When it comes to radio writing, we are trying to cram lots of information into people’s ears, one short line at a time. Keep it short and fast. Every second counts, so every word counts. Write short sentences with one basic idea in each, because long, complicated sentences (as seen in newspaper writing) with big words don’t make you sound smart. Say what you mean, throw away all unnecessary words and try to maintain a conversational style.
|To make beautiful verbal music on the radio requires much condensation of ideas.|
The basic formula is this: (subject) + (verb) + (object)+ (…all other stuff)
- “The White House + denies + the charge.”
- “Mrs. Williams + says + the police + (are lying about her son’s death.)”
- “Hamil Schiomo + sprints + the path to Jericho + (every morning, worried he might be shot by a sniper or run over by a jeep.) Long, newspaper-style sentences should be broken up into smaller sentences.
- “For the fifth night in a row, denizens of the tunnels underneath Penn Station, the “Mole People”, are worrying that the police might barge in and evict them for trespassing on City property.”
This is a mouthful to read. Break it down.
- “The so-called “Mole People” under Penn Station are worried. They say the police went to evict them from the tunnels where they live. Technically, they’re trespassing on city property.”
Sentences should be written in the positive, as opposed to the negative sense, as often as possible. Avoid using “not,” “no,” “don’t,” “doesn’t,” “won’t,” etc.
- “The union leadership doesn’t accept that version of the story.”
Rewrite this sentence in the positive:
- “The union leadership says the story is a lie.”
- “Union leaders refuse to accept that version of the story.”
Write your radio copy in the present tense, whenever possible.
- “The White House denies the charge.”
This is easier for the listener to understand and faster to read than those common alternatives:
- “The White House is denying the charge.”
- “The White House has been denying the charge.”
Words to avoid in radio writing, whenever possible: All forms of the verb TO BE (is, am, are, were, will be, have been, being, will have been, etc.)
- “Raines is asking the officer for his one phone call.”
Rewrite with more color, without “is”:
- “Raines pleads with the officer for his one phone call.”
- “Get” is one of the most common words spoken in American English making it one of the least interesting. Replace “get” with an action verb.
- “Moreland tried to get the tiger in his net, but he couldn’t.”
- “Moreland tried to snare the tiger in his net, but he couldn’t.”
Adverbs, those words that usually end in “ly” (easily, happily, angrily, etc.) are usually unnecessary. They often convey information you cannot confirm, and tend to betray the reporter’s allegiances to one side of the story.
- “The White House hastily issued a denial.”
Rewrite to read:
- “The White House issued a denial 15 minutes later.”
Often referred to as “groaners” common clichés, overused cinematic quotes, faddish phrases and sentence constructions.
- “…in the wake of September 11…”
- “This, as police announced…”
- “…against the backdrop of clan violence…”
When it comes to adding sound bites for credibility, make sure your source’s point is well articulated, of not… don’t use it. Let the source give examples and if possible, conclusions. The interviewer should state the general fact/trend/phenomenon to cue the source into illustrating the situation further.
JRK is a award nominated screen-playwright, award-winning videographer, and former corporate communications/media relations executive. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org