During the past 10 years in radio and television, tape and bulky equipment have gone the way of the dinosaur. Here is a quick look at some of the most important technological advances in electronic media.
In my radio studio in Portland, Maine, just off to my right, are two labels that read “ATR-1” and “ATR-2.” The label background is white, appropriately, because the labels are for two pieces of equipment that exist now only as ghosts in memory.
See, the “TR” stands for tape recorder. And once upon a time (about five years ago), two large reel-to-reel tape recorders sat on a sloping shelf just behind the labels. Our reporters and I would hunch over them each afternoon to edit narration, background sound and interview clips into stories for our daily news magazine. They, and three others in an adjacent studio, would be used to play back those stories and perform other tasks.
But the tape recorders were removed when new, more powerful PCs, coupled with our second-generation newsroom software, enabled us to edit and play sound from our computers. What we once did with grease pencils, razor blades and tape, we now do with a mouse and a click.
But more has happened than just changing the way we work. I feel I’ve gotten the fun parts of my job back. In smaller markets, radio reporters long ago became their own technicians. Now, I like to play with expensive toys as much as the next guy, but I got into journalism to share what I know, to tell stories — not to cue up a tape, or make a perfect, diagonal cut across a mark made in grease pencil. Editing on a computer turns out to be much quicker that the old razor-and-tape method. And that means more time to think, write and edit stories so they will be compelling to my listeners.
Irwin Gratz, SPJ president, works for Maine Public Broadcasting and lives in Portland, Maine.