Writing for Radio – Tips and pointers


From The NPR Guide to Audio Journalism and Production, some excellent tips on writing for radio for students, print journalists and podcasters.From January to April 2016 I am in Dublin teaching radio production to 3rd year Full Time Journalism students and 4th year part time students. Trying to distil the skills down to a few learnable elements is easy:

  • Write to read
  • Read as you speak
  • Learn to interview for radio – it’s not the same as pront
  • Learn to use a portable recorder
  • Learn microphone technique
  • Learn studio  discipline
  • Learn to edit
  • Learn to package
  • and learn the other things, too ,,,

Well, perhaps it’s not all that easy after all. The full list is much longer.

So, where to start? Start by unlearning. Unlearn all you were taught at school and in print journalism about how to write.

The best set of tips I have come across is from


Jonathan Kern Sound Reporting: The NPR Guide to Audio Journalism and Production  NPR (Kindle Edition) ISBN-13: 978-0226431789  ISBN-10: 0226431789

I have the kindle edition – I think I might prefer the printed edition. This is just some of part of one of the chapters on writing for radio. If you are a journalist or studying journalism and want to have a better understanding of radio, read this book.

Also, newspapers and magazines are now embracing PODCASTS. A podcast is a radio programme you carry around with you to listen to when you want. Print journalists and amateur podcasters would benefit from reading this book.

Here’s your starter:

  • Don’t assume that any one person or group has a monopoly on virtue or veracity.
  • You have to give out information at the pace and in a form that allows people to absorb it. Successful radio writing—at a minimum—has to be intelligible to people who are listening, not reading the news.
  • Write the Way You Speak Remember: when you are on the air, you are communicating with one person at a time.
  • We have to learn to write as if we were talking not to thousands or millions of people, but to one person.
  • People listen to radio news with the same set of ears they use when they listen to their spouses, children, colleagues, and friends; as much as possible, we should speak to them as we would if they were sitting across the desk or dinner table from us.
  • When we sound like we’re speaking to one listener at a time, it’s working. When they hear us following a script, it’s not working.
  • Broadcast writing often requires us to unlearn many of the ways we learned to write in creative writing classes or in graduate school—or while working at newspapers or wire services
  • First and foremost, say your sentences before you write them down, or at the very least say them out loud after you have written them. “This is one of the most commonly offered pieces of advice that we give in every writing workshop,” Robert Siegel says, “and it’s one of the most commonly ignored.””
  • WRITE IN THE ACTIVE VOICE When US President Ronald Regan speaking of the Iran- Contra scandal, used the passive voice when he said “Mistakes were made.” He pointedly avoided saying by whom.
  • DON’T USE RHETORICAL OR HYPOTHETICAL QUESTIONS such as have you ever wondered?
  • REWRITE AWKWARD PHRASES, EVEN IF THEY’RE “CORRECT.” There is a sort of grammatically fussy writing that result from too much education.
  • If it sounds wrong on the radio, it is wrong—even if the grammar books say otherwise.
  • AVOID GENERALITIES AND PLATITUDES.” Many people think,” “It’s widely accepted,” “You may not be aware of the fact. All of these reflect assumptions on the part of the writer. They’re often unsupportable or untrue.
  • Keep it simple; allot a sentence to each idea, and wherever possible put the subject at the beginning of the sentence.
  • DON’T USE SYNTAX THAT DOES NOT OCCUR NATURALLY: like “President Bush today told members of Congress”. We never say “I today went shopping” or “My wife tomorrow…”
  • Good writers avoid the sort of hyphenated adjectives that show up only in news stories—phrases like “rebel-held,” “mineral-rich,” “storm-weary,” and “tech-heavy” (as in the “tech-heavy NASDAQ”).
  • Expressing your thoughts in short, declarative sentences doesn’t require you to eliminate any of your ideas—just to ration them out.

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