An NPR Lexicon


Actualities are excerpts of interviews, news conferences, speeches, vox - in other words, the recorded sound of someone speaking. Also known as ACTS, AX, clips, or cuts.


Ambience is sustained background sound that is captured at a remote location. Ambience gathered at the site of an interview - whether it's a relatively quiet office or a noisy police station - permits an audio engineer to fade in and out of an actuality as it starts and finishes. For that reason, reporters are encouraged to provide a one-second "ambi tail" and "ambi head" to their actualities, and to provide an "ambi bed" of least a minute of ambience recorded wherever they conduct interviews. Much more ambience is needed whenever the sound is a key part of the report. Good ambience can be used to advance a story and to create a scene - we can hear the people on the lobster boat hauling in their catch, or the protestors trying to block the motorcade, or the confusion backstage before the performer starts her act. (See SOUND EFFECTS.)


At NPR, the term analog usually refers to open reel tape. The electromagnet inside a conventional tape recorder is an analog of the complex sound waves it captures - it responds continuously as the sound waves change - so audio tape is an analog medium. (Compare DALET, OAT, DIGITAL.)


The backannounce is the copy that follows a report, commentary or interview. It's usually used to identify the person we have just heard, or to add a bit more information to the report. Sometimes you'll also hear radio journalists refer to a backannounce as an "outro," by analogy with intro.


A backfeed involves sending audio from Washington to a remote location. For example, during an interview between a host or reporter in Washington and a guest in Denver, the guest's voice is fed hereprobably by ISDN - and the host's or reporter's voice is fed back to Colorado so the guest can hear the questions. Since the fidelity of the sound here at NPR is what's important, the backfeed may be done over the phone. (See MIX MINUS.)


A backtime is a calculation to determine when a specific part of a recording will be heard. It's a way of ensuring that a chorus to a song will come just when a reporter mentions it, the theme music for a program will conclude precisely at the end of the hour, and so on. The word may not be commonly used outside of broadcasting, but the concept is part of daily life. For example, a cook makes sure that all of the parts of a meal are ready at the same time by backtiming the preparations: he starts cooking the meat at 5, the dessert at 5:15, the vegetables at 6:00, so that dinner is ready at 6:30. In a radio piece, we might backtime the sound of a demonstration so that the chant, "Keep hope alive!" begins just after the SOC. (See POST.)


The first minute of each hour of most NPR programs begins with hosts mentioning some of the items to be heard in that hour, after the newscast. These previews of coming attractions are the billboards. They're also called Opens. Some programs include teases in their billboards. (See LINES.)


The board is literally a dry-erase board where the show producers map out their programs. They list host and producer assignments, interview times and studios, and the names of reporters and their editors. Each program has its own board. Those for All Things Considered and Morning Edition can be found on the NPR Intranet (at http: j j intranet. npr. orgj).

Board can also mean the audio console in a control room.


The Broadcast Library on the first floor contains three major collections: NPR programs, spoken word and music. The librarians organize and preserve all the programming that NPR distributes and produces, and support daily production needs for music, historical speeches and recorded sounds.


A button is a bit of music played between pieces in a program. Outside ofNPR you may hear a button called a "bridge," a "liner" or a "jingle."


For years, the NPR news programs kept track of who was being interviewed, in what studio and when, by typing all that information on a 4-ply index card. One copy went to the host, one to the producer cutting the interview, one to the show editor and one stayed with the editorial assistants for filing. Cards became obsolete when computers and laser printers came along, and all that info is now maintained electronically. But people still ask, "Where's the card?" when they want the lowdown on an interviewee. You can search for a card using ENPS by checking the "NPR Content" box and typing in the name of the guest.


A clipped tape has been poorly edited so that a sound at the end has been cut off abruptly. (See UPCUT, AMBI) Audio engineers also use the terms "clipped" or "clipping" to denote distortion in a recording.


A clock is a graphic representation of a program's format - a pie chart in which each station break, segment, newscast is a slice of the pie.



A coda is the final passage that ends a work of art. In radio, a coda may be copy read by a host after a report has ended or an actuality related to a story that comes after the reporter signs off - i.e., after the soc:

REPORTER: Until five-year-old Matt Finish enters the Sunshine Academy for the Exceptionally Intelligent next September, his parents intend to keep teaching him every day at home - even at mealtimes. Russell Papers, NPR News, Boise.

