Many may only think of old fireside ‘once upon a times’ when we speak about story telling. But the art of weaving a coherent and entertaining story is still relevant even in these modern times. ANDREW K. MILLER, gives a few pointers on how radio practitioners can be better story tellers.
1. I believe there is an over-reliance by producers and hosts on the PR cycle for content. It’s easy to pull content from press releases, and the outputs of agencies are by no means irrelevant to life. However, one of the consequences of this paradigm is that themes, topics and personalities are frequently replicated across all radio channels, which means genuinely original content is rare, and in a sense listeners are being taken for granted.
2. I also believe the personal life and agenda of the radio host matters more and more as they become established within the industry. Individuals develop an easily identifiable tone, attitude, approach to content, set of favourite topics and so forth. This is what gives their show the specific flavour listeners respond to, but over time it can also be the kiss of death by boredom. Conversely, when a host pushes their own personal and social boundaries, when they explore new and exciting experiences and ideas, they will naturally inject energy, fresh perspectives and better stories into their offering, to which their loyal listeners will respond, and which could well expand the audience for the show.
3. Reading aggressively is central to good storytelling. There is a significant difference between reading passively for entertainment purposes, and reading as part of your professional life. It’s quite obvious to listeners when a host is genuinely well read. Indeed, in many senses the host is reading on behalf of their audience, in order to expand the range of content relevant to us all. My belief is that radio hosts who read well outside of their natural intellectual, cultural and social comfort range are able to excite their audience, while those who simply read within their natural zone become predictable.
4. Good storytellers pay attention to their audience, and seek to share something authentic of themselves with their audience in order to relate to them. Often this – the willingness to share personal truth and experience – involves personal and emotional risk. Storytellers who aren’t taking some level of risk aren’t really committed to their art or their audience – they’re more committed to their careers than anything else, and it shows.
5. Politics is life. Everyone in South Africa is deeply involved – like it or not – in politics. It’s interesting, then, how many radio shows purposefully avoid any hint of politics, for fear of ruining the entertainment factor. I think a better balance can be struck between easy listening and content that relates to real life than avoiding all political content at all costs. Yes, politics can be risky, but avoiding it altogether in South Africa makes strong, authentic storytelling very challenging.
6. Spin is death. This relates back to the mechanics of content and the PR cycle. Far too often one hears radio hosts reading press releases out loud as if no one will notice. My belief is that people may not cognitively notice they are in the middle of a spin cycle, but that it is at this time that they reach for the off switch, or put on a CD. No one should ever read a press release on air under any circumstances without telling their listeners they are doing so.
7. Where is the underground? A city like Joburg features a fantastically strong underground, street arts scene. A scene that is commented on around the world and loved by tourists. Our radio stations barely seem to know this scene exists, let alone seem to have the desire to cover it. This to me this is a storytelling tragedy. We have extremely rich content and stories right here on our streets, but we appear to be unaware of this fact.
8. It would be wonderful to see more local radio hosts developing content out in the real world, armed with a microphone. BCC radio remains very strong in this area and we could learn from the way they approach content. There is something particularly special about longer length reportage on niche subjects carried out this way. My feeling is that local radio storytelling could be significantly improved if stations and hosts didn’t view their work as fundamentally studio bound.
Andrew K. Miller is a poet, freelance writer and an uber story teller. For more on Miller’s works and projects visit : executivetalksjohannesburg.co.za