NPR: Fix your podcasts

The following is a message that I sent NPR regarding the quality of their podcasts. I’ve been telling a lot of folks about the problems that I have with some of their offerings. So to put money where my mouth is, I’m taking the advice of writing them. Maybe there will be others out there who feel the same way.

Hi, NPR.

There is something I’ve been wondering about your podcasts. Actually, there are a couple of things. Maybe I’m just picky, but I wanted to let you know about some things that really bug me about the podcasts you guys are producing.

First off, the hourly news updates that you guys provide drive me nuts for a couple of reasons. At the very beginning, it takes nearly 20 to 25 seconds to get to the actual news. It’s prefaced by a sounder to introduce the podcast. That is then followed by a sponsorship announcement. Is that a big deal, maybe not, but let me continue.

When the little mp3 finally gets to the news, the decibel levels are much lower than that of all the stuff at the very beginning. Some days it’s worse, other days it’s better. The point is, when I’m out for a run, I have to crank up the volume to hear anything. Then when the next item on the playlist comes up, my ear drums are attacked.

This is not the only feed that is guilty. Maybe you guys are not the guilty party, but being that you serve up the feed for “Michael Feldman’s Whad’Ya Know? – All the News that Isn’t“, I’m lumping them into the same group. Unless you crank the volume up, you hear Feldman mumbling with some sporadic laughter from the crowd. Come on, guys. I love public radio, and you are making it suck.

Why is there no compression or normalization to these podcasts? This is an easy solution, but it’s been this way for a long time. After complaining about this to numerous friends, I’m taking the step of letting you guys know how I feel. As someone who lives outside of the U.S. but enjoys what NPR offers, you shouldn’t forget about people like myself. If you give us quality content, then we might just think about giving you some quality donations when you need it.

John Bollwitt

This American Life going to the little screen

It almost seems like a trend right now. First, Garrison Keillor[wiki] took A Prairie Home Companion and turned it into a movie[imdb]. Now it’s This American Life, probably one of my most favorite programs in the world of public radio that I hardly listen to. But hey, it’s a podcast now, so I think I’ll have to subscribe.

That’s just one of the many odd discussions that took place in the process of transforming a radio program into a television series. The show is This American Life. The host is Ira Glass. The TV series will debut in March on the Showtime cable channel.

There’s a certain simplicity to the art of radio. At its heart, it’s all about storytelling. And This American Life is a radio show that revels in storytelling — quirky stories, sad stories, scary stories.

This American Life seems so wedded to the medium of radio that when the Showtime cable network first approached Glass about turning it into a TV show, he couldn’t imagine it.

“We basically said ‘no’ for a year and half,” Glass recalls. “And we kept saying we have no idea how to… be filmmakers. You have to hook us up with people who could design something that got across the feeling of the radio show.” [npr]

I’m not too sure how I feel about it. The beauty of radio is the theatre of the mind and how it comes across the airwaves. Being an audio junkie, you would think that my gut reaction would be to hate the whole concept, but I take comfort in the idea of Showtime(or potentially in Canada, Showcase) being the network to throw this on the tube.

Audio Doc - Ira Glass
Photo credit: transomradio on Flickr

I’ve had the brief, but not the most up close, pleasure of working with Ira Glass[wiki] during my days in public radio. In fact, it was just a one day sort of thing, but he really is a fascinating guy. Not in the omnipresent, starstruck sort of way, but he is a person that knows what he’s trying to do and how that should be done. Based on that, I know that he wouldn’t make a venture into television without making sure that the end result was going to be good.

I’ll say what I have always said about television. It’s five times as expensive and takes just as much time to produce worthwhile content. That’s not to say that working solely with audio is easy. Both mediums are their respective art forms, but you should never compare the two. If you don’t believe me now, then start listening to the This American Life podcast now and see how it compares to the TV program when it comes out. The effect will simply not be the same. We have yet to see if we can call it good or not. hacked or letting something slip? hacked?Just as I was heading towards bed last night, I made a last dash through my RSS feeds on Vienna. A headline on one feeds read, “series hub!” Click on the preview and the body simply said, “It’s almost 1 BIOTCH”. Opening the link to the page, I get the image you see to the left. Click on it to see the full size.

Either got hacked or some one is working on a project behind the scenes that shouldn’t have been available to the public. Nothing huge, but I found it interesting enough to grab a capture of and share.

Compression is not in the NPR dictionary

Dear National Public Radio,

I really enjoy listening to your podcasts. Being someone who used to work in the network, I understand the content that you guys offer with your podcasts. The new is incredibly informative and a great addition to my playlists when I go running. The five minute updates clue me into news happening around the world that I’ll usually look into future among my many RSS feeds.

I also like the other content that you guys offer. The Whad’Ya Know stuff is great. I’ve been listening to Mr. Feldman for as long as I can remember. Although it’s just a small portion of the weekly program, his satire is quite humourus.

What I was to know is… why do I always have to crank up the volume when I listen to your podcasts? It’s annoying. I get that there is a certain “style” to the way NPR does things. I have also run into a number of arguments in the broadcast engineering world to know about the dislike for compression among public radio enthusiasts. To each their own, but this is podcasting we’re talking about.

When I’m in the shower, CNN podcasts are perfect. Once your news update hits, I get nothing but some mumbling. And if I decide to switch my playlist up when I go running, my ear drums get blasted when music follows said news update because I have to turn up your stuff just to understand the content. Listening to Feldman on the podcast produces some of the same mumbling followed by laughter from the audience. I completely miss what was funny and shouldn’t have to rewind to catch it.

And for the love of god, shorten up the intro and outros. That beginning music is one thing, but you can be way more brief in telling me thanks for downloading your five minute news summary. Perhaps it’s the ads that drive me even more nuts. The non-commercial rule of thumb doesn’t apply so much to podcasts, and I doubt the FCC is going to or can regulate that.

Just give me the news, and let me be able to hear it without having to crank the volume all the way up.