Crafting Radio's Driveway Moments
LIANE HANSEN, host:
If you're a longtime NPR listener, then you've no doubt heard the phrase "driveway moment." It's our way of describing a story that somehow is so compelling it keeps you in your car listening to the radio. A new book, "Sound Reporting," examines the art and craft of audio journalism and production, and it describes some of the things that go into creating those driveway moments. NPR editor and trainer Jonathan Kern is the author, and he's in the studio. Welcome Jonathan.
JONATHAN KERN: It's great to be here.
HANSEN: You interviewed more than 100 NPR staff members for this book, including me, I should say. And I know we're at the risk of doing a bit of naval gazing here, but a lot of listeners, when I go out, come to me and want to know, you know, how things are done. So let's start with this driveway moment. Is there one thing that turns a report into a driveway moment, or a lot of things?
KERN: Driveway moments are not born, they're created. And a lot of people have a hand in making them. But if I had to name one thing, I would say it is the ability of the reporter to connect with listeners in some intimate way. And the one that comes to mind was Melissa Block's report when she was in Chengdu, China. Melissa was there after the earthquake, and she found a way to connect with people so that they felt that she was talking directly to them, just the way she would if she got on the phone and called them up and said, here's what I'm seeing.
HANSEN: Let's hear a little of it.
(Soundbite of report)
Mrs. FU (Earthquake Survivor): (Chinese language spoken)
MELISSA BLOCK: Mrs. Fu(ph) just called out her son's name, Kwong(ph), and said, mom is coming for you, as this excavator works it's way through this pile of debris that is just devastating to look at.
HANSEN: Listen to her voice and listen to the voices of the people there. I mean, that story was inherently dramatic. Earthquakes, big events, are. But do you have to deal with life and death to make a compelling radio story?
KERN: No. What you have to do to make a compelling radio story is report with your ears. There's a scene in a recent piece which a lot of people referred to as a driveway moment after they heard it, when Laura Sullivan went to San Quentin and was reporting on the incredible overcrowding there. And she had her tape rolling, and she was able to give us something that you just wouldn't get any other way.
(Soundbite of report)
LAURA SULLIVAN: Metcalf is about to show me his locker.
Mr. MANUAL METCALF (Inmate, San Quentin): Down here.
(Soundbite of alarm)
Mr. METCALF: Oh, alarm.
SULLIVAN: Metcalf and every inmate in the gym drop to their knees. I can see them scanning each other's faces. The noise is deafening. In the entire gym, I am the only person still standing.
Unidentified Man: You got to get down, too.
HANSEN: Well, I mean, you could read about that in a magazine article. You know, alarm goes off, everybody hits the floor. But, you know, hearing her, Laura, describe it, it really makes the situation so vivid.
KERN: And it's something she wouldn't have had if she hadn't been recording all the time that she was there. You might have missed it and had to say, while I was interviewing this person an alarm went off. But we're there, we feel the alarm, we have her description of people dropping to their knees and her being the only person in this giant prison standing.
HANSEN: You've written about a medium which as you say in the book became popular about the same time as the Charleston. So needless to say, it's very old. So with more people getting their news from the Internet, how do you feel about the future of radio?
KERN: I have no idea if people will continue to listen to radio through the little receivers and getting the signal broadcast from transmitters. But I think we are storytellers, you know. We communicate orally. We're hardwired to do that. When we have an event in our lives that we care about, the first thing we think is, I have to tell someone about that. So I think in that sense, radio's got a great future.
HANSEN: NPR editor and trainer Jonathan Kern, author of the new book "Sound Reporting: The NPR Guide to Audio Journalism and Production." Thanks a lot, Jonathan.
KERN: You're welcome.
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