A Sense of Awe: science, faith and wonder
October 3, 2011 0

A word from my mentor

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As you might have gathered, I’m a neophyte radio freelancer working on only my third program. I’m enjoying the challenge but I don’t have years of experience or training. And some of the ropes are tricky to learn.

Margaret Coffey is an ABC old hand and my mentor at Encounter. So I asked Margaret to jot down a few thoughts on the making of a radio program. Margaret writes:

So, you’ve been following Chris’ blog and reading transcripts of interviews with eminent thinkers – and ideally you have been posting your thoughts in response. I hope you want to take up Chris’ invitation to help him plan the making of a radio program in the Encounter series. His task is not simple; there are difficult and tantalising philosophical issues to consider here.

Now, add to the mix the challenge of making a radio program. Each Radio National program brief dictates what the program maker aims to do. Although Encounter sometimes delivers straight lectures, edited and interpolated to greater or lesser degree for broadcast, it generally aims to proffer a ‘feature’ program—a program that tries to make an affective as well as an intellectual experience of radio and that therefore uses the tools radio makes available.

Making such a program is quite a different task from writing a feature article or a lecture and I think it’s especially challenging if you want to enlarge the audience’s sense of whatever it is that is at issue. That means you have to find a means of getting away from simplicities, from conventional tags that align this with that and in so doing might save you the time and effort of dealing with complexity.

You may be able to use sound to help the words out and certainly you will have to find words to intimate ideas that are generally presented by academics who use many more words!  And you need to keep in mind all the time the capacities we have as listeners to hear and comprehend: no matter who we are, a lot passes us by in any listening span, and we have our limits to listening.

Think of the material so far: that long transcript of Chris’ discussion with Nancey Murphy and Denis Alexander; John Lennox’s reflections; Chris’ original article about the intellectual traffic in the domain of his theme; the ideas and emotions implicit in the photo he has selected for his blog—how will all of these translate to 48 minutes of radio? Remember it will be broadcast indiscriminately to radio receivers of varying ages and qualities in cars, homes, offices around Australia, to listeners of varying familiarity with the concepts and disciplines underlying and framing the discussion, not to mention of variable hearing capacities. (The latter makes for serious difficulty in balancing the use of music and other background sound.)

You might very well have some ideas in response—and Chris would welcome them. How should he narrow his focus, for example? Here are some practical considerations on the way to the editing booth.

What range of voices does Chris have available to him? Male, female, what ages, what backgrounds? What ‘cultures’ do they represent? (I mean beyond whether they are American or Australian or even scientific or religious.)

How will he shift between the various contexts in which he has interviewed people? Are there sounds or ‘atmospheres’ that might work to make those transitions?

How to convey the terms of the discussion: in words, images (e.g. via literature/music/sound of other sort)?

How will technical or complex concepts be introduced?

And as to the role Chris will play in the program—is a narrator/facilitator necessary? Or should Chris be more opinionated?

How to make a program that will entice a younger audience, beyond the usual Encounter age range? In order to attract a younger audience familiar with brevity, must Chris use shorter ‘cuts’ or extracts from interviews? How will he balance that sort of requirement with the need to deal with complexity?

Finally, if he uses music, what kind of music – and what will that say about him, not to mention what kind of audience will it encourage?

Where are your ideas? If you were making this program what would you do?

Thanks Margaret! Lots for me to ponder… I think I need some help. Anyone?

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