By Kunal Kohli
Public radio’s mission is to inform the public on important issues that affect their communities and lives. There is little room for frivolous, irrelevant stories. Instead, journalists have to focus in on what matters.
This is the case at WSHU Public Radio. The journalists there report on local politics, rallies and laws. Their tones are serious, yet casual. They have found their voices. My assignment from Day One was to find and use my own voice for the benefit of our listeners.
So, first thing first, I had to find my voice. Naturally, this started with writing. Writing for radio is pretty different from writing for print. A lot of print conventions are banished to make room for more conversational phrasing. And the writing gets to the point more quickly. There are no narrative ledes for a quick wrap.
The station’s bureau chief told us interns that every story boils down to five points. It is your job as a journalist to figure out what those points are. We started off with writing “readers,” pieces that the anchor reads, based on stories in the local newspaper.
I got the hang of it quickly and soon began to excel at finding the five points each story needs. All I had to do was ask myself, “Why does the audience care about this?” After that, it becomes pretty clear what the story is about and what points you should reflect in your own story.
Writing became my strong suit. However, it became apparent that “voicing” was not. I struggled with my first voicer. As the name suggests, a voicer is a piece that the reporter narrates. At WSHU, an affiliate of National Public Radio, we followed NPR guidelines on speaking. You had to sound authoritative yet casual.
My first voicer sounded pretty much the opposite of that. I came across as robotic and nervous. Rather than having a conversation with the listener, I was speaking from a script. Not to mention, I had around 15 takes for a 30-second story. (I really wish that was hyperbole.)
Jokes aside, it was a pretty clear indicator that I had to find my voice. A few weeks in, I was getting better but I still did not quite have the hang of it. That is, until WNYC, the largest NPR station in the country, wanted to use my voicer about creating a hockey arena in Belmont Park.
The bureau chief had to pull teeth to make sure my voicer was “national radio” quality. But we got there.
After that experience, I started to get the hang of voicing for radio. I lowered my voice, spoke more clearly and made sure I hit the ends of words with sharp endings. But it was a process. Speaking for radio is way different from speaking naturally. You can’t take shortcuts and slur one word into another. And it’s hard to not fall back on those shortcuts since you use them so much in everyday life.
But the journey to get to that point, where you can do a voicer in one take, is definitely worth it.