MARK Rickards has produced radio documentaries for BBC Scotland from around the world.
And in Producer’s Tales – on BBC Radio Scotland on Wednesday, at 1405 hours – he describes the challenges as well as the pleasures of making radio from as far afield as Alaska and the rainforests of South America, letting listeners into the secrets of successful recording along the way.
Here, he answers the questions…
Who commissioned the programme?
Jeff Zycinski, Head of BBC Radio Scotland. It draws on many years of travelling the globe making radio documentaries for Radio Scotland, as well as Radio 3, Radio 4 and the World Service. All made from BBC Scotland’s base in Edinburgh.
Explain the thinking behind the production’s ‘sound and feel’
The programme is made up of different recordings from around the world, taking the listener on a journey from Australia to the Arctic. My aim was to give a sound portrait of the places visited, as well as telling a story. So, in the Brazilian Amazon, we hear the electric buzz of insects around the story of the forest, and on the streets of Mumbai we’re chasing down the history of The Beatles and their love affair with India.
‘Producer’s Tales’ gives a behind the scenes insight into the highs and lows of recording on location.
Who are the key personnel? How were they recruited?
The different sections within Producer’s Tales were recorded with a range of different presenters.
We hear from authors and broadcasters, Nick Thorpe and Sarfraz Manzoor; BBC correspondent, Navdip Dhaliwal; and Spitting Image co-creator, Roger Law.
They were all produced by me, Mark Rickards.
What kit and software?
I use small, lightweight equipment with built-in microphones. The latest model is an Olympus LS-5 sound recorder which records directly on to an SD card. This allows you to record in tricky locations without anyone noticing.
What have been the main production challenges?
Timing can be really tough. You might have one interview in one location and another about two hours away, and the last thing I ever seem to get is lunch, in-between. To give an example, I am soon to go to Texas to interview black cowboys, but one of the key interviews is in Kansas. It’s a four hour drive each way but I feel I’ve got to do it.
Apart from that, the editing is a great challenge. You come back with so much material and it’s only in the editing suite that the programme takes shape. It’s a part of the process that I really enjoy.
One time out on the road I was recording with a big furry microphone and was spotted by a dog. Dogs think furry microphones look like sheep and so this dog raced over and lunged at me. Instead of biting the mic, it managed to take a large chunk out of my leg, rather close to the crotch. As the doctor who treated me said: “This could actually have been a whole lot worse..”
What did you most learn and enjoy from the experience?
There’s such variety in this work, I feel I learn something new every time. So in India, I learned that the Indians are still huge fans of The Beatles, and in China, I learned that people are surprisingly welcoming and helpful when you are out on the streets recording for a radio programme. In Alaska, close to the Arctic Circle, I learned that you’re best off spending as little time outdoors as possible if you go in November!
Find out more, here.