I have a 3” binder of creative nonfiction stories, and I open it up every time I need some inspiration. There are so many amazing stories in the world... the binder is gluttonous. Well-organized and gluttonous.
Many of these stories cry out to be adapted into radio stories. One example is "Final Salute", about the families whose loved ones will never return from war, and the Marine officers whose job it is to tell them.
"Final Salute" is what amazing journalism should aspire to be: intimate, accurate and moving. The writer is right in there with the characters, moving with them through scenes. He is there with the casualty notification officer Lt. Col. Steven Beck, close enough to hear the screams of a 23 year old pregnant woman on the tarmac as she takes in the flag draped casket of her husband coming off the plane.
Sheeler guides me through the story with a gentle hand, never coaxing or pushing. He paints the scene, then steps back and lets it breathe. "Final Salute" speaks for itself: it's respectful of the subject matter and yet incredibly intimate. It doesn't pull away. The staying power of this story is such that it moves me no matter how many times I read it.
"Final Salute," which first appeared in November 2005, in the Rocky Mountain News, brings to mind a question of format. Why is it that some stories come out as written pieces while others emerge as audio stories? When I read "Final Salute," I can't help but wonder, why was this masterpiece not a radio story?
The truth is, it could have been. To any up-and-coming radio producers out there who want to make a fantastic piece of audio, I recommend this: start with a story that's already been written, and adapt it for radio. Maybe it's your story, maybe it's someone else's, (you'll never know if you don't ask). If you don’t have your own recorder, that shouldn't be a reason why your story gets left by the wayside in a folder on your desktop. Many colleges have radio stations. I would be surprised if someone at the station isn't willing to help you get into a studio to get some free recording time.
Here are some basic tips for adapting a written story for air:
- Strip it down. Short sentences.
- Practice reading your story aloud. Is there a better way to phrase something to make it more active?
- Starting in scene is a good hook.
- You need some AMAZING details. Pick the nuggets, leave the rest.
- Relax. Own it. Be yourself.
Aspiring radio producers, be not afraid. There are amazing stories out there just begging to be radio pieces, and they can be yours.
by Jim Sheeler for Rocky Mountain News in 2005
Note: While "Final Salute" has not been presented as a full-length radio piece, the written piece is part of a multi-media slideshow