I love the use of third-party audio in a radio show. It adds dimension, colour, perspective, opinion, insight, and reprise. Third party audio comes in a variety of formats including vox pops, telephone calls, pre-recorded inserts, interviews and in the past few years, voice notes.
But, as part of our New Years’ resolutions, could we pause on the voice note for a moment and consider our actions?
Voice notes are delivered via Telegram, bespoke station apps and platforms, WhatsApp, and other digital delivery platforms (like e-mail). From a speed and ease of use perspective I think it is fair to assume that a bulk of voice notes come through mobile messaging services like WhatsApp and Telegram.
Voice notes are either solicited by the presenter asking the audiences to react or respond to a topic, theme, discussion, or promotion but can also be unsolicited as members of the audience share thoughts and stories randomly.
Technology, and specifically voice technology, has created a beautiful layer of opportunity for third party audio. I remember setting up hotlines’ using prepaid sim cards and calling my voice mail from the studio to grab audio recordings to use on air; it was a great addition to the show but required thought, contextual preparation and editing, basically you had to work the audio to get the best out of it.
The same applied for vox pops (where you generally needed an expensive recorder) and phone calls (telephone hybrids were expensive as was line rent and phone calls). Voice functionality in messaging apps has made it seamless to get audio instantaneously and through desktop connectivity, it is available on a variety of devices immediately.
So why is this audio not adding more value to our programmes?
Instant messaging has taken away from the thought process of inserting external audio into a show. It has become too easy to request voice response and instantly play it. Like phone calls, not every person that can send a voice note deserves the airtime. Instant voice notes are suffering from a lack of quality control. With phone calls there was a limit to the amount of people who could get through, with voice notes, it is virtually unlimited.
We either need more people behind the scenes filtering and editing (yes editing) the messages or we need to delay the play back process. Voice notes aren’t live, we can edit them so we can keep the essence of the message but be more succinct in the delivery. With editing it is possible to build a story arc within the voice notes and sculpt the intro and outro to suite the topic. In the preparation for the show, you can even allocate the length of the voice note segment as you are in control of the content and time frame.
Voice notes aren’t live, don’t pretend they are. Because our editing is sloppy or non-existent, we get plenty “hello, hi’s” and then presenters saying “hi” back. Can producers rather alert the on-air team to the content of the audio so that they can contextually link to the voice note/s?
There is also a particularly annoying in-studio habit where voice notes are paused, and comment is given by the presenter and then the rest of the message is played. If you want to have a one on one, call the person back, there is still a place for live phoners. Because we are commenting, we are delivering opinion and opened ended questions that the ‘voice noter’ is unable to respond to, this reminds me of cutting a caller off and then responding to them on-air.
Your radio show isn’t a powerplay with the audience. It is an interaction, an engagement, a levelling up and platform that needs to allow for reply when appropriate.
I’d personally like to see a blended use of third-party audio in radio shows. Live calls, voice notes and pre-recorded vox pops in one insert would expand the feature and allow us to step back and prepare better, we don’t need to be immediate, we need to be immaculate. In this process I think we’ll start finding better quality voice notes as the audience realise only the best stories, contribution and messages get used.
Lastly, can we figure out one contact number for the point of entry? Phone calls, WhatsApp, Telegram and SMSs can all use the same number. I battle to remember my own number, let alone the one for each show and remote studio.
Whats(App) your opinion, I’ll listen on the radio.
Tim Zunckel is the regional media business advisor – Sub Saharan Africa – at Internews. He is an audio ambassador, trainer, creative and media mentor. He writes in his personal capacity and can be found on all popular platforms, @timzunckel
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