TAPE: (MATT AND HIS PARENTS) :45 - Backtime so that the words "Time now for Algebra, Matt" come just after the SOC; fade after the phrase "don't get peas in the keyboard"


A codec is a box that converts an analog audio signal into digits that can be transmitted down an ISDN line. A similar box is needed on the remote end of the feed to convert the digits back into an analog audio signal. Some familiar codecs used at NPR are a Zephyr, Prima, or a CDQ 1000. (See ISDN.)


The control room is on the other side of the glass from the studio; it's where you'll find the engineer, director and sometimes a producer or editor. The protocol for both the studio and control room calls for extraneous noise to be kept to a minimum.


Copy is any written material the hosts or reporters read on the air. A copy of a piece of audio is called a dub.


In mixing, a crossfade is the process of simultaneously decreasing the audio level of one source and increasing the audio level of another - in other words, one sound goes away while another comes in. Sometimes a crossfade takes place under a voice track or actuality.


A cross promo is a 28-second advertisement at the bottom of the hour for another NPR news program. Generally, a program will promote the next show up - i.e., on weekdays, All Things Considered will promote Morning Edition, and vice versa.


Credits are the names of the program and newsroom staff that are read at the end of a program. Not all shows broadcast credits daily.



When a reporter has to go "live" from a remote location, the producer preparing the actualities for his report has to make sure the director has cues to the tape - i.e., knows when to play the acts. (Now that we're in the Dalet era, the sound usually comes out of a computer, but we still talk about "tape.") The cues are provided on a page that spells out the words the reporter will say at the point tape actualities are called for. For example:

CUE TO TAPE: " ... spoke to reporters in the Rose Garden:" TAPE: :29

i. c. "The United States ... " o. c. " ... of all others."

More generally, a cue to tape - sometimes abbreviated "Q" - is the last part of any copy that leads directly into an actuality.


A cutaway is a part of an NPR program designed as a module that can be removed by a member station and replaced with local announcements, news or other material.


The DACS is the computerized system that connects public radio stations. DACS - which stands for "Direct Access Communication Systems" - has become both a noun and a transitive verb: programs DACS their rundowns everyday, and they DACS language or other programming advisories to member stations. Stations often use the information on the rundowns for on-air promotion during the day. For that reason, information on the DACS should be accurate, grammatical and ready for air. (See LINES.)


Dalet is the software we use for editing audio on a personal computer at NPR headquarters. Using Dalet requires having a specially outfitted computer; not all PC's at NPR are Dalet workstations. Other audio editing programs are used by NPR's Cultural Division on the 4th floor, by NPR Bureaus and by NPR reporters in the field.


DAT is an acronym for Digital Audio Tape. A DAT looks like a little videocassette; among other things, it allows us to record audio for up to two hours at a time without the tape hiss of old-fashioned cassettes. (See DIGITAL.)


A deadroll is audio that is started at a precise time, but not made audible until it is needed on the air. A deadroll is often begun so that it will conclude at a predetermined time. A good example is the theme at the end of most programs. If the theme is 2 minutes and 20 seconds long, and the program ends at 58:58 (58 minutes and 58 seconds after the hour), the music will be started as a deadroll at 56:38 (56 minutes and 38 seconds after the hour). The theme can then be faded in whenever the host has finished, and it will always end at just the right moment. (See BACKTIME, POST.)



In the NPR News Division, most of the reporters and editors are assigned to Desks with different areas of expertise. The Foreign Desk covers international news and the State Department. The National Desk covers all domestic news, including business and politics. The Science desk covers scientific and medical journals, space and many of the topics you skipped in college. The Cultural Desk covers religion, media, song and dance, film and all the other things we like to do when we're not at work. Programs generally try to coordinate their coverage with the desks.


Digital audio refers to the reproduction and transmission of sound that is stored as a series of numbers. Conventional tape recorders are analog devices - the electric currents inside them vary continuously in response to changes in the frequency and amplitude of the sound waves captured by a microphone. Computers, on the other hand, are digital devices: they represent sounds as a series of discrete bits of information. Devices like OAT and MiniOisc recorders and digital audio workstations tum sounds into numbers by rapidly sampling the sound waves at specific intervals, and then reconstructing the sound waves from those digits. 1


A downlink is an earth-based terminal capable of receiving data from a satellite. (See STe, UPLINK.)


