How Not To Write For Radio

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Every once in a while, someone will say something to me that leaves me without words. That happened when a print reporter said, “You don’t have to write in radio. Just talk.” Huh?

Quite the opposite is true. Writing is essential in radio. In fact, the more stories I produce the more I think a good 60% of the production process is writing. Everything from pre-planning the story focus and interview questions, to the story’s structure, to putting words to a page and voicing. (Yes, voicing. While narrating, I often re-write a sentence so that it sounds better.)

On this episode of HowSound, I dissect one of the first stories I ever produced and rip the writing to shreds. There are so many mistakes that it takes me 20 minutes to run through them all and I only focus on about a third of the story. My hope is that by hearing what doesn’t work, listeners will hear what does.

As for hearing what works, here are a few of my favorite radio writers, some of whom have articles on writing here at Transom. These are producers whose writing always perks up my ears. The list is in no particular order and hardly comprehensive. Please share your favorites in the comment section below.

Nancy Updike of This American Life. You can read her Transom manifesto here.

Sarah Koenig of Serial. You can read her Transom manifesto here.

Jay Allison of Transom and Atlantic Public Media.

Daniel Zwerdling of the Investigations Unit at NPR.

Kelly McEvers of NPR and the podcast, Embedded. You can listen to a piece Kelly produced with Transom’s Jay Allison, here.

Al Letson of Reveal.

Scott Carrier of Home of the Brave. You can read some of the things he’s done for Transom here.

Chris Brookes of Battery Radio.

Shereen Marisol Meraji of NPR’s Code Switch.

Channa Joffe-Walt of This American Life. You can read Chana’s Transom manifesto here.

Krissy Clark of Marketplace.

Ailsa Chang – Congressional Correspondent, NPR.

Alix Spiegel of NPR’s Invisibilia. You can read Alix’s Transom manifesto here.

Greg Warner – NPR’s East Africa Correspondent.

Robert Smith of Planet Money. You can read the manifesto Robert wrote with Phyllis Fletcher here.

John Burnett – NPR’s Southwest Correspondent.

Robert Krulwich of Radiolab. You can read his Transom manifesto here.

Radio veteran, Alex Chadwick. Definitely check out his manifesto on the topic of writing for radio here.

And, even though I care very little about sports, I always liked Frank DeFord’s commentaries at NPR.

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  • Ann Heppermann

    8.23.16

    Reply

    Sean Cole, Sean Cole, Sean Cole!

  • Samantha Broun

    8.23.16

    Reply

    Yes, of course! Sean Cole.

  • Todd Melby

    8.25.16

    Reply

    Yes to Kelly McEvers! I also dig Sally Herships of Marketplace. Crisp. To the point.

  • Laura

    8.27.16

    Reply

    This was SO helpful. Thank you.

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