RADIO STORYTELLING TECHNIQUES
RADIO STORYTELLING TECHNIQUES
SOS: SEARCHING OUT STORIES AND INFORMATION - RADIO STORYTELLING TECHNIQUES
Advice, Comments and References from Storytellers, Teachers and Librarians
(excerpts from Storytell posts plus original research)
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1) Query: Is there a certain knack for doing storytelling on the radio? It seems to me that the voice must convey the actions more since the listeners can not see the body language. I remember, as a child, listening to the radio shows with sound effects that I enjoyed. Would any be used, even minimally, other than vocal?
Gwen R. 2/4/06
a) Telling on the radio is different but not all that bad.
I am not a fan of special effects but you do have to forget entirely that you are performing. sort of like roosevelt and fireside chats....pretend there is a cozy living room talk at your host or a chair do the ordinary body language and it will still help your voice and practice with the mike for a long time....probably half hour through a whole story to get the volume tolerances down and the distance from mike down. If possible have them record the test - arrange to do it on a different day or earlier....
Stick to how that works out as getting too close causes problems you dont want to have and it is not taken care of in a short moment of practice or adjustment. You can send any sound man into chaos in a second.
When you do your body language movements etc....your voice will reflect that and the tones wil change.Another problem is timing. Most radio programs have time limits. Work out visual ques to know when you have to stop and move into them gradually. You want to know about a minute or for a break not ten seconds. You will then slide into the break rather than stop talking or be forced to stop.Now this is a matter of style as well. If you are being spontanious in your style you can even mention having to be cut off....hey what I dont get to talk....ok then have your break and we will be back if these guys want us to do it or not....all depends on style.....So get a roadmap of the breaks in big type post it where you can see it and ask for your visual cues long enough ahead and several....that is the break is coming, almost here and immediate.....Then once you have asked them for the reminder listen to them and do what you have to do. Pretend the entire audience has to go to the bathroom.....Leave enough time also at the end of the story for your personal information. Web page, phone number if you are brave, e.mail to answer questions and more information. Sometimes I have had hosts record this tag in advance and just play it so I dont have to go from drama to announcer roles....most importantly leave the time for a graceful closing when the story is done.I like to propose a good deal....I drop off a few copies of one of my books or a set of note cards....for the first ten callers a free give a way....enclose a catalog of your wares and contact information in each....or tell them to e.mail you and you will send something out half price.Use the opportunity fully.
Conrad B. 2/4/05
b) This is the same thing you encounter when recording a CD. I spent three hours in the studio one day and took the scratch copy home to edit, and it was the worst thing I had ever heard! I had NO energy at all in my telling! I had to go in and re record the whole session. You have to be really into the intensity of radio and recording sessions to be effective.
Steve O. 2/4/06
c) I love telling on the radio.
1) Wear headphones. You should know what it sounds like.
2) Try to sit where you can look at the needles, until you get used to the way it works.
3) Variety of sound is good-- play with your voice. Go up and down more than you normally wood, experiment with the different timbres you can produce. Don't be goofy, or mechanical about it, but consciously seek to develop and expand upon your usual variety of sound. It's what you are, on radio.
4) If you are accustomed to working unamplified, everything you know about volume production is wrong. You will be heard, the engineers will see to that, as will the listener; both have knobs to turn. There is a legitimate reason to change your volume, and that is to vary the quality of the voice. Intimate murmurs are all very well, but you can get trapped in them, and they can get old for the listener; sometimes you want move up the scale towards stridency-- for a character if nothing else. Move towards and away from the microphone as you vary your volume. Keep an eye on the needles.
5) Talk to the interviewer until you start telling. Once the tale begins, tell to the microphone. The microphone is your friend, is the audience, the interviewer is just the MC. Don't try bringing other people into the room to tell to. Your audience is at home, or in their cars.
6) Once you're comfortable with the levels, close your eyes. They can't see you, you can't see them, but somehow you are all there, in the storytelling space. Do not worry how you look-- you have no look-- move your body and your face purely as a way of intensifying your delivery of vocal narrative.
