Contribute to the Pod Delusion!

The Pod Delusion is made from submissions from a listeners such as yourself – anybody can contribute content to our show – this guide is intended to help you get started and give you some hints about what we are after. It might seem like a long document but these few tips will almost certainly save you some time, so please read-on and feel free to comment at the end if you have any questions.

If you are new to the business of recording and producing audio this may all seem a little bit daunting, but we assure you most of what you need to know is common sense. We do don’t want to put anyone off submitting material – and we would never pass-up a good story because of a minor recording error.

So you’re thinking about submitting a feature?

That’s great – we want out listeners to submit content – it’s the way our show grows. There are many ways you can contribute to the show – most contributors produce and edit their own features – perhaps you have a new idea or a fresh take on an old idea. Even if you are out of inspiration right now we always need people who are willing to edit or narrate other people’s features.

Whatever you want to do the first thing to do is introduce yourself to editor@poddelusion.co.uk – Let us know who you are and the basic gist how you want to help (no essays please, a paragraph will do) – we will try to find somebody from our team to show you the ropes.

Even if you are not ready to do something right away, we can put you on our planning mailing-list, so you can get an idea of the kinds of things we consider prior to every show. Signing up does not oblige you to do anything – you can “lurk” on our mailing list until that moment of inspiration hits you.

Most importantly, keep listening to the show so you can get an idea of what we want.

Content – what are we looking for?

The Pod Delusion is a news and comment show about “interesting things” – which can be as broad as you want it to be. There’s almost no topic we’d rule out. Our show is grounded in some values:- Rationalism, skepticsm, liberalism, secularism and free-thought.

We want features which stand by themselves and tell an interesting story. Each episode should feature the widest possible variety of topics. We are also interested in featuring new topics which we have not previously covered. Our audience want to be entertained by something new.

Please do not be afraid to share your enthusiasms. We’d love you to tell a story that you are passionate about.

While we cover many serious topics, we like to think we are “seriously fun” – our features should have a lighthearted tone. If you want to find the humour in a depressing topic, that’s fine. Where possible try to end a story on an optimistic note.

Our show is intentionally nerdy – but be careful with the level of knowledge required to understand your feature. Don’t assume that the listener has a physics degree, however you can assume they are interested in physics. By analogy the audience may know who William Hague is, but not Lord Strathclyde. Our audience is intelligent but probably brings little more than general knowledge to your chosen topic.

What are we not looking for?

We try to avoid plain reporting of stories which have already been done in great depth by mainstream news. We also prefer to avoid topics that are routinely covered by other skeptics-movement podcasts or are considered to be settled matters: For example it’s beyond debate that Homoepathy does not work – we probably would not want to run a feature which merely restates this obvious truth. On the other hand, we’d definitely want to cover the 10:23 campaign which found a new way to explain the absurdity of Homoeopathy to the general public.

We don’t prohibit coverage of current affairs, but we are looking for a fresh or novel perspective on any topic. For example, you might expand upon a technical detail overlooked by the mainstream press. You could introduce a story whose implications might have been overlooked by the mass-media.

The Pod Delusion aims to be original – let’s do our own thing.

Recording your first feature:

Often people will be listening to our show in difficult conditions (for example while on the train) – attention to sound quality will make sure these people can hear our show without problems.

Try to record with the best microphone and recording equipment you can obtain, and at the highest possible quality-setting your equipment allows. Typically we look for settings like a bit-rate of 256 kbit per second at and a frequency of 48khz. The higer these numbers the better your feature will sound in the final mix.

It’s possible to spend thousands of pounds on recording equipment, however we find that you can get nearly studio-quality results from an £80 USB microphone. You can get very good quality from a headset costing less than £30. You do not even need special equipment – most tablet computers and smart-phones have surprisingly good microphones and most have acceptable sound-editing apps. Even very cheap hardware can produce impressive results. Sometimes the room you record in makes more difference than the kind of hardware you use. Try to find somewhere quiet and without echos caused by hard-surfaces.

If you have any questions about the quality of your recording, we’re happy to listen to one minute of monologue (it could be you reading a book) to give you some feedback before you record your full report.

Things to watch out for:

  • Buzzing/mobile phone noise. If you are recording on something handheld (like a phone or iPod), rather than directly into a computer, try putting your device into airplane mode – that will switch off the network and reduce interference. Avoid holding your device – it will sound better when you leave it alone.
  • Popping: Having the mic to close while speaking will make popping noises which are difficult to edit. You can use a mic-shield made out of thin fabric or simply face slightly away from the microphone when you pronounce a ‘p’.
  • Background noise: While it is impossible to avoid all the background noise (especially in large cities), be careful to pause until the noisy interruption has ended. You can resume when everything is quiet again. You can edit out the gap without anybody noticing.
  • Stumbling: If you stumble – pause, start from an appropriate point (usually a sentence or two back) and just edit the stumble out when producing your report. It is much easier to edit between phrases than in the middle of one!
  • Incorrect Settings: Even the best studio equipment can sound terrible if the settings are wrong. At the very least you need to pay attention to the recording bit-rate, sampling frequency and input gain levels. A few minutes of experimentation should allow you to find some good settings.
  • Low quality audio: As mentioned above, experiment with microphones that you have and if you are really eager, try and find one that you can afford. We can advise you on what kind of device will suit your needs and budget..

