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David Pogue on Unsung Science
David Pogue is a New York Times bestselling author, journalist, TED Speaker and six-time Emmy Award winning correspondent and content creator. We're very excited that David was kind enough to speak with us about some of his current podcast and video projects.
Let’s talk about your podcast, Unsung Science. What goals does it try to accomplish?
Unsung Science is a storytelling podcast for science and tech. Each episode unravels the origin story of a mind-blowing development in realms like space, medicine, food, climate, photography, self-driving cars, software, weather, and electronics.
In each episode, the actual heroes of the story tell about their inspiration, setbacks, and aftermath of their breakthroughs.
How did you get started? What's the origin story of the podcast?
Originally, Simon & Schuster (my publisher) thought it might be a good companion to my 2021 book How to Prepare for Climate Change. They figured that a successful podcast might help spread the word. Eventually, they teamed up with CBS News (my main gig — I’m a correspondent for "CBS Sunday Morning”) to co-produce it, and it took on a life of its own.
Can you tell us about what tools and workflow you use to create your podcast?
I interview science and tech experts. I had to conduct most of those interviews over Zoom (thanks, Covid). Which meant that the experts I was interviewing had to record THEIR end of the conversations themselves.
Now, in theory, a modern smartphone should do a great job of recording audio. So PRX, which was producing the show, would give each subject detailed instructions on placement of the phone, distance from the mouth, and so on. The subject is supposed to listen over headphones or earbuds, so that my voice doesn’t get picked up in the recording of their own voice.
On my end, I’m using professional audio gear; I record my side of the conversation directly into Final Cut Pro.
After the interview, the subject and I both upload our audio files to PRX. They get the interview transcribed; I use the transcription to help me as I write and record the script. Once PRX has the script, they assemble the episode from the recorded interviews and my narration.
Many of the recordings we got from our interview subjects were terrible. Noisy backgrounds. Echoey rooms. Way too distant from the smartphone microphone. It’s horrifying, because some of these are really famous people I’d had to pursue for months to get them to agree to do the interview — I can’t exactly ask them to re-do it.
For half of our episodes, I used CrumplePop EchoRemover and AudioDenoise. They usually worked pretty well, although I had to spend a lot of time twiddling with knobs to get enough audio improvement without making the original voice sound weird.
Then, partway through the run, I heard about EchoRemover AI. It is SO much better than anything that had come before!
I sent my PRX editors a before/after clip of EchoRemover AI, and they bought their own copy that day. That one plugin truly salvaged at least three of our episodes, which would otherwise have sounded faint and echoey.
Aside from your own, we’re curious, what are your favorite podcasts?
Your main gig is being a correspondent on CBS Monday Morning. Please tell us about the tools and workflow you use when creating your own videos.
I have a decent-sized greenscreen setup in my basement, professionally lit and assembled. At the start of the pandemic, when CBS staff was not allowed to travel for our stories, I wound up creating a bunch of stories right at home. There was the Sunny Awards (mock awards for musicians and performers who managed to do great work under lockdown), a guide to working at home without losing your mind, a report on the largest virtual choir ever created, and so on.
I didn’t just shoot these myself; I also edited them myself in Final Cut Pro, and turned them in to CBS as finished stories.
I use a Sony a6500 as the camera and a Sennheiser body mic pack, with the receiver plugged into the Sony.
For much of the year, I ran into an problem with my setup: I’d get a buzz on the audio track. I could NOT figure out where it was coming from. I called Sennheiser. I called Sony. I posted a plea on Facebook that got hundreds of replies from professional audio folks. Nobody could fix it. I mean, it drove me CRAZY.
CrumplePop AudioDenoise came to the rescue. It got most of the buzz out of the audio!
Eventually, I figured out where the buzz was coming from: My AC adapter for the Sony camera. Whenever I shot on battery power, I’d get clean audio. When I was using the cheap “dummy battery” power cord I’d gotten from Amazon, I got buzz.
I eventually sprang for Sony’s own overpriced power adapter, and it buzzed, too. So, I have to use battery all the time. Wound up getting a set of three batteries and a desk charger for them, so I’m always ready to go.
You work on large video productions with large teams, but you also have your own studio/green-screen in the basement; so, you know and understand both worlds. How do you feel about how video/audio content production has changed throughout your career and where it is going from here?
I’m just grateful that the world has come up with reasonably priced gear and software that makes it possible for me to do my own stuff. I mean, most pros are probably horrified that I’m using a prosumer SLR (the Sony a6500, whose sensor isn’t even full-frame) for broadcast TV—but you know what? It looks great, and not one person has ever questioned its quality—even pros.
I remember when Apple came up with the new Final Cut Pro. The community of professional editors was furious that Apple had, you know, moved their cheese. They resented, I think, that the new software was much easier to learn and use than the original Final Cut, making it possible for much less experienced people to produce great-looking work.
But I love it, man. You can’t believe the stuff I’ve done on my laptop in FCP… for broadcast TV! For CBS News! And nobody knows that it was just me, a music major, putting it together.
Who are some of your favorite content producers?
What were your biggest success stories/projects? What are you most proud of?
But when I’m stopped in public, about half the time, it’s, “Hey, it’s Techno Claus!” That’s a goofy bit I do on "CBS Sunday Morning” every year, where I dress as Santa, speak with an inexplicable Bronx accent, and make holiday tech-gift suggestions in rhyme. Been doing that for 12 years, and that character will probably outlive me.
Thank you so much for your time David!
David Pogue grew up near Cleveland-- a music nerd. Went to Yale, wrote musicals, graduated, moved to NYC to write and conduct Broadway shows. Spent 10 years in orchestra pits. Got really into music software like Finale…wound up writing reviews of creativity software for Macworld magazine. Got hired in 2000 to write the weekly tech column for The New York Times, which he did for ten years. Wrote seven of the “for Dummies” books, and 120 books in my own “Missing Manual” series.
Along the way, drifted into TV: Hosted 20 specials for “NOVA” on PBS, and have hosted/written stories for "CBS Sunday Morning” since 2002! Launched my “Unsung Science” podcast in 2021. David lives in CT, married with a blended brood of five great kids.On Twitter, he’s @pogue; on the web, he’s at www.davidpogue.com.