Radio Writing With Alex Chadwick

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If only I’d had Alex Chadwick as my guide when I was learning to write for radio (and now, for that matter). Wooooboy, life would have been a whole lot easier and my writing a whole lot better. Alex is a master at parsing out what works and what doesn’t. His Transom manifesto on writing is gold.

On this edition of HowSound, Alex and I trade tips on writing that new producers will find invaluable. Between this episode and the manifesto, most of the basics are covered.

During our interview, Alex said one thing that caught my ear. It’s not in the episode or the manifesto. It’s a writing practice I never would have guessed he would use given that he’s a radio reporter and the primary tools are a mic and a recorder. Alex says a lot of what he writes in his narration comes from the notebook he uses while reporting.

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Listen to “The most important tools”

Alex has a unique writing style. (For another medium, I’d say writing “voice” but in radio “voice” means something else.) And, it sounds like that style stems from his note taking. He sounds somewhat literary at times, though to be fair, Alex bristled when I said that to him. In radio it’s not a compliment to say someone sounds literary. But, I meant it as a compliment and he understood that.

What I mean is this: Alex’s writing is sometimes more complicated than what is usually considered appropriate for the medium. Occasionally he can be ornate and descriptive. But it works. And that sets him apart. Indeed, it’s what makes his work interesting.

One of the better examples of what I’m talking about can be heard in Alex’s award-winning documentary from the early ‘90s “Natasha Dudinska: Hope and Courage in Czechoslovakia.” It’s a 25-minute documentary recorded as the country forged a new, post-Soviet direction. What follows is a clip of the last few minutes of the documentary plus Alex’s reflection on the value of note taking for writing.

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Listen to “Natasha Dudinski”
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Listen to “The value of note-taking”

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  • adi gevins

    4.29.15

    Reply

    Alex was my first real editor (after years of producing documentaries at KPFA-Pacifica Radio, Berkeley).
    Yow! Did I learn a lot. He’s still the best editor I ever worked with.
    Thanks Alex, and Rob, for this tutorial. Still learning!

  • Jenny C

    7.11.15

    Reply

    Alex and Rob – thanks for this extremely informative episode! Do you have any thoughts on how to decide on a mood and the elements for getting the mood right?

  • Rob Rosenthal

    7.11.15

    Reply

    Hi Jenny, One thought is to listen to the interview tape. Don’t just listen to the tape for the words but for how the words are said. Another thought that comes to mind is to ask “What’s the ’emotional truth’ of the story? Do your words evoke that truth. And, lastly, what’s your role as narrator? Who are you going to be in the story? Knowing your position, your place, may help. Thanks for writing and listening. — r

  • Bryce New

    10.16.15

    Reply

    Thanks Rob and Alex, I got a lot from this. Am very appreciative too of ‘The value of note-taking’

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