A drop-in is a piece - often a commentary - that is broadcast without an introduction, in which the host introduces the speaker after a sentence or two. It's also sometimes called a Who Oat? If the beginning of a piece is a complete thought, a drop-in can be an effective way of changing the texture of a program. Here's an example:

TAPE: : 10

"No holiday has suffered more from the combination of political correctness and bureaucratic tampering than the ill-named and ill-celebrated 'Presidents Day.'"

HOST: News analyst George Washington.

TAPE: 2: 21

i. c. "For decades, Americans happily ... "

o.c. " ... change it back. And that's no lie."

HOST: George Washington is an analyst at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.


A D-Sheet is a discrepancy report - a record of something that went wrong during a broadcast. Audio engineering puts the information from D-sheets on the Intranet.

I The greater the sampling rate, and the more binary digits (bits) used to record those samples, the better the digital device can represent the actual sound. A typical sampling rate is 44,000 times per second. A computer that reserves 16 bits per sample can store any of 65,536 different numbers.



A dub is a copy of a recording; to dub a tape is to get it copied. You can dub tapes in a studio, in the RC, and get dubs of programs or program elements in the Broadcast Library.


An echo is an inadvertent repetition of information - in an intro and report, an intro and interview, or a voice track and actuality. You can have an echo without repeating the exact same words. If an intro says, "Congressman Jones is the first Democrat ever to be elected in northern New Hampshire" and the reporter says "Northern New Hampshire has always been represented in Congress by Republicans," it's an echo.

Echo is also an audio term referring to an out-of-sync duplication of the primary audio signal. An echo of this sort can occur, for example, when the ghost image of a host or reporter's voice returns on an incoming ISDN line. This is most often caused by the remote guest's headphone volume being turned up too high and leaking back into his or her microphone. Such an error renders the recording useless; it cannot be corrected.


It's NPR policy to make sure all copy read on the air has been edited by someone. Desks and shows have their own editors - guaranteeing that at least some of the copy (e.g., intros to reports) will be edited twice. Editing can't guarantee that mistakes won't go on the air; a study some years back found that half of all errors that found their way into newspapers were actually inserted by editors. But good editing can improve the structure, flow and accuracy of our copy, whether it's a billboard, an intro, or a segmentlength report. (See PITCH.)


One of the big secrets ofNPR News is how much of the programming is recorded. With the exception oflive interviews (broadcast in the news magazines or on Talk of the Nation), the conversations most people hear on NPR programs have been rearranged and abridged. And just as a 25-minute host interview may end up being four minutes long on the air, a 15-minute interview by a reporter may result in one or two 25-second actualities. In both cases, we try to preserve the essence of the conversation. The content of the interview or actuality that goes on the air should reflect the theme of the uncut version and, as much as possible, the cadence of the unedited speech. "Cosmetic" edits - the elimination of urn's, pauses, stutters and the like - should not be so excessive that the edited speech sounds unnatural. Similarly, there may be times when we decide not to make cosmetic edits - to show that a speaker was reluctant to answer a question, for example, or changed his response in mid-stream.

Most interviews are now edited on computers, using Dalet, but we still have tape machines throughout the building - artifacts of the Analog Age.


The elements are the component parts of a news report - the actualities, voice tracks and ambience that will be mixed to make the final piece.



ENPS stands for Electronic News Production System. It's the word processing and file sharing software used by the News Division to disseminate wire service material, maintain databases, and compose scripts.


EQ stands for equalize - to adjust certain frequencies in an audio source in order to improve its quality. An engineer might EQ a tape by reducing some of the highest frequencies and enhancing those in the mid-range. (See FIX.)


In mixing, afade to black involves taking a sound down and out. This can be done under a track or actuality, or used as a production device to indicate a change of scene. In the latter case, the fade to black is usually followed by a pause before a new sound or track is introduced - the shopping center ambience slowly fades out, and the reporter begins the next track by saying something like, "Across town, the police are checking Jim Smith's fingerprints against the ones they have on file ... "


Feeding is the process of sending actualities, voice tracks and ambience to the record central room, or RC, from a remote location. The RC engineer will put the acts and tracks into Dalet (and at the time this is being written, on tape as well). A producer then takes these elements of the report, arranges them in order, and works with an engineer to produce the final mixed piece.


