There are a plethora of small portable recorders available. There are many and most are highly worthy of consideration. A good overview of these products can be found in the February 2010 Trends in Technology feature of Radio magazine. Be sure to purchase a unit that provides phantom power if your microphone requires such.
These products, plus new equipment announced at the NAB Show create new opportunities for versatile production at affordable costs. Balanced with terms such as compact and feature-filled are long-established practices that require proper diligence to assure a successful field production.
Battery management is mandatory. Field production equipment still requires power. Many units now have internal batteries that recharge via a USB connection. Others operate on multiple AA or AAA batteries — some of which can be recharged in the field. Lithium batteries, the type typically used in digital cameras, are a better choice for longer life expectancy. Always become keenly aware of your unit's power requirements, run times, recharge methods, and battery replacement procedures and requirements. Write the date and time on each battery during initial installation and each subsequent replacement so as to not confuse bad with good. Develop an established plan for battery replacement or recharge as necessary during long-run productions. Keep a log of battery activity and usage when multiple field units are in use. Cell phones used for remote broadcasts from sports or business venues may require an external battery source if commercial power is not available at the location.
Machine recording time has become an increasingly confusing matter. It used to be that a 7.5" tape reel would yield x recording time dependent upon its speed of operation. Present-day recording format times vary widely by the amount of on-board and/or portable memory storage, recording mode, audio format, sample rate and bit rate. Times can range from a few minutes to many hours. As a general rule of thumb, the higher the desired quality of the recording, the lower the recording time for a given amount of storage. The issue of available recording time directly correlates to the run time of the machine's power source. Plan both accordingly so you don't run out of one or the other in the middle of an important press conference or symphony performance. For machines that use portable storage media, always carry extras in case of loss, defective operation, or need for additional storage space.
Use of the proper microphone type for any event is essential. Omni-directional microphones pick up sound in a 360-degree pattern whereas cardioid mics typically have a 180-degree sound pick up effectiveness. Long, narrow shotgun microphones have a very narrow sound pick up angle and are an excellent choice for sound pickup at farther distances — especially if one needs to gather sound bites for an important feature story. Head worn microphones — the type that are a headphone with an attached boom microphone — are a favorable choice for sportscasters and newscasters who anticipate being on-site for long periods of time. Clip-on lapel microphones are often beneficial when recording multiple guests during an interview segment. Ribbon element microphones have seen renewed popularity and are frequently a good choice for specialized applications including the recording of bands, orchestras and choral groups. A microphone that contains a condenser element requires phantom power for proper operation. That power is sometimes available from an internal battery; however, most units seek power from the connected audio mixing console or recorder. Once again, the iPhone comes into play, and add-on mics for the device, such as the Blue Microphones Mikey, are practical options for improved audio capture. Always gain knowledgeable advice when placing your microphone selections to assure best long-term results.
When entering the production field, do so with enough microphones, cables, adapters, headphones, batteries, memory storage media and whatever else you might need to get the job done. Press conferences often require special and sometimes unusual methods of microphone attachment to podiums. Microphone windscreens can be invaluable when recording at outdoor venues. A person cannot carry too many adapters of various types related to the mission at hand. And, always have your stuff close by in the event of quick need. Don't park the car 10 blocks away only to realize there is no time to return for that one thing you need but don't have with you.
Permanently label and otherwise identify your equipment. When at major events where multiple media personnel are in attendance there will be lots of equipment in use — some perhaps the same make and model as yours. Confusion over what equipment belongs to who can easily cause inerrant departure of your equipment. Maintain a record of all equipment including brand, model number, serial number and method of ownership identification. When at an event, watch over your equipment carefully. Guard that rare, just-recorded, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, award-winning interview.
With so much advanced technology now available, opportunities are greater than ever for the capture, editing, and transmission of audio in a swift and efficient manner from practically anywhere. So head to your favorite coffee shop's Wi-Fi spot and have fun!
Bartlebaugh is director of broadcast engineering, the WKSU Stations, Kent State University, Kent, OH.