By Joanne Stevens, RTDNA Contributor
Whether it was Orson Welles’ rendition of The Shadow, eight years of CBS Radio's Mystery Theater, or today’s Selected Shorts on NPR, we’ve been enraptured by the spoken word on radio for a long, long time. For a heart thumping rush, try listening to The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs. I almost drove off the road.
On Broadway in New York, playwrights Spaulding Gray and Wendy Wasserstein present their one-person plays just sitting or standing. With natural changes in cadence and pacing, with subtle changes in pitch and flirtations with onomatopoeia, their voices swirl within the theater and into our minds.
Add some nat sound and SOTs to any of the above, and we’re getting pretty close to the magic of radio reporting. It sidesteps video and still powerfully brings us the news and information we want. It finds us whether we’re farming on a tractor, walking, driving, or anticipating financial news at our desk.
Want to fall in love or celebrate an anniversary with this invisible, formidable medium? Leave the makeup at home and prepare to be intimate. Here’s what you’ll need in your kit:
- A constant awareness that we are here, even though you can’t see us and yes, despite the absence of that vanity-inducing glass lens.
- An image of your voice wafting from some kind of exit device and into our brains. Whether these sound waves are emanating from a radio, a computer or smartphone, ear buds or speakers, you’ll want to exercise that sense of extra ‘projection’ to give us that feeling of, "Here you go: I’ve begun speaking and I have this interesting/important information for you."
- A sense of your stomach and torso. Forget the diaphragm confusion. This initial- and continuous- voice projection is triggered by pulling in your stomach. This in turn squishes your lungs and naturally sends the air propelling from your mouth. Simple! It will pass through your vocal cords, turning your complete torso into a lovely reverberating instrument, much like a bass or cello or viola. Please try to be cognizant that you don’t send out our voice or speak from your neck.
- An appreciation of context and innuendo. Don’t try to underline words or ‘sound like you’re on radio.’ Your understanding of the situation and of the context and implications of the facts will ideally trigger your personal, natural manner of speaking. For the vast majority of my clients, this should unleash the interpretation that many of you struggle to impose artificially.
- A great first hit of nat sound followed by a well-thought-out lede line (I’ll allow you a second, short sentence), followed by a compelling SOT.
In the coming weeks, we’ll talk more about building a great radio news story, discuss some common mistakes in tracking and radio anchoring and I'll do another shoutout (modeled after my newspaper one), but this time about financial reporting on the radio. Looks like we're about to have a a whole series about radio, and well deserved.
Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of men? Orson Welles did. Listen to how he conveys the story and think about how those techniques can work for us.
News consultant Joanne Stevens has written extensively about broadcast writing, reporting and anchoring, including columns in the former print version of RTDNA's Communicator Magazine, and earlier versions of the RTDNA website. She has taught at Columbia and New York University and serves as a news award judge for the New York Press Club. She has returned to RTDNA.org to offer a new series of News Coach columns with tips, best practices and more. Many of her previous columns are available on her website.