For me, storytelling is the essence of radio. Sure, you can listen to your favourite radio station to hear the music. But what keeps you listening when the latest #1 single finishes? It’s all well and good having someone speaking in between tracks telling you what song you just heard and what the next song you’re going to hear is, but you’ve probably heard that a million times. No, the real reason to keep listening is a presenter who can make their links sound like an interesting story, they can keep you on tenterhooks – almost hanging off the edge of your seat – just waiting for that oh so rewarding pay-off that you know is going to come. This is larger than just radio, this taps in to the basic human instinct we all possess from childhood of wanting to hear stories.
Jad Abumrad – the host of Radio Lab – comments on this instinct in Dilworth and Biewen’s book Reality Radio: Telling True Stories in Sound when he states “I believe the job of a great storyteller is to lead people to moments of wonder”. This corresponds with my own aforementioned view of personality-led radio. Abumrad – himself a successful radio presenter – then explores how one would do that. He explains that on his own show, himself and his co-presenter improvise on the outline of a story to make it sound the most entertaining that it can possibly be. Following this, they script around it, taking great care to make it sound unplanned as they want to keep a “pleasant illusion” of “two guys chatting”. This is part of how storytelling can connect to people on a subconscious level. When it’s done right on radio, storytelling reminds people of their own chats they have with friends, rattling off anecdotes about their own lives.
Specifically for radio and film, Abumrad refers to a quote from Walter Murch – “No question music can produce strong emotion, but – like steroids – it can also damage the organism in the long run”. The use of sound other than voice can evoke feelings in people that conversation can’t – such as tension, joy or sadness. Abumrad remarks that “there are times when the music wants to be a character in the story too”, something I feel can only help make a story connect to people on a larger scale, almost in direct contrast to Murch.
In conclusion, Abumrad closes his chapter by explaining the two hemispheres of the brain. The right side wants “experience”, whilst the left side wants “explanation”. The overriding message of the chapter is that a good storyteller can “speak to both halves”. Abumrad sums up it best with his quotation “the best stories connect experience to something larger”, while explaining they have a “sense of something universal that’s shared, human to human”. For me, that is the true essence of radio, something this chapter does very well in explaining why I believe so.