How to Write Better Radio

shutterstock_408231010Would you pay to watch a movie that had no discernible script or real content? What if it consisted of Megan Fox, Leonardo DiCaprio, Scarlett Johannsson, and Channing Tatum just hanging out in a room? While it may be pleasing to watch, that movie would be a box office failure. Writing good content is crucial to producing good media, especially for radio, where audio content is the only output. This may seem like a challenge since there is no one specific format for radio scripts, however, there are simple guidelines you can follow to write them better.

One thing to keep in mind is that a lot of radio isn’t totally scripted. Then why are you reading this article, you ask? Well, even in those cases, a script is still an integral part of production. The key to writing for radio is sticking to a timeline and keeping it succinct and organized. For music radio, which is generally more informal, it may be more efficient to use short bulletpoints. News and talk radio have a lot more structure, so an outline with notes would be fitting. Highlighting your talking points and keywords for reference is an easy way of ensuring that your show runs smoothly.

Regardless of what format your radio show is, keep it elementary—having a beginning, middle, and end is necessary for any script. A good place to start is by introducing yourself and any co-hosts you may have. Mention any special guests at some point during the start of the show as well, ideally before the first break, and then reintroduce them before their segment. Create a “roadmap” by giving a quick rundown of the show that day that sets up your story and provides context without giving too much away.

An obvious but oft-forgotten aspect of writing for radio is that you’re writing for ears, not eyes. The way that people listen to speech is different from the way they would watch a movie or read a book, and a stiff, forced monologue can sound like nails on a chalkboard. The key is writing a script that sounds natural when spoken aloud. Essentially, skip the academic abstract and write how you would naturally speak. The more natural you sound in narrating your show, the more possible it is for a listeners to connect and engage with you.

The best writers of radio (or basically anything involving dialogue) have a grasp on how real people have conversations and how that can be translated to text. Go to a coffee shop and eavesdrop—yes, this is actually being encouraged—on peoples’ casual conversations. What are they saying? How are they saying it? How do they casually transition from topic to topic? Is anybody taking part in insider trading? Take note of these things as a third party and apply them when writing your script.

One issue with bridging the gap between relaxed, conversational speech and scripted speech is pacing. In regular conversation, we tend to drag our sentences and add embellishments. This doesn’t work when you have an allotted time to cover a certain number of topics. This also applies to natural pauses and breaks in daily speech. In radio, there is little room for conversational lulls—if you run out of things to say, your audience may run out of the patience to listen.

A basic rule for writing a well-paced script is to be as concise as possible. Leave out flowery descriptions and run-on sentences loaded with unnecessary words. Use the active voice and remain in present tense unless you are reporting or discussing past events. Be present, be energetic, and keep your transitions smooth, not abrupt. Radio scripts should be structured, not rigid—by keeping things succinct and to the point, it leaves room for the speaker to expand and add their own commentary. Just make sure there is enough material to work with!