Field producing involves working with a host, reporter or commentator at a remote site to create a radio story.


Afishjob is a report that is already mixed when it is fed to Washington, and that doesn't have any pickups in it. The producer's job in preparing it for broadcast is just to cut off the "head" and the "tail" - as you'd prepare a fish.


Audio engineers use the term fix to refer to the application of EQ or the adjustment of volume levels to improve the quality of a phone line, actuality, or other audio source. Audio fed on the WAND, for example, requires a fix before it goes to air.

Producers may also use the word fix to mean the revision of a program element for the rollovers - as in, "We have two fixes in today's show - one where the host's microphone wasn't open in time, and one where we got the commentator's affiliation wrong."



A format-breaker is a report that is too long to fit within even the longest segment of a program. Format-breakers usually have to be scheduled in advance; the date of their broadcast is sent via the DACS to NPR member stations.


FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol. It's a means of sending text or digital audio to NPR over a telephone, a high-speed line, or the Internet. It's also used as a verb: "He FTP'd that report early this morning."


Here's one definition of good tape: it causes the ears to perk up, the eyes to moisten, the hairs on the neck to tingle and the voice to emit a cry of joy. When you get to recognize good tape, you are on the way to being hooked on NPR.


In reference to quarter-inch, open reel tape, heads indicates the part of the tape where the audio starts. A tape is heads out ifit is ready to play when it's placed on a tape machine's left-hand reel. White or tan masking tape used to attach the leader to the reel signifies that a tape is heads out. Red indicates it is tails-out - i.e., that if it is played without being rewound, it will be backwards.

Heads can also refer to the parts of a tape recorder used to record and playback audio. To edit audio tape successfully, it is essential to know which head is the playback head.


A hotline is a portable device designed to encode and decode audio digitally so that it can be sent across a regular phone with higher-than-normal fidelity. In practice, however, a hotline can sometimes sound worse than a conventional phone circuit. (See CODEC.)


The incue is the first few words of a tape. In a reporter's script, the incue indicates where an actuality should start. On a program script, the incue tells the hosts and the show editor how a report begins. It's often abbreviated "i.c." - as in:

i.c. "For more than thirty years, NPR has_"


An intranet is an internal computer network that allows parts of a company or other institution to communicate easily. NPR's Intranet can be accessed by anyone logged on to the NPR computer network by using the URL:



Intra is shorthand for introduction. It's the copy that a host will read on the air, and usually includes information for the program director about tape time and other peculiarities of the tape in question. (See LEDE.)


ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) is a service provided by local telephone companies that modifies regular telephone lines so they can transmit data at high speed. ISDN allows us to get highquality audio from member stations, universities, and sometimes from hotel rooms or reporters' homes. ISDN capability can be found in places where you might not expect it - e.g., at big-city newspapers, or non-profit organizations. Because the fidelity ofISDN is so much higher than that of a conventional telephone, reporters and producers should always determine if an interviewee has access to an ISDN line.


Ajump promo is a small block of copy, usually read at the end of a segment (before a station break, for example), promoting the stories in the next segment.


A kill fee is a payment made to a radio reporter, commentator or producer whose work has been authorized by NPR, edited by NPR, but for some reason ultimately rej ected by NPR - "killed."


Leader is the white paper attached to magnetic recording tape that, among other things, allows it to be wound around the reels without being damaged. The difference in color between leader and magnetic tape indicates where the sound begins. Leader can precede the audio portion or follow it.


The lede (i.e., "lead") in a newspaper story is just the beginning. In radio, the lede is usually the intro, since that's where a report actually starts. A reporter may also refer to his lede when he's talking about the first paragraph of his piece. Confusion about the meaning of the term can sometimes result in an echo.


Lines are short descriptions of pieces that editors on the Desks provide the shows, so program producers know what's in the works on any given day. Lines are used to create the DACS, and may also be used for writing billboards. For that reason, it's essential that the facts and pronunciations in the lines be accurate and up-to-date. If a story changes over the course ofthe day, the lines have to change as well.