7) Somebody is listening. (Not the radio guy.) You are sitting fairly close to him or her, and is smiling and nodding and otherwise acting appropriately.I like telling "live." That's the easiest for me. There's nothing to pretend-- the audience is really out there, and you can feel it. The space may not be real, but the time is. If you're being taped, try to imagine that the people who * will be* listening are listening as you speak. They are there-- even if you can't see them.In live radio, they are shifted in space. In prerecorded radio, they are shifted in time as well. But, in both cases, when they are listening you are all together in the storytelling space.
d) I love to tell stories on the radio. I would actually love to have a radio program of storytelling on a regular basis. When I can get a new computer I plan on doing exactly that online with one of the sites for web based radio type programs. I learned to do radio in college on the college station, but honed my skills when I was pastoring a couple little churches in the Blugrass region of Kentucky. At first I was not sure how to talk, but one little old lady told me she listened to me every time I was on. I started closing my eyes and talking to her, just like she was sitting in church. My messages, 15 minutes daily for a week were part of a rotation of pastors. I was on for a week every other month. As time progressed it was so much easier to be conversational. When I record my next CD I plan to take a few freinds with me so I can see them and hear them respond, watch their eyes and see their body language. It really makes a world of difference and most studios will allow you to bring a few folks if you ask. Bottom line... you need to realize you DO have an audience, you just cannot see them. It makes all the difference.
Stephen H. 2/4/06
Response to d)
That seems like a very good idea. I have noticed on tapes that if there is the sound of an audience, it is so much more satisfying.
Mary G. 2/5/06
e) Consciously use your face as if you are signalling to the mic the emotions which the words represent - the voice reflects that. Try telling with a deadpan face and then try it again with a slight smile: notice the added warmth?
Response to e)
Yes. I would go further and say, don't be afraid to move your face *more* than you would if people were looking. Why not? Nobody's looking-- it's all going into the voice.Back when we had a festival in Burlington, we got a guy named Mike Burns down from Montreal, an Irish teller, and he told to the full auditorium the way I tell on the radio-- sitting on a stool, coiled like a spring, eyes closed, face and body wholly at the service of launching the voice.One of the nice side-benefits of radio telling is, it helps you on the road to making an audio recording. You learn to work the microphone, to tell to an invisible audience whose responses are hidden from you (for the present), and to put it all into the voice.
2) I'm writing this email to you from the studio of KSER, a tiny public radio station in Everett WA. I begin broadcasting in about 15 minutes, at 8am (Pacific Time, USA), and will feature recordings of stories and music; I will also (assuming I can drink a few more cups of tea) be telling a few stories myself! If you'd like to listen, you can tune in online: http://www.kser.org.
I usually mostly play recordings for the first hour or two of the show (cup of tea, gotta get a cup of tea!) and then tell a few in the hour between 10 and 11 local time. Here are Aarene's Early Morning Telling on the Radio Tips.
Until you get used to it, bring somebody to listen. The radio "guy" is busy moving dials and things to make you sound good, and may not be able to be a good audience, make eye contact with you, etc. Bring a friend who likes your stories and will laugh, cry, clap, sing or whatever at the appropriate time. I brought my dog into the studio for years until the station banned animals in the control booth. Other people have noted how "dead" your voice may sound on playback--having a live listener will bring your telling back to life, I promise!
DO converse a bit with your on-air host before launching into a story. This will allow him/her to adjust those twiddly dials to make you sound better (esp. important in low-tech stations like KSER). * Tell a short story at first. Then a slightly longer one, as you get used to the situation.
Wear the headphones, and watch your radio "guy", who will hopefully cue you to bring the mike closer/further away, etc. as needed.
I'm not a huge fan of sound effects in stories, but if you normally do them, go ahead. If you don't usually use a mike in performance, practice beforehand, as it will make you sound really different!
Try to get a recording of your radio appearance...and then listen to it, and note what you need to improve. Then go BACK and perform on the air again. As with all things, you won't be perfect at first. Practice, practice, practice.
I've been telling stories live on the radio since 1999. Global Griot is a 3-hour weekly program that features live and recorded stories, broadcasting from our tiny radio station from 8-11am local time on Sunday mornings, and available online at www.kser.org We have three radio hosts, and take turns hosting the show, mostly so that one person doesn't have to get up really early every week. There is no pay for this gig--the station has only 2 paid employees, and the rest of the staff (and most of our station maintenance and repairs as well!) is volunteers. Our station's mission is to broadcast what no other station (especially commercial stations!) will touch, including reggae, local jazz, hawaiian music, local news and commentary, and even storytelling.
