The radio student that stood out from the rest

Brian Newington is a legendary radio producer who has worked at many of the great radio stations over his 50+ year career.

As an Audio Guru and Tafe Teacher of Audio and Radio Production at Sydney’s Tafe campus at Petersham, I have tutored many students over the past ten years.

One of them stands out miles in front of the rest.

David Saxberg.

David came to me wanting to be a student in the Radio Broadcasting Cert3/4 Certificate at Tafe Petersham. On the initial interview I was very impressed with David’s knowledge of audio.

He even mentioned the problem of storing archive material on CD and how it breaks down overtime. Now that’s a first, a student who is up with the latest, only 19, loves recording sound with his portable recorder. Can’t be all bad I thought. Only one problem stood in David’s way. Being totally Blind.

Still for radio that’s not a major problem.

Lots of blind DJs have made the grade and have been ratings winners.

I grew up listening to blind DJ Grantly Dee (left) on Melbourne’s 3AK. Grantly had a panel operator to turn on his microphone and spin in the discs. All Grantly had to be was “Hip and Entertaining”.

So David joined the Tafe Radio Course and was very comfortable in the studio. He played his own music off computer, and switched his own microphone on. Boy could this guy talk. One thing I have noticed about blind people, is they never shut up. Must be a blind compensation thingy.

So live on air, David was terrific. He even became the voice of “Tafe Student Overnight” streaming midnight till dawn via the internet 24 hours. He even got fan email.

But as well as teaching the art of being a radio presenter, the Tafe Course demands that you must complete the Radio Production Module. That is record interviews, edit the interviews. Make a promo for your show, edit music, de-click a vinyl record.

Now today’s modern software, with a good operator, can perform all these tasks with ease.

But here is the trap. It’s all visual. Look at the wave form (left), highlight a section, and click on the cursor and mouse, bingo, all done. Editing is fast and accurate.

But to a blind person this means nothing, they can’t even see the screen, let alone placing the mouse over the section to be edited. David seemed doomed to failure with the audio production module. This would mean failing the entire Tafe Cert3/4 Radio Certificate course.

This led me to thinking for an alternative approach to editing. In the 70s and 80s we never had all this whizz bang technology and yet we still managed to record and edit. In fact radio has been doing this since the late 1940s. So what did they do?

With the advent of magnetic tape, production engineers could perform editing by splicing the tape with a pair of scissors or a razor blade. A mark was placed on the tape at the beginning of the unwanted section. The machine was then moved forward to the end of the section, and another mark was made. Usually with a wax chinagraph pencil.

The tape was lifted off the playback heads into an aluminium splicing block. Where the marks were, the material was cut and removed and then rejoined with sticky tape. Mistakes now could be easily edited out, and programs could be trimmed down to an exact time.

It is with this simple principle of marking, cutting, and deleting, and using markers that I was able to reconfigure current available audio software, so that David could perform editing tasks just like we used to do in the old days. “Using our ears only”.

Many hours late into the night at home I tried lots of different audio editing software. Finally I found one that would do the job of placing a marker at any point you heard, and another marker when you wanted to end the selection. Press the special delete key and the job was done. Editing was now a reality for David.

The editing program was Sony Sound Forge, which we used in conjunction with a special program invented for the blind. “JAWS” reads key strokes on a computer and plays back the position with the help of an electronic audio voice. Without JAWS, David would not have the ability to open various programs, or even have his emails read to him.

Within weeks, and a lot of frustration, David mastered the art of editing, and even began placing music and sound effects into the commercials he produced. If only he remembered to hit the save button on his audio masterpieces. Still that’s what a learning curve is all about.

David receives one of many Tafe achievement awards

David Completed Cert 3 Radio. Then whizzed through a more intense Cert 4 Radio.

David then developed his own web site with the help of yours truly. It’s called Blind Man’s Bluff. Here David makes podcast interviews with his blind parents and blind friends. David does all the audio editing and production. Some real tips and tricks are given about playing with the Blind Cricket Team, which David plays and broadcasts on a regular basis.

Not only did he overcome technical broadcasting challenges, but personal ones as well. He has become lifelong friends with teachers and students along the way.

All blind people use their ears to help them every day of their life. But David found, by becoming a radio broadcaster, that his ears expanded into other dimensions, in ways he never imagined.

This has given him the edge with the formation of new and exciting ideas for future radio programming.

I’m glad I took a punt on him. Maybe the old saying is correct…..when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

Brian Newington
You can read more about Brian in a previous Radio Today article here.

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