even large flatscreens – we may edit standing up and waving our arms around – we may edit by stamping our feet – won’t it be interesting to see what the children of that marriage turn out like?

Ronan Kelly

Ronan Kelly

Ronan Kelly has been a producer and reporter for Irish radio and TV for 23 years. People really like his stuff....and not just his mother (his wife, his sisters...not his kids..yet).

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  • Robin Sheeran



    RTE does crackin’ docs. I’d advise anyone to sign up to the ‘RTE Documentary on One’ Facebook page. I listen to them online and quite often on lovely long wave on a Saturday, too. I’m north of the border, Ronan, so my wee portable probably doesn’t count for your stats – tell them there are thousands listening up here. I’m Spartacus!

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