What Portfolio School Didn't Teach Me About Radio

Radio wasn't emphasized when I was a student. Judging from the dearth of radio in student books, I assume nothing's changed. In a way that's fine, because I don't think anyone's going to hire you based on a student radio reel.

2007 was the year online spending surpassed radio. It might be easy to write off its importance as a medium. But as students who will hopefully have jobs within a year, it's something you can't afford to ignore. Because radio may be your first big shot at doing great work.

At most agencies, radio is the unsexy medium. The creative directors and senior teams will snatch up all the great TV opportunities. You'll get your shot at some print. But if you're a writer (and if you're not), there's no better place to shine than radio. You'll have more control over a radio spot than a TV commercial (no directors, no film crews, no teams of clients scrutinizing every frame of a story board). Usually, it's just you, your laptop, some creative direction, a client who approves it as the last item on the agenda of a meeting that's already running long.

Because it's very unlikely that you'll have the time and resources to create great radio as a student (print and ambient media are still the things that will get you a good first job), I don't recommend jumping into a study of radio just yet. But since it will likely be a big part of your career early on, here are a few things I wish I had known as a junior creative:

1. Listen to a lot of NPR. This is a great way to train your ear.
2. Pick up Jim Aitchison's book Cutting Edge Radio. It's the Hey, Whipple for radio writers.
3. Rule of thumb: A :30 spot should have a word count of about 80. You can go to 155 for a :60.
4. If it's not interesting in the first 5 seconds, you've failed.
5. Buy yourself a good stopwatch. Radio needs to be timed to the second.
6. Silly voices are a poor excuse for creative radio.
7. Some of my best radio ideas have come from my art directors.
8. It's still about telling a story.
9. The Radio Mercury Awards are the Cannes, One Show, and CA of radio. Grand prize is $100,000, but it's an honor just to be included on the reel. (SORRY, THE FOLLOWING OFFER HAS EXPIRED.) If you'd like to download several Mercury reels (for educational purposes, of course), feel free. It's the zip file called "RADIOPALOZA." Also included in the downloads is a reel from Pirate Radio in Toronto, a great company that hosts an annual radio workshop. Something you might ask your future employer to send you to.