NPR Training
Storytelling tips and best practices

Audio 101

What’s in your bag, Gregory Warner?

For this month’s What’s In Your Bag we reached out to Gregory Warner, host of the new NPR podcast Rough Translation. His work has taken him across Pakistan and Afghanistan, and now he is based in New York City after a long stint as NPR’s East Africa correspondent. He carries all of the essential gear

What’s in your bag, Corey Schreppel?

Corey Schreppel is an audio engineer and Technical Director at Minnesota Public Radio|American Public Media (MPR|APM). He has mixed episodes for In the Dark from APM Reports, recorded in the field with Performance Today, and often records in-studio music sessions for The Current. Corey is known at MPR for his ability to use technology to

Get great sound every time with this field recording checklist

You return from a long day reporting in the field — only to realize you didn’t record ambience. You’re in the middle of a reporting trip and you’ve forgotten extra batteries for your recorder. You’re not happy with the scene sounds you’re capturing. For audio producers, these frustrating problems are all too common. We want to

Aerobics for your voice: 3 tips for sounding better on air

If you pant like a Labrador will your voice have more energy? Can you hum away “vocal fry?” And what does Bugs Bunny have to do with good radio? I coach reporters at NPR on vocal delivery — and these are some of the tricks we use. To really build a strong vocal presence for

Audio production FAQ: Headphones, levels, mics and more

  Our readers have many questions about audio production and we want to help you find the answers. Consider this a living document — we’ll continue to update it with answers from NPR Training and other experts in the public media community. Have a question we haven’t answered? You can drop us a line via

The ear training guide for audio producers

Ear training, the practice of learning how to recognize certain sounds, is a must for audio producers. We need to be able to spot problems and identify them to before they impact quality or snowball into larger technical problems. This post will help you identify problematic audio, prevent the most common problems and recognize when it’s time

QUIZ: Do you have the ears of an audio producer?

The producers, reporters and engineers who create the audio stories we love make a lot of magic happen behind the scenes. In seamlessly stitching together discrete pieces of audio, they can craft rich scenes that transport listeners. Asking the experts NPR Training’s Rob Byers and two NPR audio engineers took audio production questions during a reddit AMA.

Put your audio to the test: Know when to use it or lose it

This post is for audio producers and journalists who work with news or documentary-style storytelling. This guide will help you make judgment calls about the usability of audio. There are many ways audio can go wrong: a press conference recording with a buzz, hard-to-understand phone tape or lots of “p-pops” — this list goes on. Sometimes those technical problems

3 simple ways to find story ideas

Over the summer, Sally did a callout on social media asking where public media journalists get their story ideas. The responses were fantastic and spanned everything from standard journalistic practices to creative and humorous anecdotes. We asked her to some of those ideas in this post. It’s a great starting point for the next time you’re

Which mic do they use? (Mics part 2)

Liz Jones (@KUOWLiz), a reporter with KUOW, contacted us with an idea after the Which Mic Should I Use? post published. She recommended we get the input of various reporters in the field to hear about what mics they are using and why. Good idea! Here’s what a few public radio reporters told us they

Which mic should I use? (Mics part 1)

Most audio producers and reporters heading into the field will have the basics: a handheld recorder of some kind, a pair of headphones, and one or two microphones. But which mic should you use? This is one of the most common questions about field recording and the decision can be confusing. We usually make the

Pitching to NPR? Our bureau chiefs share their process

On NPR’s National Desk, four bureau chiefs edit news stories from around the country. They are Andrea DeLeon (Northeast), Russell Lewis (South), Ken Barcus (Midwest), and Jason DeRose (West). This is their outline of the process for pitching a story for a news magazine such as All Things Considered or Morning Edition – and getting the

15 principles of show booking

1. You are the keeper of the guest list. NPR founding mother Susan Stamberg once compared a good radio show to a good dinner party. In both scenarios the host’s role is to lead his or her guests in an engaging conversation. As a booker, you manage the invite list to that party. It’s your

‘Butt cut what?’ A glossary of production terms

Let’s say you are producing an audio story, and you’re asked to dip the ambi under the track, butt cut the next two acts, and then sweep up and maintain the ambi. If that sentence is confusing, this glossary is for you. Terms for producing and mixing audio go back to the days of cutting real tape with

Writing for radio: A manifesto from NPR’s Chris Joyce

The two elements of a story are tape and copy. There should be a nearly equal balance between the two, at least in terms of their importance to the story. One can think of tape as the photographs, although that’s not a perfect analogy. Perhaps the analogy of two dancers executing a complicated tango; both

Exercise: Imagining your story

The following is an excerpt of a post from Transom.org. It was written by Rob Rosenthal, lead teacher for the Transom Story Workshop. He also hosts the podcast How Sound. What he’s describing is a great exercise. It can free you of the inevitable limitations of journalism (you can’t make people say exactly what you want!) but

Dissecting a good radio story

This piece by NPR’s Ailsa Chang took a completely wonky Congressional concept… and made it interesting. Check out the marginalia to see some of Ailsa’s tricks. The script is 2 pages long.    

What does a radio script look like?

Truth be told, not every broadcast radio script looks the same! But there are elements every script should share in order to make sure nothing goes wrong in the editing or mixing process. This post should give you a sense of the basic components of a public radio script. The real-life example is a story by NPR Congressional

Radio 101: The life of a story from concept to air

If you are new to radio, this post should help demystify the process. This guidance comes from Jonathan Kern, author of “Sound Reporting: The NPR Guide to Audio Journalism and Production.” It has been lightly edited.  First, you need a story. That may seem obvious, but often people begin by proposing an idea – the

A day in the life of All Things Considered

Back in 2012, over the course of one day, All Things Considered host Melissa Block and producer Melissa Gray made this story about their own show. While the cast of characters has changed a bit and the ATC meeting now happens at 9:30am (10:00am was always pushing it, for a 4:00pm show!), this is the best

How NPR’s Sam Sanders is finding his voice

I think the goal is for all of us doing radio to make is sound effortless. To keep our essence in our reads and make the listener think we’re “just talking,” while knowing that the journey to that “just talking” place takes a lot. A lot of thought. A lot of practice. And a lot of time.

Write how you talk #1: The basics

As Robert Siegel is quoted in the book Sound Reporting, “This is one of the most commonly offered pieces of advice… and it’s one of the most commonly ignored.” Why is it so hard to write how we talk? One reason: It’s not how we’re taught. We learn to write with book reports, term papers,

Read this before you record ambience in the field

Cindy Carpien, a former NPR producer, is now an independent radio trainer. She works throughout the public radio system. Ambience: the sonic environment in which an event takes place. Also referred to as ambi. When it comes time to record ambience in the field, it’s important to capture different perspectives. It helps to think about these