How to Write a Radio Script That Works

Stop waffling. Write a radio script to plan ahead for tighter shows that will keep your listeners hooked and engaged for longer.

Jamie Ashbrook

by Jamie Ashbrook in Production

Last updated 09.06.2021

Radio script online radio header

When broadcasting your radio show, every second counts. Nothing will drive away your audience quicker than you droning on and on with no end in sight. Create a custom-tailored show like a well made Italian suit. Write a radio script to plan ahead for tighter shows that will keep your listeners hooked and engaged for longer.

Why You Should Write a Radio Script

Scripts are a great tool for any broadcaster, so before you start writing you need to recognise what you’re trying to get across with your script and how best to convey it. There is no set format for a radio script.

Make sure it fits your brand and the tone you’re aiming for, while being appropriate to the content you’re covering. A script for a news update regarding politics or economics is going to sound very different to a short link between two songs. Despite this, there are a few universal guidelines you should remember when you write a radio script.

How Not to Present Radio

Before you write a radio script the right way, you should know what the 'wrong way’ is. This applies both to writing scripts and to on-the-fly presenting. If you don’t want to upset your audience, drive them away and possibly ruin your reputation, you should steer clear of things like excessive swearing, possibly any swearing at all depending on your audience. An abrasive personality works for Howard Stern and the like, but your audience of 80 year old grannies probably won’t appreciate your ‘biting wit’.

Similarly, anything that’s going to paint you as aggressive or dislikable is going to massively impede your audience’s ability to enjoy your content. This includes being condescending towards your listeners and guests, talking excessively about yourself for no reason, shouting and becoming angry, blaming other people for mistakes you’ve made and many others. These may all sound like common sense but the consequences of forgetting any of these rules can be fatal for your station, especially if you’re at the point where you haven’t yet earned much goodwill from your audience.

For an example of this in action, look back to October 2008, when Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross were hosting Brand’s show on BBC Radio 2. After their scheduled guest Andrew Sachs did not pick up the phone, the two left a number of inappropriate voice messages regarding Brand’s relationship with Sachs’ granddaughter, including swearing, sexual references and multiple attempts to apologise failing and descending into more attempts at humour.

After the British press got ahold of the story, the two were suspended from the BBC. In a follow up show, Brand attempted to apologise but instead mainly focused on The Daily Mail (the newspaper that reported the story) supporting Germany in the 30’s prior to WW2, trying to shift the focus rather than taking responsibility for what he said. Brand later left the BBC altogether, and it could be argued the careers of the two haven’t fully recovered in the 12 years following.

Does this sound fun? No? Then learn from the mistakes of others and avoid blundering into the same traps Brand and Ross did.

Now that you know what not to do, it’s time for you to write a radio script that will engage your audience and keep them hanging on your every word.

Write as You Speak

A common mistake when writing scripts is not writing the prose for it to be spoken. A script should sound natural when reading aloud. Don’t make the mistake of writing too formally, as it results in a stiff-sounding read through.

One of the reasons people tune into radio is for companionship, whether for long drives or doing household chores, so sounding like Hal 9000 isn’t going to fill the void in someone’s day. Sounding natural is simple; use contractions like “don’t” and “can’t” instead of “do not” and “cannot”, as people don’t normally talk like that unless in formal situations. Likewise, depending on your audience, consider including slang terms, although only if appropriate; nothing will switch a listener off faster than cringe-inducing attempts to sound ‘hip’ or ‘trendy’. Try to write as though you’re speaking off-the-cuff and inject some personality into it.

Writing a radio script

If you’re having trouble writing it out, try speaking the information you’re conveying out loud without a script and use that as a reference for how it should be written. Once that’s done, read it aloud to see if it flows and sounds natural, then edit appropriately.

Keep it Clear and Concise

When you write a radio script, try to keep it as tight as possible. Avoid unnecessarily flowery words or sentences that don’t add to what you’re trying to say. Make sure your grammar is correct and be as concise and clear as possible, it will allow you or your presenter to improvise and expand on what is written in the script. Radio is at its best when it doesn’t sound rigid, whether fully scripted or not.

It’s worth being aware that when we refer to terms such as ‘concise’, these are not to be misinterpreted as meaning ‘as short as possible for the sake of it’. What they mean is to convey information as clearly and briefly as possible, which is relative to the topics you’re covering. So don’t skip over things just to make them short if there’s more to discuss.

Tell Your Story Right, Set the Scene

Whether you’re breaking a news story or telling a joke on your comedy and music show, you have to remember that your listeners don’t have the visual aid of a television or online video. Try to paint a picture in the listeners head, help them to understand what you’re talking about. This doesn’t mean you need to go into excruciating detail, just give them enough to work with.

Write for Other Presenters

Running your own station, you may find yourself writing scripts for other presenters. Write material they will work best with. Depending on their personality, you need to ask yourself if they need full scripting, bullet points, etc.

Close up of writing ideas for a radio script

Tailor your writing style to their natural speech patterns and how they phrase things to make sure that it comes across as authentic to how your audience recognises the presenter. It’s worth giving them input into the script too; they’re likely to point out anything they wouldn’t say normally and could have some good ideas to add.

Radio Script Types

Radio comes in all shapes and sizes, but there are two categories most shows can be placed in; talk radio and music radio. When you write a radio script you need to account for the differences in style and content between these categories; like your choice of song or guest, choose your words wisely.

1. Talk Radio Script

Because this type of radio is focused on specific topics and conveying information in interesting ways, it can help to script out what you want to say to avoid needless waffling or, God forbid, you or your presenter running out of things to say. Avoiding dead air is one of the benefits of scripting, after all. Although there is no industry standard script style, we’ve put together a brief example with notes that may help you with yours. Note how even though there are larger passages of text, they are succinct and easy to read. To access these examples, fill in your details in the red box above and we’ll send them to your chosen email address.

2. Music Radio Script

A music radio script may have less fully scripted passages and more notes and bullet points to guide the presenter through. This is because music radio is meant to feel more improvised than, say, news or talk radio show. Despite this, if your music show has a news segment or something that needs a more formal tone, it can still be beneficial to script it out. One of the most important questions you need to ask when preparing your show is whether something needs a full script, bullet points or whether you’ll just allow the presenter to wing it. This decision needs to be informed by everything else you know about the show; what topics you’re covering, who will be presenting, what their personality is like and any other variables your show has.

Again, there is no set script for music radio, but we’ve put together a possible example that could help your shows through the red box above. Note how there are passages of texts for features called read-throughs, which are often used for promotional trails, but the rest of the links are note based to allow for more informal and flowing conversation.

Put Your Radio Script into Practice

As the old saying goes, put your money where your mouth is. Use your radio script to create engaging shows for your station. If you've not taken the plunge yet, we can help.

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