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When planning out a program, community radio producers must think about how to set a scene in the heads of listeners.

The very basis of community radio programming is that good radio is not tailored to serve the needs of volunteers, but the needs of listeners. Programming thus needs to be structured for listeners. But volunteers are a busy bunch and even the best community radio producers do not have the time or resources to get training on the best ways to do radio.

Noted trainer Terrence McNally says a few of the questions that will sharpen your stories include the following:

Who’s the protagonist? Stories need someone – either an individual or group – to drive the action. Provide description or background that allows us to see a flesh and blood human being.

Have you created a world? People instinctively want to know who, where, when, what, why. Supply a little description up front fixing the story in time and space.

Have you created scenes to bring the characters and the story to life? Ingredients for a scene include time, place, circumstances, characters, action, (and if possible) dialogue

What’s the hook? Hook the audience right from the start by beginning the story in a place where the audience can identify with the situation or the protagonist’s goal.

What keeps it interesting? Predictable stories are boring. If your story lacks obstacles, what can you do to make the straight-line pursuit more interesting?

Let’s say your story is a lost dog. Who is the protagonist? You could certainly make it the dog, but it is the people connected to the dog who have stories with which listeners identify. Maybe there is a little girl raised with the dog. Maybe the owner has a funny story about the dog going to the vet as a puppy after eating a sock.

If your story is globalization pressures in Ecuador, elements to that story include the circumstances leading to this issue, historical timelines, the players and the conflicts. Yet the richness comes from how you share the narrative in a way to make listeners appreciate the story.

Maybe you are programming music and you are interviewing an artist. Take them off the promotional talking points and get them to share something more. What obstacles has she or he faced? What about those obstacles does she or he remember most vividly? What song inspired her or him to play? What incident almost made her or him want to give up? Warning on that last question: pre-interview first, as nothing says bad interview like a question to which the answer is “uh, nothing.”

The objective of good storytelling is talking. Get people to talk about their goals. Why does Jill want that dog back so badly? How does a new factory impact life in this community and the futures of local farmers? Why does this music mean something to you? But through all this, remember it is about the audience. Nothing is more boring than a predictable interview with a band playing music and talking about their CD, or a lost dog who everyone knows is actually next door. Press your source for surprises. Press yourself as a community radio producer to present the unexpected. You want your audience to wonder how this story will turn out, because they will likely tune out if it is dull.

Great stories let listeners see other points of view and perspectives they can think about for a long time afterward. Community radio offers a great venue, but use it properly.

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