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Doing Your Audio Story

Radio story formats

Your radio story can be done in many formats. You will need to determine what type of radio story you wish to do before you begin taping or interviewing. Most radio stories involve the announcer reading part of the story, then pausing to play a piece of tape of a person involved in the story.

  • soundscapes - a creative mix of sound and voice, mixed digitally, about an event or issue, usually 4 to 5 min in length.
  • mini-docs - a highly focused mix of script and voice/interview clips, with a sound bed, usually 4 to 6 minutes in length.
  • commentaries - the taped performance of a written (and edited) script - not about a macro issue - but about a personal issue/experience, usually 3 min in length.
  • streeters - a mix of voices/interview clips (one after the other) about an event or issue, about 3 to 4 minutes in length. usually the same question is posed to all interviewed.
  • discussions - a taped group discussion on a topic chosen by the group, usually edited down from 20 minutes of freewheeling talk to about 5 to 6 minutes of broadcast-ready tape.

Using your Equipment

  • Get comfortable with the equipment ~ Play around with the tape recorder until you are very familiar it. It's important to do this before you begin; if you're relaxed with the recorder and the microphone, the people you're interviewing will be too.

  • Get organized ~ Always make sure you have enough cassettes and an extra set of batteries.

  • Do a test ~ Always do a test before you begin. Record a few seconds, then play it back to make sure the sound is good.

  • Label your tapes ~ Always label the tapes before you start. When you're in the field it's easy to forget and tape over something you've just recorded. (It happens.)

  • Always wear your headphones ~ Recording without headphones is like a photographer taking pictures without looking through the viewfinder. Headphones help you focus on exactly what you're recording. If something sounds weird, stop and check it out.

  • Beware of the pause button ~ When recording, make sure the tape is rolling and that you're not in pause mode. Don't use the pause button. It's a very tricky little button — it can make you think you are recording when you're not.

  • Keep the microphone close ~ The most important thing of all: keep the microphone close to the sound source (your mouth or the mouth of the person you're interviewing). About 5-6 inches is good, the length of your outstretched hand. If it's any farther away you will still be able to hear what people say, but the recording will lose its power and intimacy. It's also best to keep the microphone a little bit below the mouth to avoid the "popping P" sound. Check this with your headphones on.

  • Ensure the record options on your recorder are set correctly.

  • Use the recorder's counter. When you go out to do an interview move to zero on your recorder's counter at the top of each tape,and take notes on what number the tape is at when different things happen. This will make it easier for you to follow what's going on when you're in the studio.
  • Recording your story

  • Record interviews in a quiet environment. Office. Living Room. Studio. Be aware of light hums, computer noises, air conditioner whistling.

  • Activities and events are good tape material if it fits into the story somehow. Cafeterias, a trip to the mall. There is a lot of drama to be had here even for background ambience. Dialogues or interviews that take place here can be highly interesting.

  • For one-on-one interviews, record in mono. For ambience, interviews with two or more people or events, record with a good stereo mic.

  • When you are ready to record your portion of your radio story, the lead in and closing, for example, remember good voice, expressive words are important elements of radio reporting. Paint a picture with your voice. Be creative and pay attention to words, sound and language. You have to give listeners something to "look" at through your voice.
  • Writing for Radio

  • Radio writing has to be tight and clear, and above all, interesting.

  • You have to be creative and pay attention to words, sound and language.

  • Use one idea to a sentence.

  • Anchor a story with present or present perfect verbs in the lead.

  • Begin sentences with a source, with the attribution, if needed, and use paraphrased quotes.

  • Use ordinary, one- and two-syllable words whenever possible.

  • Use vigorous verbs. Simple sentences with active verbs form the basis of effective writing for radio.

  • Keep in the present tense. Present tenses give immediacy and energy to news writing, allowing listeners to feel that they are hearing about the news as it is taking place.

  • Radio is conversational so your writing has to sound like it is "talked", not read.

  • Keep it rolling ~ The golden rule of radio is that the best moments always happen right when you've stopped recording. There's a reason for that: as soon as you push "stop," people relax and are more themselves. Natural, truthful moments are priceless. Tape is cheap. Keep it rolling.

  • Interviewing

    There is one simple rule for getting people to talk openly and honestly: you have to be genuinely curious about the world around you.

  • Have intervewees identify themselves on tape. Start the interview by asking Who are you? (Even if you know who they are!!)How old are you? What do you do and how long have you been doing it? or whatever introductory question is appropriate for the particular story.

  • Once you've located some of the people you want to talk to organize a list of subjects to be covered and questions you want to ask for the interview.

  • Have a list of questions ready for your interview; however, remember that unexpected comments or information can come from the interviewee so listen attentively and change focus if necessary.

  • A good interview is a conversation between two or more people. Even though you are asking questions, you are involved in the dialogue.
  • Be absolutely silent when your subject is talking. Don't laugh, and never interrupt a subject.

  • Don't let outside noise ruin a recording. If a truck passes or there's a siren or some other noise, just stop the interview until the noise passes. If the subject is in the middle of an important story, let him finish it, then have him repeat it.

  • Help the interviewee be more descriptive. For visually descriptive information, ask your subject to paint a picture with words of whatever you need them to describe.

  • Emotional content works very well on radio. Questions like 'How does this make you feel?' tend to yield good tape.

  • Don't be afraid to rerecord. Remember: everything can be edited. Rerecord it until you're completely happy with the reading.

  • Sounds

  • Sounds and ambience adds to your audio story. Gathering sounds after your interview will add a great deal to your story.

  • Collect good sounds ~ Every time you record, collect all the specific sounds you can think of: dogs barking, the sound of the ocean, students in the hallways, sounds from a sporting event, doors slamming, the radio being turned on, the sound of your blender. Be creative. You will use these sounds later when you produce the story.

  • If you are doing a story on traffic, sounds of cars, car horns; if you are talking about the ocean, fishing, sounds of the water splashing against the rocks.
  • Putting your piece together
    It is a good idea to listen to your tape before inputting into your computer. Write a sort of shotlist (a list of what is on your tape) for yourself with times and content of your tapes. This will help you edit your tape into the radio format you've chosen.

    Then input the usable material into your computer and edit using CoolEdit.

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