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The Radio4A guide to making programmes

Concept

Normal or experimental? For normal, read on. For experimental, don't bother, just remember that without an audience your work means nothing. The medium of radio offers many possibilities, many of which are rarely explored, but if you produce a load of impenetrable toss don't expect it to get played at prime time.

Length

Aim for 20 to 30 minutes. This may need anything from 30 to 120 minutes of raw material depending on the experience of your subject, your skills as a programme maker and the amount of work put in to planning.

Scope

Be realistic; some subjects simply cannot be covered in 30 minutes. If you are ambitious, make a series, not a three hour epic. Your scope may also be limited by the resources available to you.

Format

Live or pre-recorded? Live programmes are usually not as tightly scripted as pre-recorded ones. Documentaries need to be recorded. Anything that uses a lot of different sources will be far more manageable if recorded and edited. Most types of performance work better live. Live drama can work very well but it will help if it has been written with this in mind. A live discussion may be interesting but difficult to direct whereas a pre-recorded programme can be made to follow one line of argument. Can you get all the people you want in to the studio at the right time?

Material

Will you be talking from a script? Will other people? Do you need a writer, a director (studio manager) or an engineer? Large groups will need a chairperson who can keep order. Music is a good addition to many speech based programmes but needs to be chosen carefully. Fading music and sound effects into a pre-recorded programme needs more equipment than a simple cut and paste edit does. Inserting music into a live programme will usually need an extra person.

Planning

People, Places, Particulars. Think of whom you want to involve. Think about places with a minimum of background noise. Think of an audience listening to your work. Write an outline. Have a run-through. Repeat as necessary. For a live programme, have a rehearsal.

Media

Minidisc is recommended for ease of editing. Cassette is possible, especially if you are careful to leave gaps between different sections and takes and note the time or counter reading. Readings on simple counters will differ between machines so use the same one for recording and editing from. DAT will rarely give better results than cassette unless you are very careful in finding a quiet location and choosing and using microphones, so is best avoided unless you already have one. Try to find a machine with an ALC (automatic level control) or preferably limiter; if a cassette, this will probably be an old one, so have it checked to make sure it is not worn out (sounds dull and/or speed wobbles or drifts). Portable MD and DAT machines usually have ALC circuits that work quite well but it will be especially important to minimise background noise (always a good idea anyway).

Recording

Allow plenty of time. If people are nervous in front of a microphone, give them time to get used to it. Record in short takes if your subject is inexperienced. In interviews, self depreciation sounds out of place on radio and makes your subject seem less credible. Make notes of each take; the start time (or count), the stop time, the scene or subject, whether it is useable, any other notes, etc. Check your recording on site so that you are sure you have got what you wanted (take headphones). A good microphone is important, as is good microphone placement; try to get it as close to your subject as possible without being invasive. For one or two people clip on, (lapel) microphones are good. For a group use a PZM or boundary microphone but try to make the room as dead sounding as possible (always a good idea anyway): close the curtains and hang a rug on the wall.

Editing

For simple editing, Minidisc is easy and needs only one machine. Cassette will need more time, care and two cassette machines. Whatever your recording medium, you can edit on a computer, which is as easy as using a word processor. We recommend Cool Edit Pro. You will need at least a Pentium 100MHz or similar as otherwise it will take ages and you will need quite a bit of hard drive free: at least 250 Megs even for a short programme. Layering several sources simultaneously will need a computer or a mixer and several tape machines / sources.

Copying

Please make a copy for the archive as well as the broadcast. Do not bring originals in to the studio.

Distributing

Make sure you know the time of transmission and the time your work must arrive by. Make sure it has a cue sheet attached.

And remember - if in doubt, you can always contact us at Radio4A!

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