Learning to write for radio: ‘a reboot and a shock’

  • January 29, 2021

By Caroline Klewinowski 

Over the summer of 2020, in quarantine, my friend and I hosted a podcast. It kept me sane during the long months when the pandemic was really starting to hit. In the beginning of the fall semester, there was something that felt familiar about the idea of interning at a radio station. And so, I emailed the WSHU News Director Terry Sheridan on a whim. Multiple people I know and admire in the journalism program here at Stony Brook had interned there. I thought maybe I had a shot at getting the internship.  

As anyone might imagine, the internship wasn’t exactly the same in a pandemic as it would have been in a normal semester. Between radio scripting and audio editing, I had only one assignment in the field, and I got to see the production of only one live interview. I was terrified that I’d botch something on my sole opportunity at the full WSHU experience. I mostly got my hands dirty in Audition, Adobe’s audio editing software, with J.D. Allen, the assistant news director, in the other room at the station’s small Long Island bureau. 

Working at WSHU was a reboot and shock compared to everything I learned at the journalism program and from other internships. I remember when J.D. was editing my first story, every single sentence was reworked and rewritten. For the first month of my three-month internship, J.D. basically wrote my pieces, and he deserved every byline I got. Who knew four to six sentences could be so bad? God knows how long I would spend in the voicing booth repeating the same sentence over and over again only for J.D. to send me back. He was still reassuring and supportive, and never confirmed my fears. Radio scripting and voicing became easier with practice, and I learned to keep sentences short. 

Audio journalism has always been dear to me, but my real aspirations lay in print journalism. Honestly, the internship at WSHU did not change anything. Students at the journalism program who are like me and aspire to write long and elegant pieces can still learn a couple of extremely valuable things with an internship at WSHU. It felt like a writing boot camp. Where else will you learn to boil down a couple of interviews, a lengthy report and context into less than one page? On top of that, you have to make sure your story sounds conversational, and don’t forget to make sure the host can easily read it out loud. 

There’s something else I’ll always remember from my first day at WSHU. Each intern gets a copy of the Blue Book, the NPR style guide. The first thing in it is a letter to interns from NPR’s White House correspondent, Tamara Keith. In it, she writes, “People who are easy to edit go far in life. I don’t just mean coming in with a polished product. I mean greeting each edit as an opportunity to get better at the craft.” Even though getting those tough edits made it feel like I jumped into the deep end, I hope every internship and job I have going forward will feel just as hard as WSHU felt on that first day.