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Sprouts Submission Guidelines

 

Producing a story for Sprouts:
 

There's no pay. But we hold high editorial and production standards while providing access, training and mentoring to contributors of all skill levels. Send us your story idea and a brief summary. We can suggest story angles, possible interviewees, and places to gather good natural sound.

 

The reporter gathers the audio, and submits the script for editing.

 

Sprouts stories tend to be less timely and should be relevant four to six weeks after the broadcast. We look for local stories with a national interest.


SUBMITTING A SEGMENT


Propose your segment to the week's producer by e-mailing a brief description. If you don't know who to contact, email Steve Zelaznik zelaznik@yahoo.com

 

After getting a green light, submit your script for editing before voicing the story.

 

Make sure your SCRIPT includes:

  • Your segment's approximate length (minutes and seconds).
  • Your e-mail address and phone number(s).
  • A suggested introduction (a.k.a. "lede") for the host.
  • The complete text of your voiceover.
  • At least the first and last sentences of every audio clip.

PRODUCING A SEGMENT


If you're using cassette tapes during the sound-gathering or production processes, use high-bias or metal ones (avoid the cheap stuff). If it's available, use Dolby B for recording and playback; if it's not available for both recording and playback, use no Dolby. Make sure your recorder's heads, pinch rollers, and capstans are clean. Make sure the azimuth and speed are adjusted correctly.

 

Record everything in mono (not stereo, which doubles the file size). Mono is how the show airs ultimately anyway.

 

This is radio, not print. Use the medium and collect AUDIO. Record ambient sounds for use throughout the segment, especially the beginning. Use telephone actualities only as a last resort. Get out of the studio!

 

Seek actualities to represent more than one side of a story. We don't earn credibility or captivate listeners by providing just one viewpoint. Airing contrasts and conflicts is most interesting and truthful.

 

When recording into a computer or minidisc unit, use headphones to monitor the volume. And check the meter frequently to make sure the peaks don't ever exceed -4 dB. This will avoid "clipping" -- the scratchy sound when a peak overloads a digital system.

 

Script no verb tenses or time references ("today," "last week," "Sunday," etc.) that will render the segment out-of-date within two weeks of the deadline. These are magazine-style features, not spot-news items, and the show airs on different days (and in different weeks) around the country.

 

Refer to all locations in a way that makes sense to a national audience. For example, specify the states of all but the largest U.S. cities (e.g. say "Wisconsin" before or immediately following the first reference to "Madison"). And describe locations in relation to the nearest big city ("He represents a suburb called Corcoran, a half-hour west of Minneapolis").

 

Local stories are terrific, but explain the national context and significance. Just a couple lines, even a single phrase, may do.

 

If you're not recording on location or in a professional studio, make sure the room's walls (and, if possible, its ceiling and floor) have "baffling" to avoid resonance from your voice. The baffling can be anything porous: egg cartons, foam rubber, carpeting, old blankets, etc.

 

Try to begin with 3-10 seconds of ambient sound. Try to use ambient sounds through the entire piece. Use the audio to define the beginning of a new section in your segment, then fade it partially so it remains as a "bed" for your voiceover.

 

Try to edit (splice) between sentences only. When doing so, leave the space of one breath between each sentence--usually between 1/4 and 1 second, depending on the reading pace. This rule applies whether the splice connects sentences spoken by the same person or whether it connects the reporter's voiceover to an actuality (or vice-versa).

 

Try to cross-fade most transitions between your voiceover, the actualities and the ambient sounds, so listeners cannot perceive any sharp changes, unless you intend them to. If you don't have confidence in your mixing skills, feel free to separate your file into three sections -- voiceover, actualities and ambience. Your script (see below) will enable the weekly producer to do the mixing in proper sequence.

 

Maintain volume consistency.

 

Aim for 5 minutes unless you've agreed with the week's producer on another length. Do not use time-compression software.

 

Mix the audio and prepare a single mono (not stereo) file. Insert at least 5 seconds of silence at the beginning and end of your segment. MP3 conversions and Web uploading/downloading often snip off a few seconds.

 

"Normalize" the volume levels to 40 percent. If your audio software doesn't do that or you don't know how, just reduce the entire segment's volume level by about 5 dB. That's because the Web uploading/downloading processes seems to elevate the levels, resulting in "hot" (overloaded) sound or even "clipping" (scratchy sounds) at the peaks.

 

Convert your file to an MP3, encoded at 96kbps or higher

 

Name the file with the production date (YYYYMMDD format), followed by your station, followed by your segment's topic. Use only lowercase characters. Use underscores (_) instead of spaces. Don't use quotes, apostrophes or slashes. For example: 20030523 _kidsprotest_kgnu.mp3.

Upload it through the High Country Community Radio Coalition site:

  • Go to http://www.hccrc.org/secure/transfer.
  • Key in the username: (we'll provide it after receiving your script).
  • Key in the password: (we'll provide it after receiving your script).
  • "Browse" for the MP3 file, then click on "Upload!"
  • Read that page for an idea how long the upload will take.

Test the file by downloading or streaming it from http://www.hccrc.org/pickup/ (same username and password): Listen especially for "clipping" (scratchy sounds) at the volume peaks. If you notice hot peaks or clipping, go back to your WAV version, lower the volume a few decibels (or figure out the "normalization"), convert it to an MP3 again, and upload it again.

 

E-mail the producer, announcing that the MP3 is available for downloading. In this message, include the name of the file and the script again, including any changes since the producer edited it. The producer needs the final script for writing the host's introduction, identifying a portion for the show's opening "billboards," promoting your story, archiving it, etc.


Useful links for radio beginners:


The BBC guide to writing for radio.


Tips from Free Speech Radio News:
Voicing Techniques
Microphone techniques

Distribution by:
Pacifica
and the
High Country Community Radio Coalition

Website by Steve Zelaznik