The first thing to get used to in writing effective radio, is that there are no rules, and no restrictions on the places the listener can be transported to, and nowhere that is out of bounds. The only barriers are the restrictions in the writer’s imagination. Radio has always been able to create the fantastic worlds, unbelievable situations, and outlandish characters, the visual medium with newly developing computer graphics, has only recently been able to achieve.
The Theatre of the Mind.
A well used and often overused phrase within the radio industry is that ‘Radio is the Theatre of the Mind.’ This phrase is an attempt to demonstrate the power of the medium in that radio uses chiefly the listener’s imagination to create the pictures, characters and backdrop for the all the writer’s intent. There are those who insist therefore that the ‘pictures’ on radio are better and more effective because they are individual and unique to that listener.
The Spoken Word.
Radio is an ‘out loud’ medium, and any writer who wants to make the most of the mediums potential and use it effectively has to become familiar with writing for the spoken word as opposed to the written word. The two are completely different skills, and the best way to learn to write for the spoken word, is not surprisingly, to read any writing out loud. This applies to any radio writing from radio drama, to commercials, news broadcasts to simple stories. Radio, some suggest has more in common with the ancient art of oral storytelling, than any modern medium.
Voices, Sound Effects, Music and Silence.
Radio uses a few essential tools, and all can be found, usually without leaving the radio studio, to create any situation the writer imagines. The type of voices used and the experience and talent of any voice-overs, or voice talent, can dramatically alter the finished production. Finding and mixing together the right sound effects to create the intended situation are again a learned and practised skill. The script together with the right sound effects can provide all the listener needs to be transported to another world. Music is also a powerful scene setter, and finally every good radio writer, understands and utilises the significant effect of silence, and the dramatic and useful pause.
Working in the Studio.
A good script should however be judged finally in the recording process and the help of a good sound engineer and acting talent can make a good radio script a great piece of radio. The wise scriptwriter will listen to any advice and input from both, try different suggestions to improve the written word as it becomes the spoken word and eventually the final piece of audio. A well written script bearing all this in mind, together with a skilled final production, can produce a powerful piece of radio.