Page last updated at 19:12 GMT, Monday, 29 September 2008 20:12 UK

Radio news tips

RADIO REPORTING TIPS
radio studio microphone
Find out about the ins and outs of producing live radio news

Much of the following information has been supplied by BBC Training and Development. Their website contains a variety of free online tutorials to develop technical and editorial skills.

TOP TEN TIPS

No one wants to listen to a presenter just droning on so here is radio producer Ros Smith's advice on how to bring your script to life with sounds.

1. The most important thing is to make your script clear. What is the story? Tell it as clearly as you can. If you get stuck trying to think of the words, just imagine what you would say to your best mate to explain the story.

2. Be yourself, use your own words and your own language.

BACKGROUND NOISE

3. Record your item in interesting places - you will be amazed what a difference background noise (or atmos) can make. For example if you're at the seaside make sure you can hear the seagulls and the waves behind you. Listen to these background sounds from the BBC sound effect library.

Make sure you can still hear the person speaking clearly over any background noise. When no one is talking spend a minute or so collecting some extra recording of the background sounds (even if it's silence!) as it can help with editing.

Also, make sure you have permission to record and that you are you are recording somewhere safe. No hanging off cliffs!

4. Keep the clips you are using short.

5. Try to get lots of different voices in your piece. You don't just want one person with a boring voice droning on and on. Ideally aim for a balance of male and female voices, different accents and different ages of people.

6. Use vox pops - this means asking people in the street for their quick opinion on an issue. If you think of a good question, people often come up with lots interesting and often funny answers - it can really liven up a piece.

Make sure you go with an adult when you collect any vox pops and remember if you ask anyone under 18 you will need their parent's signed permission.

Read the Recording vox pops section below for more information.

7. Once you've mastered the basics, think about how you can experiment. Instead of starting with an introduction by your presenter it might be more interesting to start with some vox pops or some unusual noises.

If your feature is about sweets maybe you could start with the sound of someone opening some sweets and eating them.

Can you get everyone to introduce themselves rather than the presenter doing it? Do you even need to be in the piece? Would it be more interesting if you weren't in it at all?

8. Use music. This can be tricky because you have to be careful with copyright. But you could write and record some music yourself.

9. Use sound effects. It's amazing what a difference a few sounds effects can make. Door slamming, dogs barking or even a well chosen raspberry - be inventive, listeners like to laugh!

You can make and record them yourself, or have a look at the 60 Second Shakespeare website to find out where to get sound effects on the internet. Use the link in the top right corner of this page.

Remember, it's up to your teacher to make sure it is okay to use sounds from the internet on your school website.

10. Finally, think carefully about how are you going to finish your piece. Perhaps you could leave the listener with a question or something to think about, or maybe a sneak preview of the next programme, known as a teaser.

Don't forget, it's the last thing they will hear, so make it memorable.

USING A MICROPHONE

Do:

    • Hold the microphone firmly in the middle
    • Rest your arm on a chair or table if you are recording a lengthy interview
    • Speak directly into the microphone while holding it 10 to 15 cm away from your mouth
    • Point the microphone directly at the person you are interviewing to capture their answers
    • Point the microphone at yourself while you are asking questions
    • Swap the microphone between your hands if your arms start to get tired
    • Wrap the microphone lead around the hand which is holding the microphone to keep it steady.

    Don't:

    • Grip the microphone too hard or your hand will go numb and may start shaking
    • Allow rings or bracelets to knock against the microphone or lead
    • Wave the microphone around or let it knock against anything
    • Fiddle with the microphone lead or let it sway as this interfere with the quality of your recording.

    USING RECORDING EQUIPMENT

    Check that your recording machine works properly before taking it out.

    Wear headphones while you are recording so you can hear immediately if there is a problem.

    Check that your interview has been recorded before parting from your guest.

    Make a note of your track numbers and what is on them. Knowing where your material is will save time when it comes to editing.

    Label all your tapes, soundcards or minidisks.

