What makes a great radio story?
Audio features are all about great sound! But they are also about engaging stories. Radio feature journalism is less about the 5 W’s and 1 H (who, what, where, why, when and how) and more about the heart of the narrative.
Alex Blumberg, a producer for This American Life, has written this manifesto on Transom about what makes a great radio story.
The California Report Magazine is KQED’s statewide radio feature magazine program. Every year, they seek submissions from student journalists in California. The California Report Magazine loves sound-rich radio stories about real Californians and what makes them special and unique.
Listen to this example from Woodside High School students Taila Lee and Chloe Postelthwaite about feeling pressure as a teen girl.
It’s not always easy to come up with a great idea for a radio story. Most of the time, professionals have to pitch several ideas before they are given the green-light to move forward and create the piece.
The California Report Magazine has clear guidelines on what it looks for in a story pitch. A good story pitch must:
- be brief
- include context: why is it important to tell it now?
- include central character(s): who’s the story about?
- provide a unique take on a topic (if the story has already been reported, how are you advancing it?)
- give us a sense of place: where does it happen?
- map out scenes and/or ideas for sound, if possible
Check out the rest of The California Report Magazine’s guidelines.
Before you pitch your story, listen to this example by YR Media’s Amber Ly and complete the analysis worksheet. What makes this a great story?
Ultimately, you want to have a story that has something that will hook the listeners. Your story should include at least one of the 3 C’s– a CHARACTER, a CONFLICT, or a CONSEQUENCE.
Here is a brainstorm and peer review worksheet to come up with potential ideas for a radio story.
Pitch a Story
Now that you have brainstormed a few possible ideas, it’s time to write your formal pitch to KQED. Here are some pointers.
- The main idea is interesting, fresh, concrete and concise.
- The story is relevant to what listeners might want to know more about now.
- The story advances the listener’s knowledge or presents a unique take.
- Perhaps a Perspective or radio commentary could be fleshed out to include more voices or ambient sound
Now that you have written your pitch, it’s time to talk about your idea with radio producers. They may love your idea exactly as it is, but most likely, they will give you feedback to help make your story as compelling as possible.
After you receive your feedback, it’s time to report, write and edit your Audio Feature!