Australian Audio Guide

Does Radio Have a Storytelling Edge Over Music and Writing Alone?

In 2014 as part of its #discuss project, the Wheeler Centre asked some Australian radio makers to discuss the idea that ‘there are things you can do with radio that you could never do in music or writing alone’. Here are some of their responses.

Photo of a radio

Aden Rolfe

Radio drama is the most liberating form a writer can work with. It has all the immediacy of film and television (immersing the listener into the space of the work) along with the imaginative power of fiction (creating whole worlds in the audience’s head) and the movement of poetry (traversing real and non-real spaces to chase down ideas).

It also provides access to great collaborators – meaning higher quality productions – because it’s relatively cheap to create. The reasons for this include:

  • Microphones cost less than cameras
  • You only need actors once, like a film, not for a season, like theatre
  • Your actors don’t need to learn their lines, shave, or even be in the same place at the same time
  • You save on sets, props, costumes and lighting
  • Who needs rehearsals, anyway?
  • You don’t need to find the exact location, just the cheapest one that sounds enough like the actual one.

And, most importantly, you can do things in radio you can’t do elsewhere, because:

  • Sound engineers can make anything happen.

Aden Rolfe has had a number of radio dramas broadcast on the ABC, including the comedy Like a Writing Desk.


Miyuki Jokiranta

Radio is in the air, waiting to be brought to life by the listener. It begins with the turn of the dial and ends with another. It is both an individual and collective experience, an electronic miasma connecting listeners next door, around the world or time-shifted into the future. It travels great distances, only to arrive at the level of the local, the micro, the personally resonant.

Radio isn’t an art form, it’s a space that allows play between art forms, drawing on the voice, music and sounds in between.

Music, the ‘art of the muses’, lauded and condemned for its transcendence, makes us feel in ways we cannot otherwise express. Writing is composed and recorded, set in stone. Radio isn’t an art form, it’s a space that allows play between art forms, drawing on the voice, music and sounds in between. It offers itself up for interpretation and merely lies in wait for a listener to complete the circuit.

Miyuki has worked in the US as a producer for National Public Radio’s Radiolab, Radio Rookies and Radio Diaries. Back in Australia she is the presenter/producer of Soundproof on Radio National.


Jess O’Callaghan

Music and writing both have ways of taking a story or a sound and building it up and around and finding a point where it hits you in the gut and makes you feel something. With radio you can do both, at once.

Radio stories make me feel things that reading or sound alone don’t – sad for all the sea turtles, terrified that a school dance will be cancelled, proud that Andrea Silenzi realised why she’d stopped dating just anyone. It can also take super boring subjects and make them capture my attention in ways that words alone can’t. Plus, you can learn a whole bunch of stuff or feel a lot of feelings while doing the washing up.

At the time of this interview, Jess O’Callaghan was one of the features executive producers of All the Best, a national radio program based on audio storytelling. She has produced The Rereaders, and worked in talkback radio. She currently produces RN Drive and The Party Room podcast for ABC Radio National.


Siobhan McHugh

And if you’re interested in a meatier engagement with the question of what radio has to offer over other mediums, check out oral historian Siobhan McHugh’s filmed talk from 2014. She praises audio for its focus on what a person says, and how they say it, over how they look, its capacity for nuanced connection, and the fact that it’s far less intrusive than video, and therefore more likely to capture revealing moments.

‘Where audio truly triumphs is in creating connection with the listener. As you listen in real time, particularly to someone in an emotional state, you develop what I call a pact of intimacy. You have to fixedly watch film, but sound envelops you, comes with you in the car, surrounds you in the kitchen.’

This article was first published 3 June 2014 at