A live mix involves mixing a piece at the same time that it is being broadcast. Because of the possibility for error, this is usually undertaken only when the mix is relatively simple - for example, an acts-andtracks mix, as opposed to one that also includes ambience. Mixing live obviously doesn't allow a producer to fix pick-ups that occur during the course of the mix.



A live read is usually called for when a reporter has not had time to track his piece. The reporter reads his script live, as the program is being broadcast, and the actualities are played from a tape machine or off of Oalet. Tracking live means there's no opportunity to fix pick-ups; a reporter who stumbles or fluffs when he is reading live generally just has to plow ahead.


A live roll involves inserting a feed of a mixed piece directly into a program that is on the air. For example, if a reporter is in the New York Bureau, and is not able to feed his or her piece before it is broadcast, the report may be played out of New York directly into a Washington studio and onto the air.


Master Control - located on the sixth floor - is the place that makes many of our connections with studios and other sources of audio outside the building. A feed from WBUR in Boston, for example, will be routed by Master control into the studio or Re.


A Minibisc (often abbreviated "MD") is a digital medium that uses a laser to record and play back audio. Like a computer floppy disk or a hard drive, the MiniDisc uses a digital table of contents to keep track of data that may have been recorded in many different places on the disc. This "random-access" feature makes it easy for the MD recorder to erase and re-record quickly - the machine never has to rewind. Like OAT machines, MiniDisc recorders sample data at a high rate; unlike DATs, however, MiniDiscs store that data in a highly condensed form. This data compression can cause problems when audio is copied from one MD recorder to another.


Mixing is the studio process of combining two or more audio sources - either analog tapes or digital sound files - to make one finished piece. In an analog mix, an audio engineer physically controls the starting and stopping of tape machines and adjusts sound levels according to the producer's directions. In a digital mix, the producer will arrange the acts I tracks and ambi on the screen before he or she goes into the studio. The audio engineer in that case is still responsible for improving the quality of the audio - putting in a fix - and adjusting the levels as the producer directs the mix.


Mix minus means "a mix that is minus one element." Every remote interview we do - whether it's on the phone, ISDN or fiber optic line - always includes a mix-minus. The guest needs to hear everything that the host or reporter hears except himself coming back up the line.

Mix minus is also a way of setting up the audio board in the control room so that a producer, host and interviewee can hear all of the parts of a piece or interview, even though only some of them are being recorded. For example, during an interview with a musician, a producer may ask that a CD be played in mix minus, so that the host and interviewee can hear the excerpts of songs that will be mixed in after the interview is edited.



A mult - or mult box - is a device that takes a signal from an audio source and feeds it to multiple jacks so it can be easily distributed. The presence of a mult box at a public hearing or news conference allows several reporters to record the event at the same time without each one having to put a microphone up on the lectern.


NPR produces five-minute newscasts all day long, and two every hour when Morning Edition and All Things Considered are on the air. Listeners hear newscasts as part of the program, though they are produced, written and read by a different group of people. For that reason, information in billboards and pieces - death tolls, pronunciations, etc. - has to correspond exactly with what's being presented in newscasts.




The Ops Desk is located in the Morning Edition area. ("Ops" is shorthand for "News Operations.") It is the central desk for coordinating live feeds, special coverage, and the booking of studios. The Ops Desk routinely records all audio feeds from the White House, including the daily press briefing. Other regularly recorded feeds include the State Department and Pentagon briefings, and the Attorney General's weekly briefing. (See WAND.)


The outcue is the last few words of a tape. In a reporter's script, the outcue indicates the end of an actuality. On a program script, the outcue tells the hosts and the show editor how a report ends. It's often abbreviated "o.c." - as in:

o. c. " ... only time will tell."

If a piece, such as a commentary, ends with a repeated phrase, the outcue may be misleading. In such a case, it's a good idea to provide a much longer-than-usual quote from the piece, and to draw attention to the potential misunderstanding:

TAPE: 3:12 (Note double out-cue!) i.c. "Whose woods these are_"

o. c. " ... promises to keep f And miles to go before I sleep f And miles to go before I sleep."

HOST: Robert Frost is a dead New England poet.


Out-takes are the parts of an interview or report that don't get on the air.


PAND (pronounced "pond") is an acronym for Presidential Audio News Distribution. When the President of the United States travels outside Washington, D.C. his events are fed via PAND over the WAND system. (See WAND, WHITE LINE.)



