Audio reflections: MPR News reporters share memorable sound from 2019

A reporter gathering audio in the field.
MPR News reporter Dan Gunderson gathering audio in the field.
Evan Frost | MPR News File

The quotes, the data, the descriptions and the research are all cornerstones of a great public radio story. But oftentimes it’s that short piece of audio of a cool machine or children playing — we call it ambi in the radio news biz — that pulls it all together.

Several MPR News reporters recently shared some of their favorite audio clips from 2019:

John Enger:

Deer spleen removal
by John Enger

This is the sound of me gutting a deer in rural northwestern Minnesota. This year, hunters collected hundreds of deer spleens for a state research study.

I tried to write the story before the start of hunting season, but if you're going to do a story about gathering deer spleens, you should really gather some actual deer spleens. That's what I did. I went hunting in the same place I always do, thinking I'd get some tape of my hunting buddies gutting their deer. But then I was the only one who shot anything, so I had to gather tape while also gathering spleens.

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It was not easy, and not clean, but I personally believe this tape made the story. Also, I learned many valuable things. One of those lessons is that it’s impossible to gut a deer and gather tape, without getting blood on your expensive radio equipment.

Tim Nelson:

Jingle Dress tradition
by Tim Nelson

My favorite stories are those that touch on what’s uniquely Minnesotan, and this really spoke to me as I learned about the origins of this Native American tradition. But I also got to literally walk among the dancers at the pow wow in Hinckley, see some of the very earliest examples of the dresses at the Mille Lacs Indian Museum and talk with one of the nation’s premier scholars on Native American history, as well as a prolific jingle dress artist.

State Fair Giant Slide announcement
by Tim Nelson

We have some bonus sound from Tim Nelson, who in August, did a story on the 50th anniversary of a State Fair staple: The Giant Slide.

You might assume that the sound of a person laughing or screaming as they ride down would be the top audio selection. But when Nelson was gathering tape for this story, his microphone caught something a little more distinct: the overhead announcement that greets riders as they work up the courage to glide down the steep slope.

Dan Kraker:

Ring billed gulls in the St. Louis River estuary.
by Dan Kraker

I included the sound of Fred Strand, a volunteer with the Minnesota DNR, leading me through the nests of literally thousands of breeding pairs of ring-billed gulls, on Interstate Island in the St. Louis River estuary in the Duluth-Superior harbor.

As you can hear, they were NOT happy we were there. We had to carefully weave in and around their nests in the sand, which cupped their speckled eggs. They swooped down at us. We wore hard hats to protect our heads (and towels around our necks to keep us clean, if you know what I mean).

We were there to see how the DNR was trying to protect the endangered common tern, which nests in a protected enclosure in the center of the island.

Euan Kerr:

Forest bathing
by Euan Kerr

In the fall, certified nature and forest therapy guide Leah Horton led a group through Crosby Farm Park in St. Paul for an experience known as “forest bathing.” It’s a Japanese practice adapted slightly for the U.S. where people walk slowly through nature.

Research finds there are both physical and mental health benefits to soaking in the sights and sounds experienced among the trees.

Horton and the entire group took brief delight in an unexpected interaction between her guided experience and the outside world.

Dan Gunderson:

Big fish being shot
by Dan Gunderson

This audio was gathered while producing a story that aired in June about a scientist seeking respect for a fish long considered “junk” in Minnesota.

I like this sequence because it captured the tension between anglers who like to shoot fish for fun, and the scientist collaborating with those anglers in an attempt to protect the fish.

Kirsti Marohn:

National Guard funeral service
by Kirsti Marohn

I covered the funeral for Kort Plantenberg, one of three Minnesota National Guard members killed in the December helicopter crash. It was a very cold day. The families of the crewmen killed in the crash had asked that media not attend the funeral itself, so I stood with a few other reporters a respectful distance away, across the street from St. John's Abbey Church.

We were allowed to watch the honors ceremony that took place after the funeral. It was very quiet as pallbearers carried the flag-draped casket down the steps. I think everyone observing was deeply moved by the bugler's beautiful rendition of taps. It was a very solemn moment I will not forget.