What Makes a Good Audio Story?

Usually, I can hardly get myself to listen to audio stories at all. I have heard too many radio shows with boring and monotone interviews. Unlike a text, you can’t skip a few pages of radio and although podcasts have made this possible, I am still having a hard time on it.

Edited May 12th 2013: A lot has happened since. Most important: I discovered NPR Radio, especially “This American Life,” an incredible radio show / podcast that is capturing, vivid and a great insight to American culture!

I have found three stories revolving around Mexico that I consider to be good audio stories. Let’s see what makes a good podcast:

This podcast was created by two Mexican girls at the Youth Radio LA and deals with life at the US-Mexican border. The piece is not only varied, but it actively indludes and refers to sounds that were recorded. It uses both natural and ambient sound to give an idea of the border life.

The Independent‘s very excited travel editor Simon Calder reports from his trip through the Yucatan and Mayan culture and makes it an adventure to listen. He describes the ancient ruins with their “crumbling limestones” and gives a very vivid image. Besides his very enthusiastic voice-over he uses natural sounds such as drums for a ceremony and water splashing when he is on a boat. He also has interviews (unfortunately NONE of them are originally in Spanish) and uses ambient sounds.
One issue I have on this story: I have been to Chichén Itza where Calder goes. When he talks about the great pyramid, he claims to stand right in front of it. In the background we hear the sound of jungle birds that we have heard earlier. However, there are no trees close enough to the pyramid that could have these birds. I suspect he has recorded those around the Cenote and then put them under the pyramid part, because it made it sound more exotic.

My last example of a good podcast is not a “story” as one would expect it. It is really only an interview of a band called Blind Pilot – two guys from Oregon who took a bike tour down to Mexico. However – and this is incredible considering my low patience with audio interviews – it is not a boring. It makes the interview quite a story in itself. What is nice about “Hugging the Highway” is for one that the bands own songs play sometimes in the foreground, sometimes in the background and establish a very relaxed mood that allows you to listen to the music if you get tired of the talk and then catches you back at some point. The other thing is – once again – the engaging voice of the narrator.

Bottom Line:
A good audio story is hard for me to find both on radio and the internet.
Stories that are pleasant to listen to often use music or pleasant ambient to establish a mood.
The narrators are enthusiastic and engaging.
Most of the times, interviews are fairly short giving rather a variety of statements than soliloquies.
As for natural sounds, they are hard to find, but can enhance the ambient sounds by giving more authenticity to the scene.

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