By Kate Fallis
So you want to know what makes a good radio story? Well, it all really depends on who your audience is. It seems like quite an obvious starting point, but if you don’t come from a broadcast background sometimes it’s the simplest things that can take a while to learn. The main split in radio is regional and national, which will determine which kind of stories will appeal most to your audience. For the regional stations, they have a much smaller focus and listeners will tune in to hear about local issues affecting their community. Alternatively, if you’re a fan of national radio, chances are you want to hear about bigger issues affecting the whole of the UK, or even just interesting talking points.
The ground rules
Can you sum it up in a sentence?
Start with that sentence and expand from there. A radio story is generally only three lines and then possibly an audio clip which can be anywhere between 8-15 seconds.
Does this add anything to the story?
You don’t have a lot of time within a bulletin to get across key information so you have to be punchy.
If you don’t, chances are your audience may not either!
Coming from a regional and local radio background myself, I feel like I know quite a bit about the type of stories to choose for that particular audience. Very local stations that cover a reasonably small area tend to have extremely loyal listeners, but you still need to keep them happy of course. Now in terms of talking points for presenters, I always found they would pick a big national story of the day and localise it for their region, which is a fairly straight forward tactic. But more importantly, they would open up local issues and really get people talking because they were so passionate about their county. Your audience can even become the story – we can all think of one random listener who always seems to pop up on our local station.
For example, when I worked in local radio in the North West of England, there was a quirky man called Tom who would ring into the breakfast show every morning without fail. One day he didn’t call and the presenter thought it was odd, but after a week went by he started to get worried and put out an on-air appeal to which the listeners responded to heavily. Eventually, one of Tom’s friends called up and told everyone poor Tom was in hospital. Shortly after that, Tom passed away. I was working with the breakfast presenter when he got the call live on air about Tom’s passing and I couldn’t believe how upset he was about it. All the listeners were in shock and called in with their favourite memories of Tom – a person they didn’t even know, and who didn’t even work for the radio station, but had somehow made them smile. On national radio, that would be almost impossible to do. Local or regional radio connects people at such a high level – it’s incredible.
A good radio story for national radio has essentially the same elements as it would in regional radio, but you must remember you’re covering a far bigger area and audience. For instance, each BBC station has a different listener demographic, some focussing on music and entertainment, while others are predominantly talk shows.
National stations will have a specific age group that they aim to appeal to. At one end of the spectrum you have Radio 1, which has distinctive mix of contemporary music and speech for 15-29 year old’s. Somewhere in the middle is Radio 2 which has a slightly different mix of music and speech for over 35’s. Then there’s stations like Radio 4 which generally attracts an older audience and aims to appeal to listeners ‘seeking intelligent programmes in many genres which inform, educate and entertain’.
As a result, the news bulletins vary heavily. The music-based stations tend to keep their bulletins under two minutes, to keep up the faster pace of show, and their stories may feature more youth-related issues, with a mix of national and international news and sport. However, the speech-driven stations are similar to regional radio in that they have around three minutes to sum up the main news and sport stories of the day. In fact, newsreaders at those types of stations are likely to just sum up the main stories that presenters have been talking about within their shows already.
The stories they use will vary considerably depending on their audience, so the focus for a good national story has to be one a certain type of person or issue rather than a region.