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How the ‘Freakonomics Radio’ Podcast Got Organized

The podcast, based on the hugely successful ‘Freakonomics’ books, stays on track thanks to its highly organized workflow.

Freakonomics RadioNew York, NY (December 17, 2020) — Freakonomics Radio podcast technical director Greg Rippin was ahead of the curve when New York City began to shut down in March over COVID-19 concerns. During the podcast’s move from WNYC studios to Stitcher two years earlier, Rippin had accelerated a transition from ISDN lines to IP-based solutions as the podcast’s primary means of remote communication with guests.

Greg Rippin of Freakonomics Radio
Greg Rippin, podcast technical director for Freakonomics Radio.

“I had to come up with solutions for how to connect with remote studios, even if they don’t have an ISDN connection—which increasingly, studios do not,” Rippin explains. “What I ended up doing is designing what is essentially a remote workflow. The pivot that we did when COVID happened was minimal, compared to if we had been largely ISDN-based.”

Now, he connects Freakonomics Radio host Stephen J. Dubner with guests over IP platforms like Source-Connect Now and Squadcast, but that’s only the beginning of the remote workflow he established. He also built a small studio space in host Dubner’s Upper West Side office, as well as two mobile rigs he can use anywhere there’s a suitable internet connection.

While the host’s in-office studio—outfitted with a Shure SM7B, a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 interface, a Grace Design preamp and Pro Tools—has an ISDN connection, Rippin uses Google Chrome Remote Desktop so he can control the recording sessions from his home or Stitcher’s midtown Manhattan studios.

“The one big thing I had to figure out was, ‘How am I going to control it? How I’m going to ensure that it’s in record [mode]? How am I going to monitor it from an audio standpoint?’ Then, ‘How am I going to transfer the files to the production team once it’s recorded?’ That took a little bit of time to sort out.”

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About 75 percent of the time, Dubner uses one of the mobile rigs, which Rippin specified with the same Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 and Shure SM7B going into Pro Tools on a laptop. That only takes care of half the audio equation, though. To ensure guest audio meets production standards, Rippin maintains a production rider that quizzes them on everything from their proximity to HVAC and windows to their computers.

“If a guest is recording at home, we have a set of questions we send them about what their computer setup is like, how their rooms are acoustically, how savvy they are to be able to hook up a USB microphone and that sort of thing,” says Rippin. “Then there’s a different set of questions that we ask studios. We assume they’re all set up with microphones and recorders. The question for studios is more if they’re set up to use ISDN or Source-Connect, or one of the other platforms.”

Today, he says, post-production involves more noise and reverb reduction than it did pre-COVID. As the sole audio engineer, he employs freelancers to help assemble and mix the episodes from three to four interviews, working from scripts provided by the producers. From there, he adds music clips where needed and typically creates several iterations before finalizing the mix.

Rippin and the podcast producers, who also manage the workflow for spinoff podcasts People I (Mostly) Admire and No Stupid Questions, rely on Google and Asana for scheduling and project management.

“We’re very Google Docs dependent—all of our scripting happens there,” he says. “The producers are really great at owning their episodes for the whole process. I know the parts of any process that I jump into, but for the most part, the producers are the ones who see episodes through, beginning to end. [After] the tapings, often months will pass and I don’t hear that audio—then all of a sudden I have four or five days to turn it over into a final project.”

Freakonomics Radio •