Many people say that audio storytelling is outdated and I agreed until I listened to Ira Glass’s This American Life: How I got Into College. Ira Glass has been in the radio industry since 1978 and has a lot of experience in that field. According to him, the key to his success is knowing the two basic building blocks, finding the right stories, being able to persevere, and knowing the two common pitfalls of audio storytelling.
Glass says the two main building blocks of storytelling is to have an anecdote and a moment of reflection. The anecdote should be powerful with a sequence of actions and it should be able to raise questions. The moment of reflection is the point of the story, describing why is it important. A good story should flip back and forth between the two basic building blocks.
The hardest part of the process is finding a good story. He says, he and his co-workers spend as much time finding a story as they do editing it. His purpose is to make a story memorable, which can take time finding the best ones. Failure is a big part of this process; knowing when a story is bad and throwing it away.
The ability to persevere is a challenge for many new radio hosts. Glass says that everyone has good taste but finding how to express it is the difficult part. He says, when everyone starts out, they’re not as good as their expectations. His advice is to do a lot of work and create deadlines for yourself.
The last key to his success is to know the two common pitfalls of audio storytelling. The first one is to not imitate TV actors or other radio broadcasters; those roles have already been taken – just be yourself. The other, is to interact with others in the stories. A story that is too one-sided is boring.
From another point of view, Jad Abumrad described “how radio creates empathy.” He refers to himself as a “TV junkie” and loves that it has pictures; which is odd for someone in the radio industry. However, he said the coolest thing about radio is what it lacks. It’s an act of co-authorship – the host will describe something and it’s the listener’s job to imagine what they were describing. When Abumrad described the sun and compared it to a fox’s stomach, I could imagine exactly what it looked like. Another thing he said, was that radio never dies.
What I found interesting is that in order to have a good story, you need a moment of reflection. I guess it makes sense now but it wouldn’t be the first thing that comes to mind. I’m not sure if I unknowingly assumed it was part of the storytelling process or not but now that I think about it, it is, in my opinion, the most important part.