Some format options

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One-on-one interviews in studio

A standard format, the backbone of radio for years – they are easy to produce and meet the audiences’ expectations. They can be good at getting:

  • facts from an expert, including anecdotes and perhaps some emotion. Interviewing an expert can also be dry, as factual information is difficult to absorb from the radio. The audience may not engage as eavesdroppers on the conversation, because there may be no emotional connection with the guest or the host.
  • personal interviews with someone who reveals something about themselves or tells a good story. This engages the audience more successfully, as there are emotional touchstones, values and feelings we share as humans.

One-on-one interviews in the field, with sound and demonstration

Stickman interviews purple lady farmer 2.jpg
Also a standard format, and fairly easy to produce. They add a visual element to the information being transmitted. This engages the audience in a different way. They are still eavesdroppers, but now they can visualize the scene. Experts can conduct demonstrations, using clear and descriptive language and sound to place their information into a more readily digestible format. Field interviews using natural sounds can help give the audience a greater connection to the story being told, the emotions being expressed. An interview with the doctor at an HIV/AIDS clinic, with the sounds of the clinic all around, is more memorable than a studio-based interview. An interview with a patient at the clinic who is about to get a blood test will be more dramatic and emotionally richer than a studio based interview after the fact.

More about interviews

Hosts can also interview two or more persons at the same time. Or a host can interview one person and then another (and perhaps another). Hosts can also introduce a guest (and the topic at hand) by playing a recording or “clip” of the guest talking about the subject.


A good drama will always engage an audience because it is a good story. It allows producers to present real life issues and events while maintaining control over the information revealed and the message to be delivered. They can be quite time-intensive and require skilled writers and actors to carry them out.


Mini-dramas have 2-5 characters and are shorter and less time-intensive to produce than dramas.

A narrative

One person tells the radio audience about the topic.


Short and “catchy” announcements or mini-dramas on a particular topic.

A two-host conversation

Two hosts discuss a topic.

Phone-in / Text-in shows

These are cheap and easy programs that allow the audience to be part of the program, to direct the conversation and to ask questions. They are efficient at engaging listeners. When an expert is included as a guest and to take questions, these formats can be useful ways of transmitting facts, as those facts will be based on real-life situations.

Vox Pop

Vox pop is a good way to provide a sample of opinions from the street, giving more people a sense of “ownership” of the radio program. It validates peoples’ opinions, and yes, most people like to hear their voice on the radio. It is not a scientifically designed sampling tool. Vox pop, like all other types of programming, needs to have a narrative arc, and be approached as a story.

Vox pop is short for vox populi – Latin for voice of the people. It sounds simple enough, recording voices of passers-by, but there's more to vox popping than meets the ear:

  • A vox pop consists of a montage of voices and opinions recorded on location (often your nearest main shopping street).
  • The vox pop should be clearly recorded on location but not drowned out by passing lorries, blaring music, etc.
  • The best vox pops are pacey, quirky, memorable.
  • A vox pop is an excellent piece of texture for a radio package or as an introduction to an interview or discussion.
  • Normally the reporter’s voice does not appear in a vox, except perhaps to ask an additional question or to reiterate the original question.
  • The vox pop purports to be the views of the general public but it never is - it’s those six people you persuaded to stop and talk to you on a rainy Friday morning. Don’t present your vox pop as being a scientific survey of public opinion.
  • The subject of your vox pop needs to be something that people will have a definite opinion about - often an item that’s in the news.
  • Choose a specific or topical subject (such as the current political controversy).
  • Avoid vague or woolly subjects (the existence of God, the future of the world etc).
  • Remember that you’re asking busy people to stop and talk into a microphone, so you need a compelling question about which they’re likely to have an instant opinion.
  • Ask an open question so that you don’t end up with a series of yes/no responses.
  • The question should be simple and quick to understand.
  • A location with steady background atmosphere is good. But avoid distracting noises, e.g. sudden surges of loud traffic, music, etc.
  • Check that your recording equipment is in good working order before you leave the news room.
  • Take spare batteries.
  • Wear comfortable shoes!

Based on Gaber, I. (n.d.) Handbook for the URN Advanced Radio Journalism Course on Political Reporting. Uganda Radio Network

(accessed on 8 October 2008 at )

Example arrow.jpgThese are examples of vox pops:

A vox pop about the word "Scones"

A vox pop about Vox pops

Panel discussions

Panel discussion in studio small.jpg
Panel discussions can bring the audience a variety of perspectives on a particular issue. Like other studio interviews they are quick and effective ways to cover a fair bit of ground. But, they can end up being a series of one-on-one interviews unless the panelists have a point of departure or disagreement with each other. An effective panel becomes as much a discussion among participants as it does an interview. The interviewer is more moderator than inquisitor. Lively conversation is more interesting to listen to and can convey more information effectively than a straight one-on-one factual interview.

Town Hall

A town hall discussion is just a great big panel, but done in the community, on location. The host is the moderator, often with some expert panelists to get the discussion going. But it is up to the audience on site to keep the program going with questions and comments from the floor. It is a highly visible way to provide ownership to the listening audience. Town hall meetings are usually recorded and edited for play back.


A soundscape is a short piece that uses the natural sounds of a location to tell a story. It is very visual, allowing the audience to imagine the scene and the action. It takes a little work to put a soundscape together, but an effective one can engage the audience’s imagination like few other programming options.


A diary is a narrator-less story in which the diarist talks directly to the audience. There is no sense of an intermediary or censor between the two. The diarist simply tells his or her story.

It requires an extensive interview in order to glean enough material to make a well-focused diary entry as most people are not sure how good their personal story is, or even what their personal story is. The difficulty with diaries is establishing the relationship between interviewer and diarist so that the resulting material is open and honest. It also requires considerable interviewing skill in order to remove questions without leaving gaps of understanding and transition in the final piece.

Mini Documentary

This is a fairly sophisticated format that requires a good story sense, writing and performance expertise, along with good recording and interviewing skills. It is time-intensive. But a small documentary of five or six minutes can engage the audience, take them on a journey, let them meet interesting people and provide useful information.

Talk Tape

This is half interview, half documentary. The reporter is interviewed by the host. The questions and answers are normally written by the reporter so that she can tell a story to the host in a conversational way. During the course of the conversation, the reporter plays clips from interviews that illustrate points, convey emotion, takes the audience to a new place and develops a character. They are easier and quicker to create than a documentary, but they rely on good performances from both host and reporter.