Reading your script:

Things work better if you write a script – a typical feature consists of little more than somebody talking directly to a microphone. It helps if you plan out what you have to say.

Speaking to a microphone can seem bizarre at first – if you were to speak normally it would sound pretty dull on the radio. You actually have to speak somewhat more enthusiastically than you would do in plain speech.

It may sound odd, but how you position your body can greatly affect how you sound. For example some people prefer to stand up or move their arms around (gesticulating to nobody). Adopting a more natural posture can often result in a more natural reading. Just try it out when nobody is looking, you might be surprised at the results.

Some helpful hints:

  • Don’t read out URLs – these can all be included in the show notes. If you want to draw reader’s attention to a particular web-page just say “you can follow the link to XXX in this episode’s show-notes”. You can provide any relevant links and images to the editor along with your submission.
  • No need to read out credits – Simply provide the names to the editor who will read out the contributors at the end of the show.
  • Avoid background music – It might sound cool, but it we try to make all the features sound like they belong together. It can be disconcerting to the listener if one feature is produced in a very different way to the others. The obvious exception to this rule is if the subject of the feature is the music you want to use.
  • Sign off – If your feature is news or reporting you can sign off with “This is reporting for The Pod Delusion”, otherwise just use “This is for The Pod Delusion”.
  • Swearing – Some of our episodes are retransmitted by FM radio-stations which are subject to national broadcasting regulations. It’s preferable to keep language “clean” since local regulators have different ideas about what words are acceptable. It’s a nuisance, but this is the price of being on the radio. Any swearing could get bleeped in our radio edits.
  • Copyright: Avoid the using somebody else’s work without the relevant permission. The Pod Delusion is produced under British law which does not have a concept of “Fair Use” – this means we cannot use even small snippets of other people’s music or writing without their explicit permission.
  • Libel: Try to avoid speech that might be seen as defamatory to individuals. This even goes for foreign citizens who can sue for libel in the British courts.

Editing your feature:

Every Pod Delusion submitter edits their own content – it’s actually just as much of the creative process as recording your feature. Time spent editing can transform a good item into something truly excellent.

You can use free software such as Audacity to edit your submission. This software is available for Windows, Linux and Mac computers. There are online tutorials for just about everything you might ever want to do with it.

Sometimes it’s hard to edit your project down to 8 minutes. You might end up having to cut out important points. Fortunately we now have The Pod Delusion Extra – a podcast feed for longer features. We suggest that you try to produce two edits: A short one for the main show and another that can be as long as you want for the Extra feed.

It’s not unusual for your report to be given an additional edit once it’s submitted. Reports which are longer than 8 minutes will almost certainly be cut down – this is to make it fit our time-constraints.

Notes for interviews:

If you are thinking of doing an interview, a few extra considerations apply:

Since our format is so short it leaves very little opportunity for ad-libbing. The secret of doing a good Pod Delusion interview is preparation. Try to have your questions worked out in advance and if possible send them in advance to the interviewee.

When you begin the interview make sure you let the subject know how the audio will be used and that the content will be edited. Not everything they say will be used. It’s usually a good idea to inform your interviewee that if they did not like the way they said something, just say it again. We will keep the best version. Likewise, from time to time you might have to ask them to repeat what they said in order to get an important point with better clarity – be brave and ask away. Most interviewees appreciate that you are making an effort to have them sound good.

Interviews can often take more time to edit since guests might occasionally mis-speak. It’s our job as editors and producers to make them sound good and bring out what is interesting about their work and ideas.

Many of our interviews are recorded via Skype – this usually gives better quality than a land-line or mobile line. You can get free Skype recorders such as iFree for Windows which have the ability to record your call in split-stereo. Having the conversation in 2 audio tracks makes things much easier to edit.

How to submit:

Email your edited audio to editor@poddelusion.co.uk . We prefer submssions in MP3 or WAV format. Features should be between 3 and 8 minutes long, however sketches can be shorter. The submissions deadline is Wednesday at 10pm, this is because the show is edited on Thursday for release on Friday morning.

We produce our show on a weekly basis – if your feature does not get used in the week it was submitted it’s probably going to be used in the following week. Having a surplus of material makes it much easier to produce our show.

If your file is too big to send via email you can use DropBox – a free service which allows you to share entire folders.

3 thoughts on “Contribute to the Pod Delusion!

  1. Please emphasise to your contributors the need to speak clearly and remember to pause between sentences and paragraphs. Something you and Liz need to remember too.

    The combination of poor diction, poor recording and fast speech have marred several PD episodes for me.

  2. General technical tips; record at either 44.1 or 48Khz in *uncompressed* wav format. Use the fantastic free open source ‘Audacity’ for all your editing needs.

    http://wiki.audacityteam.org/wiki/Audacity_Wiki_Home_Page

    … has pretty good and clear instructions on what all the various tools do, but the better your source recording, the less you need them.

    Choice of microphone is *very* important. I made the mistake of using a headset microphone for recording my interview with Kirk (ep. 94 ;-0 ) it took ages to edit out all my loud gobbing and breathing into the microphone. .

    ‘Rehearsal Assistant’ is a free open source android app with lets you record maximum quality uncompressed, it’s pretty good. http://urbanstew.org/rehearsalassistant/

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