“Lead with your best tape” and other helpful tips for audio storytelling

Here at Northeastern’s Media Innovation graduate program, we’ve been knee-deep in podcasting and radio reporting. Over the course of the semester, we’ve had a string of great guest speakers including independent radio producer Ibby Caputo, former BBC editor Maria Balinska, and WBUR’s All Things Considered host Lisa Mullins. Here are some of their tips.


Lead with your best tape

Don’t know where to start? Use your best audio and write around that.

– Ibby Caputo


Do I have a beginning, middle and end?

Make a mental outline of your story. Is there a beginning, middle and end? Once you get all the pieces, ask yourself, do I have a beginning, middle and end?

– Ibby Caputo


Only use audio that the narrator couldn’t say better

Use audio that is emotional and that is well recorded. Only use audio that says something that a narrator couldn’t say better than the source. You really want the characters to have a voice that engages you.

– Ibby Caputo


Record yourself on location

Radio reporters use “stand ups,” or on-location recording, to describe a scene in real-time. This adds a whole lot of color and immediacy.

– Maria Belinska


Writing for radio should be like talking to a friend

Write the way you speak. Simplify your language. Imagine a dinner conversation with friends. Have fun with it.

– Maria Belinska


Hold the listener’s hand

The listener needs to be told what they’re about to hear, what they’re hearing and what they just heard.

– Maria Belinska


Keep your promises

Tell the listener what they need to know and where you’re going to go. But you should keep those promises by the end. Don’t leave out the point you are trying to make.

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– Ibby Caputo


If the listener turns off your piece, it’s your fault

Radio reporters are always chasing that “driveway moment,” where a listener sticks around to hear the story until the end. If you lose them, you have only yourself to blame!

– Ibby Caputo


Good audio trumps bad video

Whether you’re producing a video, a slideshow or a radio report, make sure your audio is pristine. Good audio can carry the whole story even if your video or images are less than perfect.

Lisa Mullins


Interviews are not about you

Let the source speak. Your personality and tone will come through the interaction, not your belly laugh. Authenticity and spontaneity comes from listening. You are acting on behalf of the audience.

Lisa Mullins

Aleszu Bajak
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