Summary: The Backstory to Great Radio Storytelling, hosted by Rob Rosenthal, for Transom and PRX.
What do you do when the main character in a story is strange, bizarre, and weird? So crazy listeners might tune out? One answer is to find a sympathetic character, someone the audience can relate to. Producer Ann Heppermann explains how Glynn Washington was the perfect sympathetic character as the narrator of the "Heaven's Gate" podcast, the series about the cult that committed the largest mass suicide in the United States.
Bradley Campbell couldn't believe it when I told him I'd like to interview him about sports stories. He knows how much I hate them. But, a sports story he produced and other episodes of Gamebreaker are well worth the listen. Bradley explains why.
Megan Tan pulled the plug. She stopped producing Millennial at the height of the podcast boom. Her inspiring yet cautionary tale on this episode of HowSound.
One way to start a story is with a question -- one that focuses and animates the piece. Annie Minoff and Elah Feder of the "Undiscovered" podcast use focus questions as story starters to great effect. But, I had some questions about their questions.
"The Promise," a podcast from WPLN in Nashville, is an inspiring example of the journalism of empathy. And, it's easily some of the best local reporting I've heard in a long time. Meribah Knight explores this approach to reporting on this HowSound.
A shooter guns down twenty-six people in a church. Soon after, Debbie Elliott from NPR shows up, a stranger with a microphone. She says it's hard not to feel like a pariah when reporting in traumatic situations. So, how do you avoid that?
Planet Money's Noel King says the best way to write for radio is to not write. Instead? Tell.
Two solidly produced, fun stories from students at the Transom Traveling Workshop in Marfa, Texas. Both are well worth your listen.
"Radio is the most visual medium." Aviva DeKornfeld's story "After the Storm" is proof. So much so, it's just as much a photo essay as it is a radio story.
Jad Abumrad of Radiolab delivers the goods on sound design in radio stories. A must listen if you're thinking of sound designing your next radio story.
A recent story on NPR about the Confederate flag got Rob wondering about the practice of correcting interviewees in narration. Producer Zach Hirsch produced the story and he explains why he felt challenging the interviewee's viewpoints was necessary.
Greg Warner is one of Rob Rosenthal's favorite radio writers. He deftly put the "broken narrative" to good use in an episode of his NPR podcast "Rough Translation." In fact he's so good at it, you'd have no idea he was using it. What is the broken narrative? You'll have to listen.
Why is it so hard to sound like yourself when reading narration for radio stories? Transom's Viki Merrick offers some voicing coaching gold. You'll wanna take notes.
After teaching documentary storytelling for seventeen years, I feel confident in the advice I give students, most of the time. But, as soon as someone brings up sound design, I’m flummoxed. I feel like my advice is next to useless. Typically, what happens is this: a student feels like their story is boring so they want to throw some sound in — something from a sound effects library. They think it will make the story more dynamic. And, typically, I respond by saying, “If your story is boring, write better. Or, play around with the structure. Or, find better quotes. Don’t expect to solve a problem by tossing in some sound. It will end up sounding cheesy.” I do think that’s solid advice. But, in reality, there are times when a bit of sound design might actually help a story. Not to make it less boring, but to drive home a point or help the story be more visual. That’s when I return to my problem as an instructor: I don’t know how to help. But here’s the good news. I produce a podcast about audio storytelling and I can actually ask people for advice! And so, I did. My first stop was Matthew Boll. Matt works at Gimlet as a lead producer and music composer. Of particular interest to me was his work on Crimetown, a podcast on crime and politics in Providence, Rhode Island, that uses a lot of sound design. Matt and I covered quite a bit of ground but I feel like I’ve only started to understand how sound design works. So, consider this the first in an ongoing, from time-to-time, set of episodes on sound design that will appear over the next few months.
With the glut of first-person stories these days, how do you make yours stand out? Neil Sandell has some ideas.