Writing for the Radio
Writing for the ear:
Writing words to be heard by the ear is quite different from words to be read by the eye. The layout of sentences, their order and construction has to be though through in order to be totally clear and unambiguous at their first hearing. The listener does not have the possibility of re-hearing something. It must make sense first time, and this places a special responsibility on the radio writer. So whether we are writing a 15-minute talk, a one-minute voice or a cue to a recorder interview, the basic "rules" of radio writing- and the pitfalls-need to be simply stated.
Who are you talking to?
The listener comes first. Decide who it is you are talking to. Is this for a specialist audience- like children, doctors or farmers- or is it for the general, unspecified listener? In passing, it could be argued that there is no such thing as the "general listener" since, for consumer research purposes , we are all categorized by one or more of a number of criteria, e.g. socio-economic group, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, demographic location, social habits and so on. Even so, the style for the "Morning Drivetime" will be tighter and punchier that the more relaxed "Afternoon Show". The language will be different but will nevertheless be appropriate when you know and visualize who you are writing for- the one person, the individual who is listening to you. Are they busily dashing about? Getting a meal, or lying in bed? Forget the mass audience, as if talking in a hall full of people. Radio is not a PA system-"some of you may have seen...". Write directly for the person you want to talk to, seeing them as you write.
Avoid talking about your listener, not "listeners who want to contact us should...", but to the listener, "if you'd like to contact us...". Only when questions of what we want to say, and to whom, are answered can we properly start on the script.
What do you want to say?
It's important to have a strong opening- get the listener's attention at the start. In scripting a piece, this is the part that often gets written last. It's difficult to set down a really good first couple of sentences on a blank page- much easier to come back to it when you know the shape of the whole and you can have an interesting, teasing or dramatic opener.
Use an interesting metaphor, paint a picture, get me, the listener, to do some works by anticipating what you are on about- the issue, problem or story. Grab my attention in the first sentence, tell me something in the second.