A series of posts drawing up to the BFI Media conference where I’m speaking broadly about building multi-storied storytelling. Today a snapshot in Podcasts.

What time do you want to talk to me?, she asked.

About 10.30. Just before you go to bed, I replied. Have a bath or whatever then relax and I’ll come over.

It sounds like the prelude to a sex scene but it’s how I devise my timing when interviewing a subject for my proto podcast figuring I’ll get something different from them — at night, when your stress levels are hopefully down and you’re less guarded.

Of course it doesn’t work for public officials; imagine me asking to interview the former head of the CIA at er, yeah right!

But the principle is one of many unwritten guidelines that enable radio producers and podcast makers to create compelling radio.

On the three occasions I did this as part of a Radio 4 documentary; Radio 4 being the equivalent of NPR, one of my interviewees got physically angry with me, another broke down in tears crying, and the third became so reflective with enough pregnant pauses that it introduced a sense of faux tension.

As with this story and many other podcasts, I look out for the following:

  1. Quality of story and sense of drama I can expect.
  2. Quality of interviewee — is there drama in their voice? What’s their accent? I usually reject several interviewees before finding the right one.
  3. Does the report invite natural sounds or atmos?
  4. An archive search for the right type of music. This can take a while.
  5. Scripting for the appropriate audience and finding the right tone.
  6. Equipment. Yes, it matters but I’ve made podcasts on some ropey outmoded equipment that has worked pretty well.

Until podcasts became podcasts in the same way videojournalism was locked behind broadcast network cabinets, radio was the exclusive domain to learn about the theatre of the imagination.

In local radio, you learned how to package engaging stories i.e. put together a radio report; understand the essence of sounds; the quality and timbre of voice; and how to deliver — you learned what made compelling radio.

Like videojournalism it isn’t rocket science, but there is an underlying science if you want to make it memorable. Why do some voices work on radio and some don’t. We blithely referred to someone as having that ‘X’ factor; the understanding being, some voices work and some don’t.

Psychologists and principle lecturer Catherine Loveday spoke to me about, how when we imagine we visualise which uses the same part of the brain involved in memory. Visualisation lays down comparatively more neural pathways than sound.

When we visualise we activate more areas of the brain. However if we can stimulate memory pathways by coming at them from different ways we remember more things. It’s the reason why ‘desirable difficulties’ explained in my post here yields better memory recall. Repetition therefore is key, music’s aural stimuli the cortex and fundamentally you need a compelling narrative.

Essentially we’re hard wired into stories, but the narrative and its quality of reception is dependent upon how you make meaning of the story, which is why you might like something and others don’t.

Perhaps one of the best prototype podcasts is Orson Welles’ 1938 broadcast War of the Worlds, a piece of theatre so frightening that people genuinely felt an alien invasion was happening, inducing people to flee their homes. If you’re into podcasting and you haven’t listened to this, then you must.

However, one of my contemporary favourites that you’ve perhaps never heard about before is Stockbroker turned podcaster Lord Bryon Lee. It’s a magical piece of theatre that he wrote and produced. He had time to come into our studios and I thought this was worth sharing.

The key takeaways you might agree our voice, drama, use of music, the imagination and his delivery

Part 1. Multi-storied storytelling. More on David Dunkley Gyimah. Please share if you found this interesting or ff on twitter @viewmagazine

Top Writer & Creative Technologist, Int. Award Winner. Cinemajournalist. Cardiff Uni @jomec. PhD (Dublin). Visiting Prof UBC, Ex BBC/C4News. Apple profiled.

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