    Most machines have automatic recording levels. However, it is a good idea to keep an eye on them to make sure that they are not too low or too high. Moving the microphone a little bit nearer or further away from your guest can make a difference.

    RECORDING VOX POPS

    A vox-pop is collection of opinions on a particular subject. They are not interviews, but usually one question answered by several people. Vox pops help illustrate what people think about an issue such as the government, or the latest film release. They often involve stopping and asking a selection of people in one place. This could be a street or a school corridor. Vox-pop comes from the Latin for "voice of the people". Listen out for them on radio and TV news.

    Think about where you are going to record your vox pop. Some background noise, such as traffic or a playground, will sound good but make sure it is not too loud. The background should be constant. A plane increases in volume as it passes overhead and then decreases again. This is the kind of noise to avoid.

    Record a range of voices if you can. A vox pop will sound more interesting if it includes a mix of male, female, high and low voices, different ages and accents. If your vox pop concerns a controversial subject, it's good to get opinions from people on all sides of the argument.

    Choose your topic carefully. It needs to be something about which people will have a definite opinion. For example, it is no good asking a group of middle-aged people what they think of the latest band.

    Choose your question carefully. It should be simple and easily understood. Remember to ask everyone the same question so that when you edit them together, WITHOUT your question in between the answers, they will make sense. Ask an open question, beginning with what, who, where, when, why or how, so you don't end up with a series of "Yes" or "No" responses.

    Aim to interview at least 10 people.

    Keep the answers short. A couple of sentences from each person is about the right length.

    Keep your voice out of it. Normally the reporter's voice does not appear in a vox pop, except perhaps asking the question at the beginning, but the rest of the vox pop is made up of people's answers. If you talk too much, editing could be difficult.

    When you are conducting a vox-pop, keep your machine in RECORD/ PAUSE mode. Record yourself asking the question at the beginning of the first interview. Put the machine in PAUSE mode whenever you ask the question again, switching to RECORD mode to capture the answers. That way, you won't have to edit the question lots of times.

    Don't be afraid to ask for more details.

    Do not give up. Sometimes people will be too busy, or too shy, to answer. Expect a few refusals before someone agrees to take part in your vox pop.

    INTERVIEWING

    Interviewing is an essential ingredient of a radio report. Your interview might be the focus of your item, or part of the overall piece. Interviewing is quite a complex skill and it's worth preparing for it to make sure you make the most of the opportunity. Once you and your guest have parted, it's unlikely that you'll be able to ask any more questions.

    Before the interview

    Think carefully about why you want to interview your guest and what you want to know. An interview is not a conversation. It should have an aim and it should be structured.

    Do your homework. Find out your guest's title, position and background.

    Prepare your guest before you start recording. Chat with them to put them at ease. Explain why you are doing the interview, what you would like to cover and who the audience will be.

    During the interview

    Take charge. Make sure your guest is sitting near enough to the microphone. Switch off any background music and tell people nearby to be quiet. Beware of passing traffic and banging doors. If there is a noise during a vital part of the interview, or your guest stutters or rambles, don't be afraid to ask the question again or ask your guest to repeat their comment.

    Try to avoid closed questions. These are ones which prompt the answer "Yes" or "No". Ask open questions, beginning with what, who, where, when, why and how. These prompt fuller, more self-contained answers. Your voice is likely to be cut out of the interview in the final report so the answers need to make sense on their own.

    Listen to the answers. Your guest may answer your next question before you have even asked it.

    Use body language. Always make eye contact with your guest and let them know they have your full and undivided attention.

    Do not "um", "er", or "mmm" while your guest is talking as this distracts the listener and makes your interview difficult to edit.

    Remember what your interview is for. Do you only need one minute to include in a longer piece, or do you need 10 minutes for a special programme? Do not record lots more material than you need or you will have to spend extra time editing it down.

    Record your guest introducing themselves and saying their job title. That way you'll know who they are when you listen back to your recording later on. It's also a useful way of introducing them in your finished report.

    Before parting from your guest, check that the interview has recorded properly. This is crucial.

