Writing for radio

By Nicola Shannon

No one likes the sound of their own voice, myself included. Interning at WSHU, I spent hours alone in a booth with my script and my voice, and after a while, I learned to appreciate and control my voice as a new journalistic medium.

This process began with learning how to write for radio. I usually enjoy feature style, long form writing, so this change was a big one. I learned to write shorter. I learned to use more casual and conversational language. I learned to pay attention to words or phrases that would be difficult to say, or sentences that would leave me out of breath. Terry Sheridan taught me to use the 5-point system, and also to read everything out loud as I wrote. I gradually learned to walk the line between too much and not enough detail, and my writing became faster and more fluid.

In the recording booth, I also learned to use my voice in different ways. I found out what pitch sounded the best for me, and then began to learn my own reading style. At first, I found it very difficult not to either sound like I was reading from my script (which I was), or to sound like I was imitating the stereotypical “radio voice.” Terry also taught me how to avoid popping my p’s or hissing my s’s into the mic. Voicing became easier and more natural with time, but I’m still working on things like my speed. I have definitely developed a strong appreciation for the vocal control that singers have.  

I do not have a car on Long Island, so I appreciated being able to work mostly from the bureau, but I did get to cover a few live events in person. I learned press conference etiquette and how to use the Marantz recorders. I learned what types of quotes worked best for radio, and how to spot them live and make notes to make the editing process faster. Compared to many of my video journalism classes, audio interviews felt much faster and less tedious. Not having to set up a camera and mic a source means that you can get more genuine-sounding answers on the spot. Phoners were daunting at first, but after some practice with the equipment made them easier. I now know to always ask the source how to pronounce their name before hanging up.

The time limits of producing daily radio stories at WSHU helped me become used to acting fast. When I have days or weeks to finish a story for a class, I often find myself tempted to procrastinate, or scared to bother sources until I really need to. At WSHU, my story had to be coming together in three or four hours, so I had to act immediately. This really helped me with procrastination in other types of journalism. I was very lucky to be able to intern at WSHU radio, and I feel much more prepared for a future as a journalist because of it. And, although I still don’t like hearing my own voice, hearing it on the radio for the first time was definitely an experience.