Module JT040

Writing for Radio

Module author

David Berner

Columbia College

Learning objectives

After you have completed this module, you will be able to write:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the key elements of successfully writing
    for the ear.
  • Effectively use the medium to write persuasive radio commercials.
  • Apply radio style elements to write effective public service messages for radio.
  • Create compelling copy for radio promotional announcements.
  • Demonstrate a basic understanding of radio journalism standards and use them to write effective radio news and sports copy.
  • Craft copy for engaging radio feature stories.

Chapter 1: Write for the Ear
1.1 You Only Hear it Once
1.2 Write to be Read Aloud
1.3 Write the Way You Talk
1.4 Simple and Direct
1.5 Translating Numbers
1.6 Word Precision
1.7 Conjunctions, Phrases, Fragments
1.8 Grammar and Punctuation
1.9 Format
1.10 Internet and Mobile Considerations

Chapter 2: Commercials
2.1 The Art of Writing to Sell a Product or Service
2.2 Authentic Writing
2.3 The Hook
2.4 Exploiting the Medium
2.5 Dialogue

Chapter 3: Public Service Announcements
3.1 Selling a Cause
3.2 The Human Connection
3.3 Don't Tell, Show
3.4 Call to Action

Chapter 4: Set-Ups
4.1 Introducing a Segment
4.2 Introducing an Interview
4.3 Introducing a Talk Show Element

Chapter 5: The Promotional Message
5.1 Promoting the Radio Program
5.2 The Hook
5.3 The Elements
5.4 Keeping it Concise

Chapter 6: News and Sports
6.1 The Basics of Fact-Based Storytelling
6.1.1 The Messenger
6.1.2 Attribution
6.1.3 Clarity The Lead Word Choice Sentence Structure The Inverted Pyramid Style Who, What, When, Where, Why, How
6.2 Conciseness
6.3 Variations on News Style
6.4 Organization of Story
6.4.1 The One-Element Story
6.4.2 The Multi-Element Story
6.5 Use of Sound
6.5.1 Format
6.5.2 Writing In and Out of Sound
6.5.3 Ambient Sound

Chapter 7: Writing Features
7.1.What's the Story?
7.2 Style
7.3 Sensory Language
7.4 Devil in the Details
7.5 Fewer Adjectives, Better Verbs

Study points 2
Preview Writing for Radio


Why Open School of Journalism believes writing for radio is an important skill for journalists

Writing for radio is a skill that has been overlooked for many decades. Although radio is one of the easiest mediums to use to disseminate information, its benefits often go untapped because of the lack of understanding in how to effectively communicate over the airwaves. Since the advent of motion pictures and television, talented scriptwriters have been steered toward the screen to develop their wordcraft. With a few notable exceptions, such as Edward Murrow and Paul Harvey, excellence in writing for radio has been as lost an art as training mules to pull a plow or using a crosscut saw to cut firewood.

Radio offers many advantages that are impossible for television or Internet to duplicate, like the ability to broadcast an entire drama without spending a dime on costumes, makeup, sets, lighting, or cameras. Radio is much more widely accessible than either television or Internet, especially with the advent of satellite radio subscription services. When the electricity goes out, the weather radios come out from their boxes and provide much needed information just as up to date as the fastest wifi. It only makes sense, therefore, that talented writers should be given opportunities to learn how to write for radio successfully, especially since it is a format unlike any other and there are many important rules to employ to make radio scripts effective.


Overview of the module

This module is designed to train you to maximize your effectiveness as a radio script writer. It's important for you radio writers to remember that your every word is crafting a visual image in the minds of listeners. Athough a picture may be worth a thousand words, in radio, your word picture must be only a fraction of that or your listeners will get bored and change the station. This module is designed to teach you how to create fantastic mental images for your listeners without being wordy, allowing you to take your listeners anywhere using only your voice and the microphone.


Write For the Ear 

Since radio is presented live, it is vital that you understand how to write with the listener in mind. Since you only hear it once, this module will teach you how to be clear, concise, and easily comprehended. You will learn how to write simply, directly, writing the way you talk without sacrificing precision. In addition, you will learn how to to present numeric information without confusing listeners; what conjunctions, phrases, and fragments contribute to your writing; how to format your broadcast; and even how the Internet and mobile technology will affect your work. 



One of the most powerful uses of radio is commercials. This module will go into depth detailing how to view writing commercials as an art. By using creativity, you can have fun with this important aspect of radio writing and inject humor or drama. The module will teach you to write authentically and hook the listeners for advertisers. Understanding how to fully exploit the medium of radio for your sponsors is vital if you plan to be on the air very long. By learning how to effectively use dialogue and other techniques in your commercials, you can develop a reputation that attracts sponsors and keeps you advancing.


Public Service Announcements 

For many local radio stations, loyal listeners expect to be kept up-to-date about news involving local groups. Although these radio spots don't generate revenue, it is important to provide excellent public service announcements to assist non-profit organizations to get out their messages. Many times, these are the only opportunities they will have to speak to the public, so it's important to understand how to present public service announcements effectively to maintain optimal community appeal.



The module will take the time to teach you how to set up different aspects of radio programs. You will learn how to introduce a segment, how to lead into an interview, and even how to set up a talk show so that transitions are seamless. This will make listeners want to keep listening as you move from one segment to the next. 


The Promotional Message 

It's important to sell your existing listeners on how great your radio program is if you want to build a loyal fan base to spread the word. Attracting new listeners is crucial to growing in the radio business, and we teach you to promote your program by wisely using a great hook and other elements. We also train you to keep things concise so your audience stays interested.


News and Sports 

Here's the truth: most people tune in to the radio just long enough to hear the sports headlines or to catch up on the breaking news. It's vital that you cover these two areas well, because this is your chance to impress listeners and make them want to keep the radio on even after you've finished giving the headlines.


The Basics of Fact-Based Storytelling 

In this module, you will learn how to avoid repetition and how to be a messenger and attribute facts to the right sources in a non-biased manner. You will learn to write with clarity and avoid ambiguous wording that will lose your listeners. By learning how to correctly write leads, use appropriate word choice and sentence structure, and answer the "who, what, when, where, why, and how" questions, you will gain clarity that will make readers assimilate the information quickly without confusion. 

You will also discover how to write concisely, with rich, varied style, and you will learn to organize your story with both single and multiple elements. You will learn how to use sound to enhance your broadcasts, how to format it, and how to use ambient sound wisely. As all these elements come together, you will be amazed at how flawless your broadcasts become.
Writing Features 

As you begin to incorporate all these necessary lessons, you will grow in confidence and ability until you become proficient enough to write features for your radio program. Our lessons are designed to make your feature writing effective enough for you to please both sponsors and listeners, and you will love how much easier it is when you have the confidence to do the job quickly.

If you are looking for a niche in a field loaded with potential yet not as saturated with professionally-trained talented competition as television is, radio may just be your spot. By taking this module, you can bypass that terrifying learning curve many newbie radio writers encounter and get started on a career that is exciting and rewarding on many levels. Who knows? Maybe someday it will be your voice, with perfect modulation and articulation, that gives us...the REST of the story.