    WRITING FOR RADIO

    Remember that someone will be reading out your script. Ordinarily, you might write "7pm" but for a radio script it's better to write "seven o'clock in the evening". You might write "There are currently 5,993 people on a waiting list for hip replacements" but you would say "At the moment, just under six thousand people are waiting for a hip replacement."

    Avoid long, complicated sentences. Aim to include ONE idea per phrase or sentence.

    The best way to test your script is to read it out loud to see if it makes sense and sounds right.

    PRESENTATION

    Presentation is about linking the different reports together. That is why a presenter's words are often called "links".

    After all the interviews have been done and the sections to broadcast have been chosen, then you can write the presenters' script and record the links.

    Here are a few recording tips for presenters:

    • Slow down. Your natural speaking speed will be too fast for a listener to take in everything you are saying.
    • Make every word matter. Read a script with confidence and say every word evenly. Don't trail off at the end of a sentence or swallow the ends of words.
    • Pretend you are talking to one specific person.
    • Avoid nervous giggling. It sounds really odd.
    • Smile. This may sound odd, as no-one can see you, but it makes you sound more friendly.
    • Re-record your opening line once you get to the end. By this time you should have relaxed and it may sound better the second time round.
    • Remember that your voice is as good as anyone else's. Anyone who can speak slowly and clearly can present, no matter what your accent or pitch (high or low).

    RECORDING LINKS

    One way to record links is as a class exercise. Each student records their script in front of the whole class. In our experience, this is often a good exercise for shy children. Make sure the rest of the class remain quiet while the recording takes place.

    Alternatively, children may prefer to record their links in smaller groups or on their own. Asking someone else to hold the microphone often helps the presenter to concentrate on their words. The person recording the presenter should wear headphones to check the recording levels and make sure it is not too quiet or too loud.

    EDITING

    Save a full version of your recording before you start editing. Give the edited version another name. That way, if you get in a mess you can start again.

    Some people find it useful to write down what they have recorded. This is called a log. They use the log to compile a rough structure, or paper edit, before they start work on a computer.

    Using a computer editing package, edit together the main points of your report in the right order. To begin with, concern yourself with the rough structure of your report. If you have time later, you can think about the fine details, for example cutting out the "ums".

    When you are editing speech, edit from the beginning or end of a word. Make sure you haven't accidentally included an extra breath at either end of the edited section.

    When editing music, edit on a beat. If in doubt close your eyes and use your ears. You can hear if something does not sound right. Remember that unless you have composed the music yourself, you will have to get written permission from the composer before you can use it.

    If you have tried an edit more than three times, do not get obsessed. Forget it and edit something else.

    Listeners do not have a lot of patience, keep your report short. If in doubt, chop it out!

    Cut out repetitive sections of an interview.

    Avoid using long, rambling explanations by summarising your guest's point in a short, scripted link which the presenter reads out.

    Listening to the audio all the way through. Save the most interesting bits rather than cutting out the bits you do not want. This technique works really well for some people.

    If you can't decide what to cut out and what to leave in, take a break and listen to it again later. Hopefully, the answer will be more apparent.

    WORKING WITH A LARGE GROUP

    You can attach a set of PC speakers to a laptop or minidisk machine by plugging the mini-jack into the headphone socket. This allows you to play material back to the whole class.

    Use an electronic whiteboard to edit as a class exercise.

    Feeding the audio into the computer and making sure your recording levels are correct can be a time-consuming operation. It can be useful if some of this is done by teachers and technicians outside of lesson time. An alternative, which involves a bit of planning, is to listen back to the material as it is played in.

    Before you start editing, make sure you are familiar with the basic workings of your editing package.

    Do let your students have a go at editing. In our experience they often pick it up very quickly.

    Do not get obsessed with making your piece perfect. Working to a deadline will help you focus on producing a reasonable report, which is finished, rather a perfect piece, which is only half-completed.

    Encourage students to play with the machines for five to 10 minutes before beginning recording to make sure they know how to use them.

