New skills and a new perspective

  • December 1, 2018

By Rebecca Liebson

I’ll be honest: WSHU was not my first choice for an internship going into the fall semester. But after an internship at a local newspaper fell through, Terry Sheridan was gracious enough to bring me on last minute.

Coming in with no radio experience, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. I’ve always been a verbose person, and when writing for print I tend to use long, flowing sentences chock full of em dashes and semicolons. Terry turned my writing style on its head and taught me how to write for the ear.

A good radio story uses short, simple sentences. A lot of the time the language is more casual. Radio stories also tend to be less thorough than print stories. Listeners aren’t interested in hearing every minute detail. They want to hear the five most important points and move on with their days. I’ve always been a stickler when it comes to context, and a lot of the time I tend to over-explain things, so this really took some getting used to for me. After the first couple of days, though, I was able to boil down 600-800 word stories into a couple of bullet points.

Aside from learning how to write for radio, I also learned how to voice stories. I’ve been told in the past that I have a good voice for radio, but I never thought much of it. As I said before, I’ve always been much more of a print person than a broadcast person, so before WSHU I didn’t really get the opportunity to put my skills to the test. I came in overly confident. “You’re just reading off a script,” I thought. “How hard could it be?”

Turns out, it can be very difficult. Even the smallest mistakes (a little stutter here, an awkward pause there) can make or break your piece. When I was younger I did theater, so luckily annunciating and figuring out which words to emphasize came pretty easily for me. I found that the hardest part was loosening up. Both Terry and Professor Conway explained to me that when you’re reading a story on the air, you want it to sound like you’re having a conversation with a close friend.

Listening back to my early stories, I notice how choppy and awkward I sound. My narration seems rehearsed at times. In the last couple of weeks at the internship, though, I felt like I’d finally started to get the hang of it. I learned how to control my voice better so that I didn’t sound so stiff and uncomfortable. I still have a lot of room for improvement, but I am happy with the progress I’ve made over the past semester.

Working at WSHU also exposed me to the technical side of radio. Prior to this internship, I didn’t know what a mult box was, I had never played around with Adobe Audition — heck, I barely ever used a microphone! Over the course of this internship, I got hands-on experience with all of these tools. I’ve always been sort of technology averse, so the first time I went out to report in the field I was extremely anxious. I feared that my levels were off or that I hadn’t hit record or that I had plugged the mic in incorrectly. But through trial and error, I overcame all of these fears

Am I an expert in audio engineering now? No, not by any means. But I have gained base knowledge in an area that was once completely foreign to me. I now have the confidence to walk into a radio station and take whatever assignment they throw at me because I know enough to get by and I know I can teach myself more along the way.

As someone who listens to NPR religiously, getting a behind-the-scenes look into the world of public radio has been a delight. I’ve always gotten most of my news through radio, but I never once pictured myself on the other side of the equation. After working at WSHU, I am now seriously considering pursuing a career in radio broadcasting. I am walking away from this experience not only with new skills under my belt, but also with a renewed passion for storytelling.