A phoner is an interview conducted over the telephone.

Audio engineers also use the termphoner to describe the box that allows us to do a phone interview. It's also called a "phoner hybrid," or a "phoner unit."


A pick-up is a place in a tape or sound file where a reporter or host has made a mistake or for some other reason had to restart - pick up - his or her track. One of the producer's jobs is to edit out any pick-ups before a piece airs. There may also be pick-ups in a mixed piece, where a section may have been recorded more than once in order to get things just right.


A piece is a news or feature report broadcast in the body of a program. Pieces can be of almost any length, from about a minute and a half to twenty minutes - or even longer. (See SPOT, SUPERSPOT)


A pitch is a description of a proposed story. Reporters pitch their stories to editors, producers pitch their stories to hosts, and so on. Making an effective pitch involves examining a possible story from many different angles - anticipating how it might be reported, what the listener would learn, even how you might write an intro for the story.


The term post can be used in several different ways, all of them related to the timing of a piece or broadcast. Newscasts and programs have designated time posts - points at which the segments have to end (usually so that member stations know when they can begin adding their own material). A post is also the result of a backtime - it is the point in a piece of music or other sound that we want to be heard by the listener. The producer of a music piece, for instance, may say "There's a good post at thirty-two," meaning that thirty-two seconds into a particular selection there's a place where the music should be heard "in the clear," without anyone talking over it. "Post" is also a verb - a reporter might say, "I want the sound to post right when you hear the car horns beginning." (See BACKTIME.)


A postcard is the radio version of a picture postcard. It's short - usually two minutes or less - and the "picture" is some remarkable sound, or series of sounds. For example, a reporter may produce a postcard whose tracks consist oflittle more than, "Dear All Things Considered. I came to central New Hampshire to do a story about state funding of public schools. But what I found instead - everywhere I turned - was the sound of the January thaw." The postcard might then have the sounds of ice breaking up in the river. .. or snow falling off roofs ... or whatever the reporter found.


Promos are special promotional announcements for upcoming pieces or programs. Promos are usually fed to member stations a week or two ahead of time so they can air more than once before the item they're promoting is broadcast.



QC stands for "quality control." A QC form is a sheet on which an audio engineer records his assessment of the quality of a tape. A QC may show that a tape was fine when it was fed to the RC, that EQ had to be added, or that it has been rejected as not fit for broadcast. A program producer can override such a rejection. In any case, the QC form should remain with the tape it refers to.


The Quartermaster, located on the third floor, is responsible for maintaining and distributing many of the tools of our trade - from batteries to portable tape recorders.


The RC is - as its full name suggests - the central recording facility for the News Division. Reporters feed their pieces or elements to the audio engineers in the RC, who route them to the appropriate shows or Desks. The RC has many other functions, as well, from dubbing CD's, videos and reporters' interviews to recording commentaries.


The reference library is found on the third floor. Its collection comprises 2500 books, including encyclopedias, directories, almanacs, etc. The library subscribes to six daily papers and more than 100 magazines. It also maintains a clippings file of current events.


A return is the 28-second block of copy read by program hosts to begin the second half hour of each hour. A return is sort of a mini-billlboard or open.


The roadmap is a paper version of all the information on the board. It also contains information about underwriting announcements.


Room tone is ambience recorded at the location of an interview. Even a relatively quiet office has some ambient sound - from the hum of fluorescent lights to distant traffic. Recording a minute or so of that sound immediately after an interview ensures that the background noise in actualities does not suddenly disappear when the piece is finally mixed.


NPR news programs, like Morning Edition or Weekend Edition Saturday, are generally taped as they are broadcast on the east coast so that they can easily be repeated for other parts of the country. The later plays are called rollovers. Rollovers are always kept up-to-date; if the news changes, segments may be re-worked, interviews re-done, and intros may be read live in an otherwise recorded program. In addition, any mistakes in the first broadcast are fixed for the rollovers. (See FIX.)



The rundown is the list of items in a program, reflecting the information on the board. The rundown is sent out to NPR member stations on the DACS. (Compare ROADMAP.)


Originally, salvage referred to the process of bulk erasing reels of used audio tape and returning the tape to service to be used again. Today, audio engineers only save the reels; the tape is cut off and discarded. Somehow, though, the word salvage has come to describe what happens to the tape - it has become a synonym for "destroyed," as in the sentence, "The producer accidentally salvaged the entire actuality reel!"