    It is not necessary to have lots of equipment. Using four or five recording machines and working in groups is great, but using a single machine is a really good discipline. It encourages shy children to record their scripts in front of the class and encourages the rest of the class to listen.

    SCRIPT-WRITING TIPS AND REAL EXAMPLES

    BBC presenter Huw Edwards
    BBC presenter Huw Edwards
    Here are a few script-writing tips and examples of real BBC scripts which teachers might find use to models for writing TV and radio news.

    Decide how long your entire programme should be. A typical radio news bulletin is between two and three minutes long.

    Having allocated the total length of your programme, decide on the length of each report. Most people speak at three words a second, so the script for a 30-second report contains about 90 words. This worksheet will help you.

    Think about your audience and use appropriate language.

    Write as you speak. You don't have to use formal language.

    Keep reading your scripts out loud to check how they sound.

    Avoid repeating the same word too often.

    Write any words which are tricky to pronounce phonetically. Look at the Five Live script below for an example of how to do this.

    Liven up your reports with lots of interviews and sound or video clips. Long sections of script, containing only the presenter's words, can become boring.

    Remember to tell the audience who said what. In other words, credit your sources.

    If you did not manage to record the best quote of the interview, but you did write it down, do not be tempted to read the quote out loud. It's better to paraphrase like Radio 4 have done in this example:

    Tony Blair has said remarkable progress is being made in Afghanistan and that Britain is committed to supporting the country.

    Analyse as many programmes as you can. It might help students to answer these questions:

    • How long was the programme?
    • Were there headlines?
    • Did it contain music? Remember, in order to use music in YOUR news you have to compose it yourself or obtain permission for it's use. Breaking copyright law is a form of stealing.
    • How many stories did the programme contain?
    • How long were each of the reports?
    • What was the language like?
    • Which sound and video clips were used?
    • Did you find it interesting?

    EXAMPLE RADIO SCRIPTS

    BBC news logo
    Below are three BBC radio scripts, all broadcast on the same day.

    It is interesting to compare the different stories and the choice of language adopted by each programme, and to discuss how this relates to audience.

    It is also interesting to note that all the scripts are quite short.

    THREE Cs
    Clear
    Correct
    Concise

    Asking students to read them out loud and time themselves encourages them to be CONCISE when writing their own scripts - one of the three key writing skills involved in journalism.

    Key

    Each script is written for a presenter to read out. It might help students to think of a news script like the lines of a play with an invisible PRESENTER: at the beginning.

    The point at which a sound clip is played, and the presenter stops reading, is marked by Audio insert NAME:

    The words at the beginning (IN WORDS) and end of each clip (OUT WORDS) and the length in minutes and seconds (DURATION ) of the clip are shown so the presenter knows when to start reading again.

    Radio 4

    Tony Blair has said remarkable progress is being made in Afghanistan - and Britain is committed to supporting the country. He was talking after meeting the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, in the capital, Kabul. Mr Blair said the people of Afghanistan deserved to live in a proper democratic state.

    Audio insert NAME: AFGHAN BLAIR
    IN WORDS: Our commitment...
    OUT WORDS: ...challenges with you.
    DURATION: 0'11''

    The Iraqi government has rejected claims from an international human rights group that the trial of Saddam Hussein was unfair. Human Rights Watch said, among other things, key evidence hadn't been disclosed to the defence in advance.

    Dozens of Palestinians have converged on a house which they believe is under threat from Israeli warplanes. This is the second time in recent days civilians have been urged to act as human shields at the homes of militants in Gaza. On Saturday, Israel called off a planned air strike.

    The American technical stock exchange, Nasdaq, has launched a takeover bid for the London Stock Exchange. Nasdaq is trying to challenge the dominance of its main rival, the New York Stock Exchange.

    Health unions have criticised proposals for NHS hospitals to be able to advertise for patients. The Department of Health has warned trusts not to spend too much on marketing their services. Doctor Laurence Buckman, from the British Medical Association, rejected the idea.

