When considering awards for radio programmes, judges are often looking for great content; something dynamic, engaging, different, magical. But also they are looking for how that content was recorded. One of the key things looked at in a news or magazine programme is whether guests have been recorded ‘in quality’. To normal people (the patronising way radio professionals refer to the audience) what does that mean? It means getting someone in a studio or interviewing them face to face. It means ensuring the audio is of the clearest and best sound quality.
This is a fair benchmark for the effort put into the production. Many News Editors I have worked with have also been fixated with these quality interviews. But does the audience notice? Or more importantly, does the audience even care? The truism often used in radio is that once you have worked in the industry you can never be a true listener again. Your judgement becomes based on things that matter to a broadcaster but not always to the listener. The classic example being the old DJ style of speaking up to a song’s vocal. That was something only the DJ themselves ever thought mattered.
In news we pride ourselves on good writing and getting great clips of audio. This does make a difference to the listening experience of course, but whether someone is on the phone or ‘in quality’ really does not. Some research has indicated that listeners would actually trust phone audio more on some occasions, such as when a person is in a far flung part of the world. After all, we all speak to people over the phone and know what it sounds like. If the phone line is clear and the interview is not too long, it is always good enough for me. The fixation of quality is misguided.
New technology brings different issues. Skype is increasingly used for interviews on TV and radio. For television I think this is fine, as you can see the person sat in front of a laptop for example. You have a context for the sound. But on radio Skype can sound awful and without the visual you may have to explain that the person is speaking on Skype. You don’t want the listener thinking why is that audio weird. They then stop listening to the content and the point of the clip or interview is lost.
Getting guests into the studio does obviously have benefits for better content. Such as eye contact with the presenter and better dialogue between different guests. But ensuring you get a variety of opinion and voices on a story is more important to me as a News Editor than whether someone is ‘in quality’. So quality over quantity isn’t always a must.