We have no budget to buy recordings either; most of the content for my show comes from my own collection and the public library! Many storytellers have sent recordings for use on the show, including Bill Harley (who is terrifically supportive of our show!) Margaret Read MacDonald, and STORYTELL's own Stephen Hollen.Here's more stuff to know about radio storytelling:
SMILE. Even though your audience can't see you, they can "hear" the smile. Obviously you won't be grinning at the tear-jerking part of a story, but if you are telling something funny, or even something emotionally neutral, a smile will warm your voice noticably. (Try this yourself: you can hear it on recordings and will find yourself smiling in response!).
Come early, stay late. Get comfortable with the sound of the studio, which is probably different from any other venue. Stay late to watch and listen to your radio host--take notes.
Close your eyes and picture your audience if you have none before you in the studio. Put specific, friendly faces in the crowd: your mom, your little sister, your second-grade teacher, whatever. Keep that audience in front of your eyes as you tell the story. Make your audience listen to your story, and be assured that the radio audience will listen too!
Be ready for unexpected noises, esp. at small radio stations. You may hear phones ringing in the background (they can't be heard on the air, but you will hear them), or see people moving around outside the booth. Performing in coffeehouses with lots of distractions around is actually great practice for radio storytelling.
Communicate any special needs in advance to the staff at the radio station. We had a storyteller who ended up performing in the hallway at our old studio because her koto wouldn't fit inside our tiny booth. (or new booth is much bigger). If you need to plug in your electric piano keyboard, or you use a wheelchair, check out the venue in advance. Low-budget radio stations will bend over backwards to help you.
If you are ever visiting western Washington State, please email me! We love to put storytellers on the air!
Aarene S. 2/5/06
3) I produced a radio program for our museum for ten years, and was one of three narrators for part of that time. The best advice I ever got about radio storytelling was from the narrator who actually was a radio professional, and who was hired from one of our big San Antonio CW stations to the big one in Nashville (can't remember; 3 initials instead of 4), so I guess he was doing something right! Now mind you, this guy had a LOT of energy in his telling and announcing, but he still told me that you have to remember that you are really only talking to one or two people at a time. People listen to the radio in their cars, waking up in the morning, etc., generally alone or with a good friend or family member. Thousands of people may be hearing you, but they're listening to you one at a time or in a very small and intimate setting. Conrad, Tim, and Stephen have all suggested this as well in different ways, as well; just strengthening that point.
Mary Grace K. 2/5/06
4) >Back when we had a festival in Burlington, we got a guy named Mike Burns down from Montreal, an Irish teller, and he told to the full auditorium the way I tell on the radio-- sitting on a stool, coiled like a spring, eyes closed, face and body wholly at the service of launching the voice. TimJ <This describes Garrison Keillor too, when he performed live in Tulsa.
Fran S. 2/5/06
5) I love seeing Garrison Keillor on TV doing his radio program. It is fascinating to watch him and all that goes on around the stage as the show progresses. I enjoy doing radio standing up, enjoy recording for a CD standing up too. I move my arms a good bit, shake my head and make faces to the mike like it was a baby I was trying to make smile.
Stephen H. 2/5/06
6) This is probably bad advice but I think the best radio workshop ever is the film 'Good Morning, Viet-Nam'. Not that one should try and mimic how the main character works, it's just that he is entirely himself while broadcasting.
I've been webcasting on a community radio station for a few years now and don't have a driver for the show so have to do it all myself. It's been great having to watch the dials to make sure I don't peak. I use variable microphone distance to achieve this as I can't twiddle the knobs and tell at the same time. By the way, thank you everyone on the list who sent me cds to play. Keep them rolling in .
The programme 'trains, planes and road-trips' goes out on
goes out at 10am UK time every Tuesday.
The advice I give people when talking to no-one is to use the opportunity to imagine any audience they like and project that onto the wall opposite, then have fun with your imagined audience. After all we visualise all the time when we are telling stories so it has to be easier for us than most. Of course if you happen to be working with a presenter tell to them, make them smile, watch their expression and try to involve them so much the forget the next thing they are supposed to do.
If you are prerecording, remember it can always be edited so don't worry about anything.
Above all whether you are live or pre-recorded, be yourself.
John R. 2/12/06
Created 2005; last update 3/4/10
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