    Audio insert NAME: NHS BUCKMAN
    IN WORDS: Patients want...
    OUT WORDS: ...care for patients.
    DURATION: 0'09''

    Environmental protesters are blockading a big Shell petrol station in Birmingham. They say they're angry that the impact of the oil giant's work on the environment - and also the way they believe it treats people in third world countries.

    Radio Five Live

    Tony Blair has said remarkable progress is being made in Afghanistan - and Britain is committed to supporting the country. He was talking after meeting the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, in the capital, Kabul. At a news conference, Mr Blair said the people of Afghanistan deserved to live in a proper democratic state. He gave this pledge:

    Audio insert NAME: AFGHAN BLAIR
    IN WORDS: I want to
    OUT WORDS: with you
    DURATION: 0'23''

    A former Russian security agent remains in a serious condition in hospital in London, where he's being treated, under police guard, for the effects of poisoning. Alexander Litvinenko, an outspoken critic of President Putin, was taken ill after meeting a contact at a sushi bar. The Sunday Times reporter, David Leppard, told Five Live Mr Litvinenko was keen to tell his story even though he was seriously ill.

    Audio insert NAME: RUSSIA LEPPARD ACT
    IN WORDS: I was told....
    OUT WORDS: .....my interview with him.
    DURATION: 0'20''

    A police officer who was seriously injured when his patrol car overturned in Leeds on Saturday morning has died. The 36 year old officer was responding to a call when the accident happened.

    Dozens of Palestinians have converged on a house which they believe is under threat from Israeli warplanes. This is the second time in recent days civilians have been urged to act as human shields at the homes of militants in Gaza. From the town of Beit Lahiya, here's Alan Johnston.

    Audio insert NAME: GAZA JOHNSTON
    IN WORDS: The owner...
    OUT WORDS: ...Saturday night.
    DURATION: 0'35''

    Rescue teams searching for two ice climbers missing in the Cairngorms overnight say they may have been caught in an avalanche. The pair, both from the Aberdeen area, had been climbing in the Coire an t Sneachda (PRON: CORRY AN SNECHDA) area yesterday. The alarm was raised when they failed to turn up at a meeting point.

    Environmental protesters are blockading one of the main Shell petrol stations in Birmingham. They say they're angry that the impact of the oil giant's work on the environment - and also the way it treats people in third world countries.

    In the city, the one hundred share index is down 33 at 61-58.

    Radio 1 Newsbeat

    A former Russian secret agent's critically ill after claims he was poisoned

    An ex-Russian spy's under police guard in hospital after claims his government's tried to kill him in a London restaurant. It's thought Alexander Litvinenko's was poisoned with a chemical called thalium. He'd met a contact to try and expose who murdered a reporter who'd heavily criticised the Russian President Vladamir Putin. Alexander Goldfarb's his friend.

    GOTO AUDIO NAME: r1 mon Russian Spy Goldfarb
    OUT WORDS: can hardly talk
    DURATION:0'11"

    Tony Blair's thanked British troops in Afghanistan for the courage they've shown fighting the Taliban. He spent an hour and a half talking to soldiers at the main British camp in Helmand province.

    The government's putting more money into a pupil mentoring scheme in schools to try to stop bullying. It comes as a new report says 20-thousand children are skipping classes every day because of bullying...

    GOTO AUDIO NAME: 0800 bullying
    OUT WORDS: their responsibility to
    DURATION:0'09"

    Mountain rescue teams are searching for two ice climbers who've gone missing in the Cairngorns. It's thought may have been caught in an avalanche. Michael Mulford's from RAF Kinloss...

    GOTO AUDIO NAME: 1030 climbers
    OUT WORDS: sudden unanticipated avalanches
    DURATION:0'07"

    Blackburn and Spurs both ended up with ten men in a 1 all draw at Ewood Park. Red cards for Tugay (too-guy) and Hossam Ghaly and Martin Jol got in to an argument with the ref.

    And more problems for Hearts in the SPL - after a 1-0 defeat at home to Rangers there was a fans protest calling for captain Steven Press-ly to be recalled and owner Vladimir Romanov to go.

    Radio One Newsbeat..more at...11.30...



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