A sat phone is a telephone that relays its signals via a communications satellite orbiting 22,237 miles above the equator. These phones were never intended for broadcast use. They were built for "ship to shore" communication, where audio quality was not an important consideration.


A scene in a radio report is very much like a scene in a movie or play - it's the location where some action takes place. The best NPR pieces are usually built around scenes; they can make even complex, issues-oriented pieces intelligible. For example, a report on how welfare reform is affecting poor, nonEnglish speaking immigrants might include actualities of a university professor describing how he conducted his research on welfare and what it implies. But the report will only be effective and memorable ifit includes some scenes - a worker trying to apply for ajob, for example, or a welfare official trying to explain to a Spanish-speaking woman how she takes public transportation to her new workplace. Creating a scene usually involves both good sound and careful, descriptive writing. (See AMBIENCE, SOUND EFFECTS.)


A segment is a portion of a program of fixed length. Segment lengths differ both within and between programs. The longest segment on All Things Considered is 12:58; the longest segment on Morning Edition is 8:45.


A segue (SEG-way) involves going from one sound to another without an interruption - e.g., a producer may decide to segue from one piece of music to another, or from one report to another without a host introduction. (See CROSSFADE.)


A slug is a word or phrase used to identify a news story. Program producers assign slugs to two-ways, pieces and commentaries. A slug may appear on the board, on the DACS - and on the Internet. So producers have to choose their slugs carefully: a phrase chosen for merely internal work-related reasons - "W ACKO GEEZER PILOTS" - can end up being part of a public document.



SOC stands for Standard Out Cue - the preferred way for a reporter to end his piece. A typical SOC for an NPR news reporter would be "Edmund Fitzgerald, NPR News, Superior, Wisconsin." For a nonstaff reporter, the SOC would be, "For NPR News, I'm Edmund Fitzgerald in Superior, Wisconsin."


We often use the term sound effects to mean the same thing as ambience. (Some people also talk about "natural sound" - or just "nat sound.") Sound can and should be used to create an effect - to establish a scene or make a point - but we don't use artificial sound effects in news reports. In other words, if an NPR piece concerns the birds of Brazil, the birds you hear singing in the background will have been recorded in the course of reporting the story. On rare occasions, we will create our own sound effects in the studio, or draw on recorded sounds maintained in the broadcast library, but we never pass off those sounds as if they were recorded in the field. (See AMBIENCE.)


Split track describes a tape in which one source of audio is recorded on one half and a second source on the other.


A spot is a short news report (less than a minute) for inclusion in a newscast. (Compare PIECE.)


STC stands for System Technical Center. Located on the sixth floor, along with Master Control, the STC schedules programming on 24 digital satellite channels, 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. More than 300 non-commercial stations have satellite downlinks, which enable them to receive radio programs by satellite. Of these, about 22 stations also have uplink capability.


These days, stereo doesn't really need a definition, but the term raises at least two important points. The first is that at NPR, only audio engineers are allowed record in stereo. And the second is that any stereo tape should be clearly labeled as such - on the reel and on the script that refers to it - before it goes into the control room.


The studio is the sound-insulated room where reporters, hosts and sometimes guests sit. Studio 2-A is the main studio for the daily magazine-format shows. Talk a/the Nation originates from 3-A. Studio 4- A, on the fourth floor, is a large versatile recording studio used for musical performances and some special events. (See CONTROL ROOM.)


In order to work in a studio, it is necessary to sign up in advance. Daily programs have blocks of time allotted to them and maintain a studio log to schedule interviews, the mixing of pieces, and other tasks that take up studio time. A reporter needing a studio should tum first to the Ops Desk; if Ops can't help out, the reporter can tum to the program that's going to air his or her piece and ask to be penciled in on its log.



A submix is a partial or intermediate mix - one stage in the production of a complex piece. For example, it may be necessary or advisable to mix the acts and tracks first - that would be the submix - and then add the ambience, music or other sound in a subsequent mix.


Superspot is slang for a piece that is little more than an overgrown spot - something around a minute and a half long. Show producers will sometimes ask a reporter to carve a piece down to a superspot length so that it can fit a small hole in the program.


