Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Radio Feature Writing Circa 1943: U. P. Radio News Style Book

A recent addition to the ISLR Library is the 1943 United Press Radio News Style Book by Phil Newsom (dust sleeve pictured).

This short little tome is a relic from World War II, the early days of radio journalism, and a "once-major international news agency." I saw it referenced in Paul White's excellent 1946 News On The Air and found it right away via an online auction site.

There's not much call for traditional radio news writing anymore these days, but there's plenty of audio storytelling going on via public and community radio stations.

With this in mind and in the spirit of edifying my fellow reporters and producers with a little pre-Ira Glass (and even pre-Charles Kuralt) radio storytelling, here is the chapter from the United Press Radio News Style Book called "Radio Feature Treatment":

(Excerpted from United Press Radio News Style Book by Phil Newsom)

While the emphasis in radio news writing is on the handling of "spot" news developments, no discussion of radio news writing would be complete without a section on radio news features.

The news features leaven the loaf of the newscast by providing a relief from the heavier news of politics, economy or war.

In the radio news feature the writer has wide latitude in creating for the listener a word-picture of people, places and events. Here the radio technique of informality and conversational expression achieves its fullest development. For the radio feature, unlike the radio news report, can dispense with the basic "who, what, when and where" requirements in its lead. The radio news feature, like a short story, creates listener interest in personalities and situations, building the story toward a climax at the end.

The following is an excellent example of a light radio feature. It was written for the program "Time Out" which for a number of years has been carried on the United Press radio wires each Sunday.

* * *

Time Out!
Time out from war and its worries!
Time out from havoc and headlines!
Time out for a story of life with a little "L"--the story of a house that
friendship built.
Listen . . .

Ask anyone in Painesville, Ohio, what building they think is the finest in the world.

Radio City, the Woolworth Building, the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State--they'll turn up their noses at them.

"Waite's house," they'll tell you. "Finest thing you ever saw," they'll say; "the richest man in the world couldn't buy the stuff that went into that house."

So you go out to see it, your eyes all set for something in marble, maybe, with gold and diamond trimmings. And what do you see? A prim, tidy little cottage!

But wait a minute before you mutter about Ohio's sense of humor.

The richest man in the world couldn't buy the stuff that went into that cottage--and we'll tell you why.

It began last spring sometime when Franklin Waite and his wife decided that if they didn't taste a steak for six months and wore what clothes they had, they could build their own house. There was Frank's weekly check from the construction plant, where he was a guard, to count on--and besides, the missus was all for it. So they began to scrimp and save, cut corners and budget. Frank reckoned he could build it by hand working in his leisure time; and Mrs. Waite said she'd help with painting and even sawing if Frank would let her.

Well, last week Frank was all set to go. The wood was bought, the paint was on hand, everything finally was gathered.

And then, Frank was drafted.

He put his chin in the air and said he wasn't going to complain. But gee, it was all set to go and they'd dreamed of the house for so long.

It wasn't long after that the men at the plant began acting sort of strange. They'd be talking, but when Frank came along they'd shut up like clams, or say something phony, like "Guess I'd better be running along."

That went on for three days, and then, one evening, one of the men walked up to him and asked him how about coming along with him at quitting time, he had something he wanted him to see.

Well, Frank went along, gloomy as he felt, smiling and joking, and pretending not to notice that they were heading right out towards the leafy grove he'd bought to plant his little dream cottage in. And when they pulled up on his lot, he stiffened up a bit and thought maybe they were carrying a joke too far. Then he noticed.

He saw his pals all had their carpentering tools with them. He saw that the car he came in wasn't the only one. He looked around and it seemed as though the whole blooming plant was heading right for his leafy grove, for all the world as if they had a construction job to do.

They did have a construction job.

Those boys were there to build a house--his house.

And they did. For a week that grove was about the most unpeaceful spot you've ever been in. Night and day, you could hear hammers whanging and men shouting and saws rasping. When it got dark you could see the makeshift light line burning bright enough for the men to work--and when meal time rolled around you could see the beer and sandwiches the union contributed to the job.

Five days and five nights and the house was built. The painters slapped on the last coat of white and Frank just stood and looked, and Mrs. Waite cried, the way women will when they're so happy they can't say anything.

Frank went off to the Army then, walking with a bounce that a king couldn't match. He said he felt like he could whip the Germans and the Japs single-handed. But now and again he'd stop and look off into space and whisper:
"Did you ever know anything like those guys?"

Well, that's Waite's house.

Better than the Empire State, Radio City, the Eiffel Tower and the Woolworth Building. The richest man in the world couldn't buy the stuff that went into that house--for it's the house that friendship built.

(NOTE: The TIME Magazine version of the story from September 28, 1942 is available here.)