Most on-air personalities working at radio stations today have at least some journalistic background. This is because more and more small radio stations need people who can are capable of filling many roles. It is not surprising then that many radio personalities at small stations announce, play music, work the console, and write the day’s news. Having all these skills is important, especially for aspiring disc jockeys.
There are many types of news stories. Hard News is essentially the news of the day. This is the type of news most frequently read on the front page of the newspaper or at the top of the hour on a radio or television station. Soft News is news that isn’t time sensitive. This can include profiles about local individuals, or even companies and organizations. Editorials are personal opinions about particular topics. Editors and writers often take a side on a topic and write an argument about why their side is right and the other side is wrong. Features are in depth stories about a certain topic. Features can be about current events, but they often are best at discussing a particular issue in detail.
Radio news features are essentially two to four minute pieces that tell a single story. The story can be about a current event, or it could be an information piece about an ever-green topic. The news pieces typically focus on a single topic, and go in depth about it. They also typically contain interviews or sound bites from relevant people.
News features typically contain the following elements:
1. A well-researched topic.
2. An introduction or a lead.
3. A main body with a clear narrative pattern.
4. Interviews and/or sound bites.
5. A conversational writing style.
6. The topic’s character and personality.
7. A wrap up that completes the story.
Topics for radio news features vary greatly, but the vast majorities are specific topics that are of interest to the intended audience, and that offer themselves to in depth discussion. It’s not necessary to choose a topic of interest to the feature’s writer, but it is important to do in depth research on the topic. Since a feature is not an editorial, the facts must be complete and accurate, since the story’s integrity relies on them.
Researching a topic in the 21st century can be very easy, but the researcher must be diligent about selecting information from reputable sources. Features typically use information from first hand research, as well as second hand research. This means the writer interviews pertinent individuals and reads original documents, as well as obtaining information already gathered by others.
The beginning of any radio news feature should contain a brief introduction. This introduction should tell the listener a bit about this story, but without giving too much away yet. This is also called the news feature’s hook. The writer’s main objective here is to hook in the listener and make her want to listen. Keep the introduction short; no more than two sentences.
The news feature’s body should contain the story’s main details. This is typically referred to as the “5 W’s and 1 H”. The who, what, when, where, why, and how. The who tells the listener who the main characters of this story are. The what tells the listener what this story is about. The when tells the listener when this happened, or if it’s a future event, when it will happen. The where tells the listener where this event or story takes place. The why tells the listener why this is happening. The how tells the listener how this happened, or how they can get involved or attend. These details should be told in the first paragraph, or at most in the first and second paragraph.
After the listener understands the main points about this story, the rest of the story (another four to eight paragraphs) should contain further information about the story. The further information should be more in depth details about the “5 W’s and 1 H”. For example, many radio news features tend to go into detail about the who, what, and why.
Just like any news story published in a newspaper, radio news features should have quotes from related individuals in order to support the story’s premise. These quotes are sometimes in the form of interviews with prominent individuals directly involved in the story.
As an example, pretend a radio news feature producer is writing a story about a city’s public transit system. The producer could try interviewing the city’s director of public transit, or perhaps even the city’s major. The producer would need to ask relevant questions relating to the topic. This is important, since the interviews need to help prove or disprove the news story’s premise.
Interviews may be used in at least two different ways within a news feature. The interview can occur directly after the announcer reveals the story’s main points, or it may occur at the very end after the announcer has finished his entire written dialogue.
Another form of quote used in radio news features is the sound bite. A sound bite is a short audio recording lasting no longer than 10 seconds, and revealing a major point in support of the story’s argument. Sound bites are similar to interviews in that they are quotes taken from people directly involved in the story. Sound bites differ from interviews in that the sound bites are typically taken from secondary sources, such as other interviews or press conferences.
For example, suppose a radio news producer is writing a report on last night’s basketball game. The producer can’t interview the basketball star who scored thirty points, but he knows there was a press conference after the game where the star made some comments. The producer could obtain footage from the press conference and extract a sound bite from when the basketball star was interviewed.
Newspaper articles and radio news features are very different in regards to writing style. Where a newspaper article might be written with a formal tone, the radio news feature is often written with an informal tone. This is because newspaper articles are meant to be read, not announced.
When writing the radio news feature, the most important style consideration is to be conversational. The use of contractions in a radio news feature is not only allowed, but actually recommended. Writers may also want to avoid long, complicated words, as well as using parenthetical statements and other writing techniques not ease to announce.
Radio is a broadcast medium in which the announcer speaks directly to each listener. The announcer must have the ability to relate to the listener directly. This is why conversational writing is so essential. When in doubt, the writer should try reading the words out loud. If the sentences are too long or sound like a book, they should consider rewriting.
Another important consideration when determining the story’s writing style is to take the intended audience and format into consideration. Writing a radio news feature for an audience of young college students will be much different than writing that same feature for an audience of retired adults. Understand the station’s demographics, and that demographic’s needs before attempting to write for them.
It’s also crucial to understand the station’s format before writing the feature. A news feature written for a National Public Radio station, and one written for a 24-hour news stations will be completely different. NPR news features tend to last an average of four minutes, while a 24-hour news station’s news features might last a minute or less.
Depending on the format, the writing style may not be the only difference. On some formats, some stories may be inappropriate or even obsolete. On other stations, certain facts may not matter to the target audience.
As an example, when reporting a fire at a hospital, a 24-hour news stations might briefly discuss information about casualties, but they may also discuss information about how this will affect the listeners’ commute. On a music station, the story might be reduced to a one or two line synopsis. It’s not that people listening to a music station don’t care about the hospital fire, it’s just that news isn’t as important as music on a music station.
Tone and Character
Radio news feature writers should pay attention to the type of story being reported on, and set the tone appropriately. Different types of stories require different approaches in tone. For example, when writing a story about clowns at the park, the tone may be much happier, and the script may even include clown puns and euphemisms. On the other hand, when writing about a plane crash, anything other than a serious and delicate tone would be inappropriate and perhaps even offensive.
The end of every story should include some sort of wrap up in order to complete the story. Wrap-ups usually include a quick recap of the story, going over the facts one more time in order to summarize the story. Some stories even wrap-up the story by looking to the future, perhaps by including a quote about a future action or event, or with the announcer telling the audience of future plans.