Getting it right for radio  

Having worked in radio for the past quarter century, Roger LaMay has learned a thing or two about the unique challenge of writing for radio: You have only one chance to get it right.

“You have to write for radio in such a way that people ‘get it’ the first time,” says LaMay, general manager of WXPN-FM. “You’re not going to get to read it over again. It’s got to be clear. It has to grab the listener’s attention. You’re writing for listeners, not for readers.”

Now, LaMay and his colleagues at WXPN are teaching Penn writing students to do just that. The radio station and Penn’s Critical Writing Program are collaborating on a new course, “Arts and Culture Writing for Radio,” that offers students the opportunity to not only learn the craft of radio writing, but also to get their pieces broadcast on the air.

The course comes as the station—a national trendsetter in the so-called AAA, or adult album alternative, format—looks to do more to both publicize West Philadelphia’s many arts and culture offerings and reach out to Penn students, LaMay says. And now that the station has moved into its spectacular new studios in the former Hajoca Building—which gives the station more space that it could have ever dreamed of in its former Spruce Street home—the opportunity was there to have students experience radio production, in studio, for the first time.

“We’ve been thinking about new ways to give exposure and attention to the arts and culture happening on campus,” says LaMay. “And now that we’re in our wonderful new space, we’ve been looking at new ways of getting involved with students. During the discussion of that, we thought, ‘Maybe we can do both things at once.’”

The bi-weekly course teaches students how to produce stories for broadcast and, besides LaMay, also features lectures by such ‘XPN personalities as news director Bob Bumbera, morning show host Michaela Majoun and others. By the end of the semester, each student will have written and recorded a story—and will then get to broadcast the piece on air.
First, though, they’ll have to learn the difference between writing for the printed page and writing for the airwaves.

“We always talk about discovering your voice in radio,” LaMay says. “And the important thing in writing for radio is that you have to know what it’s going to sound like when it’s read aloud.”

LaMay, who also teaches a marketing course at the Wharton School, says he hopes the course will continue in years to come. “All indications are that it’s been a terrific success. All of us have been incredibly impressed by the enthusiasm and ability of the students. They’re great.”

Originally published on December 8, 2005