Thursday, 27 April 2017

Podcast Number One.

Over the last few months I've been a regular guest on BBC Radio Cambridge and Huntingdon Community Radio. I enjoyed those sessions so much that I decided to have a go at making my own podcasts. You can call it a vanity project if you like, but the objective that I have always had is to share my enthusiasm for the natural world. I love being outside and alone, face to face with wildlife, but I enjoy it much more if I can share it. The sharing gives it a purpose.

I came up with a name, "What Comes Naturally," which allows me a lot of latitude to talk about whatever comes to mind. A lot of the broadcasts will be made at Paxton Pits or other places in Cambridgeshire but I also hope to go a bit further afield. You can hear my first attempt at

Many years ago, I cut my teeth on making outside broadcasts for BBC Radio Solent. In those days I was working for the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust at Arundel where I had a nice little studio in the projection room to the theatre. More importantly I had the guidance of our publicity officer, Fletch. I owe him a huge amount of gratitude. He really wanted me to go into broadcasting full time, but I lacked the single mindedness, or maybe the hunger or the ambition to do it. It's a very competitive field.

In those days we recorded programmes on a beautiful, leather-clad, Uher portable reel-to-reel tape recorder. To aid with recording background sounds (ambience) or wildlife sounds (actuality) we used a parabolic dish to focus the sound. Editing was done on a heavy-duty, wooden cased, four-track desktop tape recorder using a razor blade and sticky tape!  You have to remember that analogue recordings degrade every time you copy them, so we liked to work with the original recordings to get the best quality for broadcast. The problem was that the joins in the tape could come undone during the actual broadcast. This was the same kind of system that the Beatles used in Abbey Road. The editing room was full of precious. dangly lengths of brown tape that were Sellotaped to shelves and windows in some kind of order before being stuck together to make a programme.

Uher 4000 Report like the one I used.
We didn't have access to stereo recording and anyway, the BBC was only broadcast in mono at the time. Today the technology has really moved on and we need to make high fidelity, digital, stereo recordings. The most important bit of field kit is the microphone. You can make perfectly good recordings on an iPhone but you need a good stereo microphone. I haven't got one. What I do have is a digital camera with a stereo microphone and a programme that allows me to make sound recordings without recording video. The resulting recording is on an SD card that I can plug into my computer.

I don't need a recording studio or a big tape-deck; it's all done in the computer using a virtual music studio. It amuses me that my live recordings now appear on the screen, just like those long strips of tape and  I can cut and splice them together, just like the old days. I still use the equivalent of four tracks; left and right for my voice and left and right for the background sound. I could have loads more tracks but I like to keep it simple. In the final process I just have to set the sound levels and effects such as fade out, merge them into a stereo master track and upload it to the web. It is still time consuming, but much easier than the old days and I still have my original uncut recordings at the end of the process. The quality is as good enough for broadcast every time. Better still, there is no risk of the tape coming apart while we are on air.

Podcasts are just radio programmes, except you can listen to them any time on your computer, tablet or phone. The BBC uses and makes podcasts as a way to reach a larger audience and to use material made by freelancers. There are commercial broadcasters out there producing podcasts that pull in millions of listeners while generating cash through advertising. Wouldn't that be nice?

If you like my podcast please subscribe (it's free). I hope to find time to make many more.