Narrative roles for character sound in radio news features

Character Sounds (sometimes called ‘AMBI’) are sounds that tell a story. Often this is done by weaving together the sound of tasks or activities that people are doing in front of the journalist. Since they tell the listener something important about what is happening (like a door opening, or a church bell ringing) the sounds themselves can become “characters” in the story. When character sounds are backgrounded under a voice track, they can become Ambiance: sound that is used both to smooth out multi-tracking transitions (i.e., “room tone”), but also to establish a “sound space” or mood, or to identify chapters changes within the larger story. The backbone of radio journalism is voice-over narration with choice interview clips, but using other kinds of sound can add life to a standard voice-only news story. If you have ever heard a radio story and you have a vivid picture in your head of a place, an event, or a mood, they probably used character sounds and ambiance to do it. Here are few of the most common narrative devices that Character Sounds and ambiance are used for in radio news features.

On location: Where does the story happen?

–Events: Go to an event and use sound to help us understand what that event was like

Wedding: Married at Last, KUOW, Liz Jones

Funeral: WPR Feature – Pentacles Now Adorn Wiccan Veterans’ Markers, Brian Bull, WPR

–Site visits: Go to locations where work happens

School classroom: Kids Find Path To College With Rainier Scholars, Ann Dornfeld, KUOW

Temporary post office: Compass Post Office Provides Mailing Address For 3,500 Homeless In Seattle, Amy Radil, KUOW

Church: Despite Census findings, rural poverty entrenched in Minnesota, Tom Robertson, MPR

From place to place: Telling the journalists story

Walking around town: Where Coal Divides, Community Remains, Ashley Ahearn, KUOW

Typical cases: Profiling participants lives

Going to the food bank: Unemployed Workers Brace For End Of Federal Support, Carolyn Adolph, KUOW

Sounds of a people: Cultural representations

Navajo pow-wow dancers: Free Press in Indian Country, Brian Bull, MPR

There are certainly more ways to use sound, but these are a few of the most commons ones. Have you heard other narrative devices in sound? Feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of the post with additions.

Also, check out these great examples from past students in BISMCS 343!

Indeah Thomaier: 5th Avenue TheaterMP3 (4.3 MB)

Intro: The Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre hosts an annual High School Musical Theatre Awards Ceremony (sponsored by Wells Fargo), for over 90 high schools around Washington State.  Beginning in 2001, this awards ceremony has grown in size and scope, from a little more than 3,000 participating students to over 9,000 students from as far as Spokane, Chelan, Lynden, Sequim, and Vancouver.  Private schools, Public schools, Alternate Schools or Homeschooled—these students gather to receive recognition for their hard work and dedication.  What inspiration do these students possess to participate in such an event that brings all of them together to do this year after year?  Indeah Thomaier interviewed one high school in particular, Edmonds Heights K-12 (formerly known as Edmonds Homeschool Resource Center) an alternative homeschooling program for students, and asked the faculty, parents, and students about their views on how Musical Theatre has impacted their lives.

Patricia ElKoury: After-School Programs, Closing the Gap between ClassesMP3 (2.8 MB)

How engaged are your kids during the crucial after school hours? With so many parents working out of the home, many kids go home to an empty house. Maybe you’ve thought about sending them to do after-school activities, but feel like organized sports are a costly option. Let’s go to reporter Patricia El Koury to get the scoop on free after-school programs being offered in our area.

Adrianne Hashimoto: Making a DifferenceMP3 (5.3 MB)

The current state of our economy has forced budget cuts on many organizations in our community. These financial strains have in turn caused a rise in need for volunteers. While volunteer rates are beginning to rise, more help is still needed. Adrianne Hashimoto of UW Bothell Community Radio has the story.

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