MiniDisc Use in Radio News
By Mike Ward
Reporter/Anchor, NewsTalk 1530 KFBK - Sacramento, CA
I first thought about writing this article shortly after I bought my Sony MZ-R50 recorder. I was first introduced to the world of MiniDisc by my fellow KFBK staff members. Morning reporter Bret Burkhart was already using his MZ-R30 to produce award-winning pieces...though at times, I believe Bret could produce award-winning pieces on a kazoo and a wire recorder, he has won "Best Use of Sound" awards in national competition with his R30. By the time I'd purchased my R50, at least two staffers had already hopped on the MiniDisc bandwagon, including our afternoon anchor Jeff Bell and night-time talk show host Spencer Hughes.
That initial rush was exhiliarating. The biggest initial feature for me? The ability to easily segregate interviews, natural sound and other audio and the resulting ability to access that audio quickly.
And talk about quickly! One of the first uses of this MiniDisc feature for me was on a breaking news story. The local sheriff's department was looking for a missing girl, and the department spokesman held an impromptu press conference in the parking lot of a shopping center. The interview was at about 2 minutes before the hour and my first live shot was at 6 minutes after the hour. (The press conference lasted about 5 minutes, so you can see how close I was cutting it!)
While I was recording the sheriff's spokesman onto my MZ-R50, I noted the approximate time of what I felt would be a good sound bite for the upcoming live shot. After he was done, I ran into my car, hooked the R50 into my cassette deck (for playing the bite back on the air via the speaker) and found the bite in question. I laid it down on a cassette, frantically dictated a lead back to the station's afternoon desk assistant and went on the air a minute later. Even with the time needed to hook into the cassette deck and dub the cut over, the MiniDisc saved me. If it wasn't for the need to use a speaker, it would have provided even more breathing room.
When I'm reporting in the field, I gather my raw sound piece by piece. If I'm at a news conference, and more than one person is speaking, I hit the TRACK MARK button between each speaker. E.g. the city manager is track 001, the sheriff is track 002, the fire chief is track 003. I note the tracks on my notebook and write down exact times of appropriate cuts, and mark the best ones with a star. (No more depending on the accuracy, or lack thereof, of tape counters!) Then, if I need that bite with the fire chief saying they're ready for the upcoming fire season, I quickly move to track three, then fast forward to 0:56.
I probably don't need to tell you about the audio quality of MiniDisc vs. cassette tape, but I will anyway. We've recently installed an all-digital news system with digital audio, and the MiniDisc/digital audio combo is amazing. You can hear the crisp, clear sound on the air today.
In radio news, we often move seemingly at the speed of light, or at least at the speed of sound. If I have to go back to tape, I feel like I've hopped off the Space Shuttle and have to drive a Yugo to work!