This Is Radio: 5 Questions

Intro from Jay Allison: We’ve made another in Transom’s “This Is Radio” video series. In this episode, we ask a crack team of producers for five pearls of pithiness in response to large and small questions about radio. They give us some good answers. Funny too. Our series is produced by the tallest Canadian graduate of the Transom Story Workshop, Andrew Norton, with Samantha Broun. Big thanks to our interviewees (this all happened at the Third Coast Festival) in order of appearance: Ben Calhoun, Alix Spiegel, Steve Wadhams, Zoe Chace, Laura Starecheski, Andy Mills, Roman Mars, Stephanie Foo, Lynn Levy, Al Letson, Alex Blumberg, Daniel Alarcón, Ann Heppermann, Dave Isay, and Robert Smith, with a cameo from Robert Krulwich and Jad Abumrad.

About “This Is Radio: 5 Questions”

In November when most radio producers were busy rubbing shoulders, debating the ethics of recording livestock and making their way to the talks and events at the Third Coast International Audio Festival, myself and Transom’s Samantha Broun (and Transom Story Workshop alumni to help) were busy running a video studio out of a hotel suite. How come every time I say that I get weird looks? As far as videos-made-in-a-Holiday-Inn-hotel-room, this one was pretty tame. And very nerdy. Over the course of the weekend we had over a dozen of the most interesting and awesome radio producers come through as we picked their collective story-telling brains for this video.

The idea is something we borrowed from The Atlantic’s “The Big Question” series that featured Transom’s Jay Allison and other very interesting, smart people. We wanted to do something similar, but include multiple questions in one video. It’s really like a visual vox pop.

Sure, the old video-studio-in-a-hotel-room was a little creepy when we first pulled people from the conference in. You don’t normally want your subject feeling weirded-out when they come into an interview, but all the people we talked with were good sports — they were by no means strangers either which made it easier. And the inherent creepiness made for good/weird ice-breaking jokes.

From a video perspective the setup was straightforward:

  • a black muslin backdrop
  • a big Kino Flo light (great because they are large and provide a nice quality of light but don’t get hot)
  • a shotgun mic on a boom stand
  • and a couple of cameras (a Canon 5D Mark III and a 7D for those who are curious)

It was really important on this to use two cameras since there is no b-roll to cut away to –– every time you want to cut the interview, you need another camera to switch to or else it looks jumpy. Ideally, use one shooting wide, one shooting tight.

Though the video setup was simple, it worked well. People would cycle through and we would need to make only minimal adjustments. Since the mic was on a boom stand it made the audio setup very easy, just a quick levels check for each new person. Then adjust the cameras a bit, check the focus and go. A video-style vox-pop is a little more difficult to set up, you have to juggle a few more things than when you’re just working in audio, but the same basic principles apply: have some open-ended questions, follow up on anything interesting, and roll lots of tape. Oh, and don’t be afraid to ask weird questions, like “who has the best hair in public radio” ––and feel free to answer that yourself in the comments. Oh and be sure to watch until the very end for a cameo from some public radio royalty. Thanks to Andy Mills for his help with that…


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  • Zach Hirsch



    So good!

  • GoNoGo



    Hey thanks for this Transom. I’m over in here in Fremantle, WA making my odd little podcast. I’ve just had a death in the family. My car broke down. Lightning took out my modem. An interview fell through. I’m behind schedule. My day job has become overwhelmingly stressful. Its all getting a bit country and western. I needed something to make the record play backwards. This did it. Pith, insight, humour. Smart people.

    Changing jobs, back on schedule, great new program in the can, new modem, family brought together by supporting each other.

    Amazing big blue sky outside. This West Australian light incredible. A smile on my face.

    All in five questions.

    This is radio (well podcasting…).

  • Jon Day



    This series is SO much fun! Please keep it up!

    I hope it is not radio sacrilege to acknowledge how odd, special, and exciting it is to follow these producers, in some cases in their natural habitat, in this visual format.

    Thank you for your work on this.

    • andrewnortonphoto



      Hey Jon – glad you like the series. Your secret is safe with us. Hoping to make more in some form in the future.

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