A tape that is tails-out has not been rewound after being recorded or played. The end of such a recording should always be attached to its reel with red tape. That lets everyone know it's tails, and ensures the tape won't go on the air backwards. (See HEADS-OUT.)


The talkback is the intercom between the control room and studio, or between the control room and a remote location. The technical name for talkback is IFB, which stands for "Interruptible Foldback." Foldback denotes the audio that goes from the main mixing console into the host's or reporter's headphones. When a director pushes the intercom switch to talk to someone in the studio, it interrupts the foldback, and allows his or her voice to be heard.


A tape sync is a way of improving the quality of an interview that would otherwise have to be a phoner. It involves sending an engineer to a guest's home or office to record his answers while a reporter's or host's questions are recorded here at NPR. If the conversation is going to be broadcast as an interview, the two parts are synchronized and re-recorded, so that both ends are high-quality. If the guest's answers are going to be used as actualities in a new report, the sync is not necessary. Some station reporters call this sort of remote recording of an interview a "double-ender."


A tape time shows the length of a piece from the first words of a reporter or interviewee or host to the SOC or conclusion. (At the time this is being written, people refer to "tape times" even when they are talking about digital audio.) The tape time is represented in minutes and seconds:

TAPE: 4:06

i.c. "The Secretary of Defense_"

o.c. " ... Jones, NPR News, the Pentagon."

When the audio is recorded on magnetic tape, the tape time is also printed on a label affixed to the reel; Dalet calculates the time automatically.

People can sometimes get confused between the tape time and the time allotted to a piece or interview on the board, which usually also includes the length of the live intro. For instance, a producer may allot five minutes for the piece slugged "PENTAGON APOLOGY," but because she's leaving forty seconds for the intro, the tape time is only 4:20.



A tease is a short actuality that precedes any other information in the story. A good tease serves as a "hook" that makes the listener eager to hear more. Some shows include teases in their billboards. Billboard teases should be catchy - the whole point of them is to make the listener stay tuned - and they should reflect the basic theme of the report.


Texture is the variation of program elements - by length, type, sound, etc. It may be best defined by a negative example: a show made up exclusively of five-minute reporter pieces lacks texture. That's why show producers work hard to make sure their program includes a mix of interviews, news reports, extended actualities, music and other elements.


To track a piece means to record the voice tracks.


Tracks (or TRAX) are the parts of a report read by the reporter or host. A typical NPR news piece may include tracks, acts, and ambi.


The expression two-way is generally used at NPR as a synonym for interview, though a few people reserve the term to refer to an interview between a host and a reporter, as opposed to a host and a civilian.


A tape that is upcut has been poorly edited so that there is a loss of a syllable or sound at the beginning - e.g., '''om NPR News, this is Morning Edition ... " Compare CLIPPED.


An uplink is an earth station capable of transmitting full-fidelity audio signals to a satellite.


At NPR, a voiceover is an English translation that is mixed over an actuality in a foreign language. The best voiceovers suit the sex and age of the person whose actuality has been translated. Ideally, the person doing the voiceover comes from the country or the region where the story takes place. (In the commercial audio and film industries, the term "voiceover," or ''v.o.,'' means any recorded narration or voice track.)



Vox is person-on-the-street actuality, usually gathered to present a variety of opinions on an issue.'


A VU meter (pronounced vee-yoo) measures audio volume, or loudness. VU meters use volume units as a standard of measurement.


WAND - an acronym for Washington Area News Distribution - is a service of ABC Radio News in Washington, DC. NPR pays a yearly subscriber fee for a selection of audio feeds of presidential, Congressional, agency, and other public affairs events. WAND's mandate is to provide audio from "inside the Beltway." But the WAND can often provide audio feeds of major news events from around the nation. NPR maintains four separate audio lines from ABC Radio to NPR's Master Control. (See PAND.)


A white line is a grease pencil mark made on a piece of magnetic tape to help an audio engineer see where a particular sound begins. A white line may be used during a mix, for example, so the engineer knows when to start fading a tape out under an actuality. White line is also the term used for the presidential audio pool when the president is on the road. (See PAND.)


2 The term vox derives from vox populi - the ancient public radio practice of sending Christians out to Gaul to question the locals as to attitudes toward the emperor. The answers would be brought back to Rome and presented to the emperor in oneminute segments.