Voicing a Radio Story

By Mia Lobel

Be Yourself
Unless your are one of the few producers out there who can make a career out of non-narrated pieces, chances are you are going to have to VOICE your piece from time to time. This is one of the most challenging aspects of radio production and can make or break a story. But voicing can also be a lot of fun and it gives you the opportunity to put yourself into your work – to give your piece the emotion or levity the piece deserves. Most importantly, have fun with voicing and let your personality shine through. The following are a few tips that can help you properly voice your work.

Examples: 4 professional radio voices

Morning Edition

Terry Gross, Fresh Air

Tavis Smiley, The Tavis Smiley Show

Ira Glass, This American Life


Writing: The key to good voicing is good writing. Always make sure you read over your copy and change anything that doesn’t sound natural to you. Often, especially when reading news, your copy is going to be written by someone else. Make sure you have time to review the copy and adapt it to your speech patterns.

Read your copy OUT LOUD before you track. ALWAYS!! Unless you have the benefit of voicing in your closet, you’re probably going to have folks staring at you while you track: an engineer, the show producer, and possibly your editor as well – all listening to your read. If you have to keep stopping and starting, they’re going to get really irritated. Also, you might find that there is a certain word or combination of words that are hard for you to say. Know this in advance so you can slow down there or change the wording.

If it helps you – UNDERLINE the words in your copy that you want to emphasize. Sometimes in a live report, you can lose your sense of context and this will help.

Breath. Don’t forget to BREATHE! It’s OK if your listeners hear you breathe. This is a completely natural occurrence and although your breathing may sound very loud in your headphones, I guarantee that your listeners will find it much more strange if they DON’T hear you breathe. Mark your breaths with an apostrophe or slash. There’s nothing worse than running out of breath mid-sentence.

Projection. This goes hand in hand with breathing. Obviously on the radio, you don’t have to shout to be heard. But you do have to have ENERGY behind your voice. If you’re not breathing, you can’t possibly project and your voicing is going to sound weak. Many people don’t know this, but talking quietly actually takes as much or more breath than speaking normally. Try this exercise: place your hand just below your rib cage, above your belly. Breath into this space, making sure not to lift your shoulders as you inhale. You should be able to feel your belly expand. Breath out slowly and see how long you can make the breath last. Use this technique when you’re tracking to keep your voice strong.

Pausing and Pacing. The key is variation. Vary your pacing. You may be reading news, but it’s still a performance. You are responsible for bringing the images you’ve written into people’s minds. You can do this by speeding up and slowing down your read at appropriate moments. It’s hard for people to tune out when you keep changing things up on them! Allow yourself to pause and don’t be afraid of silence. Sometimes people need a moment for your words to sink in.

Diction. Don’t over do it, but make sure you can be understood. Your listeners need to be able to hear every ‘T’ and every ‘P’ in your copy. You don’t necessarily have to read slowly or over-annunciate to achieve this, but you do need to be sure that each word is understood. Radio listeners only have one shot to get what you’re saying and if you’re words are unclear, slurred together, etc., they’re going to miss your story. –

Context/Tone. Don’t sound like a Muppet or a corpse – BALANCE! Match the tone of what you’re talking about. Your job is to give context to your best cuts. If your piece is funny, let yourself laugh. If it’s sad, let yourself express some emotion – speak more slowly, lower your tone, etc. Make people FEEL what you’re talking about.

Personality – Let it shine through. Don’t be afraid to let your personality come through in your voicing. Part of this will be done with your writing, but you need to be able to translate your personality through your voice. Remember that this is a performance. Keep your audience entertained.

Other Important Tips:
– Make sure you sound like you know what you’re talking about. For example – don’t mispronounce names! Bad, bad, bad. Make sure you have PRONOUNCERS for all names, places, scientific terms, etc. – anything that might throw you during your read.

– One of the worst things you can do is to sound like you’re reading. Make it sound natural. Do NOT think about the millions of people worldwide who may be hearing your story. Think about that ONE person driving home from work and tell your story to him or her. If it helps, have someone sit in the studio (or closet) with you while you’re tracking.

– In a live report, if you need to cough, clear your throat, or make any other audible bodily function, be sure to use the COUGH BUTTON located in most studios. No one wants to hear this.

– Avoid tracking if you have a cold. If you don’t have a choice, try drinking some tea with lemon or standing in a steamy bathroom for a while. This should clear things up long enough to get you through your report.

– Listen and learn. Listen to the radio, to spoken word, to theater. What kind of voices move you? What is it about the way certain people talk that makes you listen and want to hear more.

-Practice, and figure out what kind of voicing works best for you. EVERYONE can improve his or her voicing. It’s a constant process and the more you do it, the better you’ll get. Try out different methods and find what works best for you!

Click here for a few sample scripts to practice with.

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