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September 18, 2023 9:42 am  #1

Reels/Cassettes/Digital: How Radio Reporter Recording Gear Has Changed

This article won't be of interest to everyone, but if you ever worked in a radio newsroom or did interviews with guests remotely, it will certainly bring back memories - hopefully not all of them unpleasant! 

It traces the history of portable recording equipment reporters once used as they went to the story and away from the studio. I well remember the portable reel-to-reels and the later Nagras (although I had no idea they once came with a crank, which just seems insane to me), the transition to cassettes and now the cigarette pack-sized digital recorders, which makes things a lot easier on your shoulders and what you have to carry to cover a story.

But my favourite part of this piece has to be on what they called "The Nutcracker," designed to twist the mouthpiece off a pay phone (remember those?) so you could hook up alligator clips to the wires inside and send back tape to the station. 

"Back in the 1970’s and 80’s radio reporters in New York City had a map of payphones that had already been cracked. These were mostly in places where they frequently filed stories, like courthouses."

A fun and even educational read for those who remember working in the field.

How a radio reporter let go of his gear envy and guerrilla electronic hacks 

If that link hits a paywall, try this one:


September 18, 2023 10:30 am  #2

Re: Reels/Cassettes/Digital: How Radio Reporter Recording Gear Has Changed

Thanks RA, that post brought back many memories of my days as a radio reporter during the 80s and 90s. I also memorized the locations of payphones and office phones that had been "cracked" to allow me to use alligator clips to file my stories. 

I remember my days covering Kim Campbell during the '93 federal election campaign when she made a campaign stop in Toronto. A reporter from a rival outlet was there, bragging about his new digital recording device and all of the features it contained. Campbell gave her standard stump speech but then, we reporters pricked up our ears as she began to switch from her prepared script to respond to a recent crisis in her floundering campaign. I plugged in my backup machine to the mic feed, bolted down the hall and found a payphone, which I cracked and hooked up my gators, feeding the audio to our newsroom. I ad-libbed a quick voicer and raced back to the auditorium. The poor guy from the rival outlet stood there raging because his digital recorder had not picked up any of the speech and he was, quite literally, pooched. I got a quick "good job" from my notorious hard-to-please boss for my work.

In any case, here's an article on my always reliable Sony TC-D5M:


September 18, 2023 10:44 am  #3

Re: Reels/Cassettes/Digital: How Radio Reporter Recording Gear Has Changed

We used Sony cassette recorders at CFTR for many years in the 80s, although for the life of me, I can't recall the model number. They were very reliable and great machines. And they also had a trick up their sleeves. 

I remember a story a reporter named Trish Woods did with the CEO of a drug company which made a product that was later found to be causing birth defects in children. She had plugged her industry standard mic into the input of the recorder and the interview continued as normal until she got to the questions about the dangers of his drug.

Without her knowing, this creep kicked the plug out of the microphone, thinking she couldn't get any more answers on tape. It was only afterwards that he picked up her original mic cable and showed it to her. "Why did you do that?" she asked angrily. And he just smiled, thinking everything they'd just discussed was gone. 

What he didn't know is the Sony came with a not-so-great internal mic of its own and that had been close enough to pick up the conversation. It wasn't the greatest quality but we boosted it using EQ and a few other techniques and it made plainly audible both what he said and what he did. 

And before you ask, of course we used it on air, making him look like the dirtbag with something to hide that he was. Another reason those Sonys were great! 

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