Radio story: Volunteer guitar teacher

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My third radio story for The California Report aired on Friday, Dec. 16. I produced a “sound postcard” about 18-year-old Visalia musician Evan Hatfield, who has volunteered his time and energy the past two summers to teach free guitar lessons to kids at the Boys and Girls Club of Tulare County. The classes are organized by Visalia concert promoter Aaron Gomes and his excellent nonprofit Sound N Vision Foundation.

I reported the story this past July during my summer internship at KQED Public Radio, working out the Central Valley bureau office in Fresno. Producing a sound postcard is one of two major projects that interns are asked to complete. The sound postcard is different from a regular feature in that the reporter does not narrate the piece. Instead, the subjects themselves narrate, or the sound itself propels the narrative forward. I had a little bit of both in the final piece.

It’s quite difficult to make a good sound postcard, one that flows organically with the subjects from scene to scene– especially on your first try. I had to travel down to Visalia twice to visit Evan’s class and interview him, because I knew that I needed him to comment on certain ideas in his narration to make the story structure work. I also knew that I needed to get clearer examples of Evan interacting with his students. It was tough to capture the scenes for the story because a guitar class is pretty chaotic by nature, with people continually plunking and strumming. During the sound gathering, I constantly switched back and forth between the warmer room mic (the ElectroVoice RE-50B) and the shotgun mic (the AudioTechnica 8035b).

In the end, I was happy with how the mixing turned out. It was fun to hear Evan describe the class in his own words, hear him interact several times with his students, and also to hear a student and parent describe his classroom demeanor and work. Part of the glue that held the piece together was Evan playing one of his own original compositions at both the beginning and the end. I think the two-minute piece managed to capture multiple elements of what was going on in a very busy class, which was part of my goal.

Looking back on the summer, I was so lucky to work with bureau chief Sasha Khokha, an award-winning radio reporter and documentary filmmaker. Sasha exposed me to a ton of different tasks and assignments in my ten short weeks with her, setting me up in a very short period of time to become a freelance producer for The California Report. I’m grateful for her feedback on this story especially, as she painstakingly walked me through the writing, editing, and mixing process.

Here’s the link to the final radio story. Also, please consider donating to Sound N Vision, to help them keep their summer educational programs free and accessible.


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