Remembering Renee Pringle, NPR’s Pioneering Sound Engineer: NPR
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Colleagues pay tribute to NPR sound engineer Renee Pringle, who died Sunday after experiencing a number of health issues in recent months.
Pringle has helped shape and preserve the sound of NPR for over 40 years. She is remembered as a pioneer in her field, a prolific and unwavering presence – even on the busiest night shifts – and a friend to many.
In 1979, she started at NPR as one of its first black sound engineers, at a time when few women worked professionally in audio.
“Renee joined NPR at a time when our engineers were carrying bulky 20-pound recorders in the field and everything was recorded on reel tape,” said Chris Nelson, NPR’s senior vice president of technology operations. “She has recorded and engineered countless on-the-spot interviews, musical performances, and NPR shows.”
You don’t know her voice, but you know her work
Pringle has mixed countless parts for morning edition and the overnight newscast, among other programs, and is be remembered by many colleagues for his invaluable technical advice (several reporters credit him with having “saved” them at the start of their careers).
Her work has taken her abroad, across the country and into the halls of government. To mark her 40th birthday in 2019, Pringle shared a snapshot from her Congressional press pass (expiring in 1992) and a photo of her and First Lady Barbara Bush beaming at each other.
While NPR fans wouldn’t have heard Pringle speak on the radio, they “heard her voice through all the sounds of humanity she brought to listeners for over 40 years,” as correspondent to vote Hansi Lo Wang said it.
Pringle also served as technical director for the Peabody Award-winning 26-part film. Wade in the water gospel music documentary series, which NPR produced with the Smithsonian Institution in 1994.
Speaking at a 2019 panel on the series, Pringle said engineering takes a lot of really hard work, but that at NPR and especially with Wade in the water, “I was home. I could feel it in my bones.” And she reflected on her favorite recording from the show, which was of the Howard University choir performing a particularly quiet (“wise engineer”) number in a century-old DC church.
“They did this one so many, many times, because it was just really quiet bits,” Pringle recalled. “I’d go crazy if I heard someone swallow. If I heard them blink, I’d hear it. And I’d be like, ‘Who did that? They had to start over. And luckily everyone has been so cooperative.
Quick to share his expertise with others
Pringle’s dedication to his craft stood out from many of his colleagues. Sound engineer Stu Rushfield remembers that “Renee cared deeply about sound and was generous with her knowledge.”
I have just learned of the death of longtime @NPR sound engineer Renee Pringle. Renee joined NPR in 1979, when few women worked in audio engineering. She spent the next 42 years serving our audience. Renee cared deeply about sound and was generous with her knowledge. 😔 pic.twitter.com/zG34USzw55
— Stu Rushfield: #Kindness (@stu_rush) October 17, 2022
Tom Cole, an arts editor who retired in 2021 after more than three decades at NPR, said there was no one else like Pringle, but the two had a lot in common: She knew his late first middle school wife, was one class ahead of him in high school and they both drove old Volvos. But he really got to know her when they worked together at NPR, “dubbing LPs into RCs; mixing on reel to reel.”
“Renee had a musical ear – she could really make a song sing (a mundane phrase but it was definitely true in her case). She didn’t use too much EQ – she wanted the humanity in the vocals to shine through” , did he declare. written, referring to equalization in audio processing. On top of that, he added, “She commanded your respect and she didn’t suffer from fools.”
Carline Watson, executive producer of Here Nowsays it was Pringle who taught him how to cut duct tape (a process that was very different in the 1990s than it is today).
“When I was a student at Howard University learning radio production, our teacher brought in Renee to teach us how to cut duct tape, with a razor blade, duct tape and a grease pencil,” he said. -she writes. “When I joined NPR two years later, she remembered me. She was unfailingly kind.”
A highlight for many NPR visitors
Many colleagues have shared similar memories of Pringle’s kindness and generosity – with his knowledge, his time and his friendship – not only with them, but with their own families and guests.
Watson recalls that when his niece and nephew visited NPR years ago, Pringle let them sit behind the microphone and recorded them, “much to their excitement.” Even years later, when they became adults, they never forgot the experience – and Pringle still asked her how they were doing.
Wang remembers the kindness Pringle showed one of his former college professors and his wife as he showed them around the building. Not only did she let them into the control room while she worked, but she took the time to show them the equipment and answer their questions.
“She made their day with a warm welcome from someone who has helped build this institution over the decades,” he said.
Special correspondent Susan Stamberg, one of NPR’s “founding mothers,” says Pringle was loved by many, whether they worked with her for days or weeks.
She came to know and admire Pringle when they traveled to Nairobi, Kenya together to cover the International Women’s Decade conference in 1985.
“She handled all the complicated international audio business, always with a smile and looking for the next challenge,” Stamberg said. “The Kenyans we worked with gave her a nickname: Jiri. It meant something lovely, like ‘dear’ or something. … For the next 30 years, that’s how I got her called.”
The ‘secret fashionista’ will be greatly missed
Pringle has had an impact not only on the audio she’s worked on over the decades, but also on the people she’s worked with – whether it’s sending birthday notes to Stamberg, d ‘supervise teenagers or share organic vegetables with colleagues at night.
Michel Martin, host of All things considered weekend, says she’s seen a side of Pringle up close that many haven’t seen: “She was a secret fashionista.” It was a bit of an open secret, however, as several others also used words like fashionable and stylish to describe Pringle.
There used to be a clothing store they both liked down the street from NPR’s old office, and Martin writes that “we might, uh, sometimes both end up there [on] an afternoon…just, you know, once in a while.”
She says Pringle knew the store’s inventory so well that she suggested items for her to look at and more than once helped her pick out Christmas gifts for friends (and for Martin herself).
“I rarely worked with Renée as a [technical director] in a studio but somehow I felt she was part time [technical director] of my wardrobe,” added Martin.
Colleagues over the years say they will miss Pringle’s voice on the other end of the line, his sense of humor and his honesty — both with herself and with others.
“It was always a pleasure to bump into her in the hallways,” Stamberg says. “I wish I could look forward to the next time that happens.”