The 7th of January 1991 was a big day for me. It was the day I started working as a radio journalist.
As someone who writes for a living, I’m supposed to avoid clichés, but saying that it was a dream come true is just stating a fact. I’ve no real idea where that desire came from. The radio was always on at home when I was growing up. I woke to voices on the BBC’s morning flagship Today programme, and often went to bed to the strains of pop music on a commercial station. So maybe that was it. Radio sounded fun and interesting and who doesn’t want a job that sounds fun and interesting?
Back in 1991 I’d have to carry a Uher reel to reel tape player to record interviews and audio. It was so heavy it made a dent in my shoulder. Reporters had to edit the tape using chinagraph pencils and a razor blade. We shared a newsroom with those we disparagingly called ‘telly tarts’ - I’m sorry to say I later became one myself. They lived in the linear world of pictures. We lived in the magical world of sound, and audio was king.
If proof were needed of the versatility of audio, we are now living in a golden age of podcasting. Radio remains hugely popular but podcasting has reinvented the medium, injecting it with added intimacy, flexibility and connection. Not surprisingly, audiences continue to grow.
New technology means as an aspiring podcaster you no longer need to heave around heavy equipment all you need is a smartphone.
The beauty of audio is that you can tell your story from anywhere. To record audio examples for the courses for Thomson Foundation’s Guide to Podcasting, I created a homemade studio using pillows to create the best sound, sometimes putting a towel over my head. The difference in quality is remarkable as you’ll discover in Course two: Making it.
We just take the oral tradition away from the fireplace and into the mobile phone.
Podcasting is already well established in some countries such as the USA and UK and elsewhere it’s being introduced to new listeners. James Smart, the podcast editor for Nation Media Group in Kenya says, “We know people love good stories. We just take the oral tradition away from the fireplace and into the mobile phone.”
What’s more, podcasts offer storytellers and journalists the time and space to pursue those stories. There are no time restrictions as there would be in a radio news bulletin.
“Podcasts offer you this latitude, this freedom to really pursue your passions any way that you want”, is how Dr Louisa Lim, who teaches podcasting at the University of Melbourne, sums up what podcasting offers storytellers and journalists.
I have listened to many podcasts whilst compiling the Thomson Foundation’s Guide to Podcasting, in the bath, out walking and doing the chores. Part of their appeal is being able to chose the time and place to listen. I can say that the best podcasts are those that have learned lessons from the best that radio has to offer: great stories, great voices, great editing. Throw in the right narrative structure, terrific scripting and a sense of jeopardy and you have the ingredients for a successful podcast.
Going back to why I love audio? There is another reason. Not long after I started at that radio station, I met another radio reporter who I’d go on to marry. To misquote Shakespeare, ‘His voice was ever soft, gentle and low.” How could I resist? Now that has got me thinking about a podcast idea, ‘How I met my husband’...stay tuned!