I'm fascinated by local history and spend a lot of time with the good folks at the Bonner County Historical Society and Museum (bonnercountyhistory.org). Sometimes I get to write my research up into magazine articles aimed at other folks who care about such things. Recently I've had the opportunity to rework some of this historical research into 60-second radio spots. (This is a great example of repurposing your writing . . . more on that in a future post.)
Writing for radio is very different from writing for print. Since you're writing for listeners rather than readers, a different set of guidelines comes into play. Here are some things I've learned about writing to be heard rather than read:
It's all in the timing. Radio spots are usually 30 or 60 seconds long. Not 32 seconds. Not 55 seconds. 30 or 60 seconds (or whatever the client or station tells you). Know your time limit, read your piece aloud--a gazillion times if necessary-- and tweak it as much as possible to hit that exact length while reading at a natural pace (not super-fast or -slow). Sitting with a microphone in your face and a harried engineer at the controls is no time to be doing edits.
Write for smooth vocal delivery. Because your words will be read aloud, either by you or someone else, avoid tongue-twisters or awkward turns of phrase. These will become apparent soon enough as you read your piece aloud for timing. Take sandpaper to the rough spots.
Write simply. Your radio listener may be driving, working at their desk, washing dishes, or doing any number of things that will cause them to listen with half an ear. If you want your words to be heard, use simple language and a concise, clear message.
Of course, the same rules that make for good writing in print apply to other media as well: clarity, precision, organization. I hope these few simple tips will help you when you're writing specifically for radio (or stage, or any other aural medium).
And if you want to hear some examples of what I'm talking about, tune to KSPT Sandpoint (1400 AM) and listen for the "Bonner County History Mystery." That's yours truly you're hearing!