How to Make Great Radio – by David Lloyd
David Lloyd has kindly provided us with an abridged chapter from his new book all about the craft of our industry. It covers everything from storytelling and interviewing to scriptwriting, teasing, producing, stunting, branding, winning and much much more that doesn’t end in -ing!
It looks set to be the must-read radio book of the year – a cross between a textbook and a guide to life in front of or behind the mic.
Proceeds from the book are being donated to the Radio Academy so there really is no excuse not to click here and buy yourself a copy right now!
You can also read David’s blog post to find out more about the book and the story behind it.
The art of story-telling
Politicians now rarely explain or defend a policy without relating it to ‘a chap who came to see me yesterday’. Charities do not talk of the big sum they desperately need; they focus on the sad face and story of a single needy individual.
We were born to listen to stories.
You know the natural story-tellers in your life. Sadly, many of them are not on the radio. People gather around these popular characters and they command attention. Do they lead more interesting lives or do they just have the knack of delivery?
In life, we acknowledge the power of the story. The brain responds to a story being told in a very different way to how it processes hard facts and argument. MRI scans show that consumers primarily use emotions rather than information when arriving at purchasing decisions – and stories demand emotion.
Radio is an exceptional vehicle for story-telling. Some of the greatest off-air story-tellers lack the ability to translate their skill in front of a microphone – which thankfully leaves some jobs available for the rest of us. Renowned American radio consultant, Valerie Geller, famously insisted: ‘There are no boring stories – only boring story-tellers.’
One presenter once flopped onto the comfy, colourful chair in my untidy office and told me a remarkable story about something that had happened to his family. He looked aghast when I asked him when the tale might be heard on his show. His worry was: ‘How on earth do I get on to talking about that?!’
Some presenters feel the need to carve out an elaborate route to justify even beginning talking about something. You really don’t need to. It doesn’t happen in real conversation with friends. In truth, you would likely have few friends if it did.
On social media sites like Twitter, one rarely sees a message heralding an abstract remark that follows. In the 140 characters of a single message, the topic begins and ends with no preceding fanfare.
The opening lines of many novels plunge straight into the plot. ‘She pulled the knife from his shoulder blade and wiped it carefully on her white apron.’ Already you are left thinking why – what’s he done?
Great stories rarely start at the beginning. See how TV dramas start with an action clip of a crescendo before reverting to the meat of the plot. In improvisation and comedy, the same is usually true: the scene is set quickly and with detail.
‘I think my wife’s going to leave me,’ said Sam Pinkham at the beginning of a link in one of the Sam & Amy successful award entries from Gem106 in the East Midlands.
Stories are about detail and colourful pictures. In Zane Lowe’s valedictory show on BBC Radio 1, before he departed for Apple, witness his visual creation as he powered out ‘Mr Brightside’: ‘This record reminds me of so many smiling faces every time I’ve been at a Killers’ gig … this is just the crowd smiling – and it will be forever that way.’
John Cleese acknowledges the value of the ‘mental skip’ in a joke or story when a listener connects what has already been said to the implied pay-off. If the skip is too large, the connection is not made. On the other hand, there are risks when the skip is too small or absent entirely. Cleese observes: ‘If you spoon-feed an intelligent audience and make the joke too obvious they will not find it very funny.’
In the words of Finding Nemo and Toy Story film-maker Andrew Stanton: ‘Story-telling is joke-telling. It’s knowing your punchline, knowing that everything you say from the first sentence to the last is leading to a singular goal.’
This article first appeared in #eRADIO – the free weekly e-magazine for the radio industry. Subscribe here.