Storytelling: Video vs Radio

I’m a rabid This American Life fan. I can’t help it. I love a good story.


When I discovered that This American Life had a TV show, I was highly skeptical. I didn’t think the stories would translate well to video. I thought the stories needed to be spoken; without images. Images would distract from the storytelling. Right?

With a healthy dose of skepticism, I watched the First Season of This American Life on DVD. Guess what? I was wrong. Some of the stories worked well in video, perhaps even better than radio. For example, the pig farm scenes in ‘Pandora’s Box’ make you strongly reconsider bacon. Other stories were a little less successful, but still good.

This got me thinking about video vs radio storytelling.

I listened to Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich debate the challenges of working in both TV and Radio. Here are some highlights:

  • Radio needs more surprise than video
  • Video lets us have dramatic moments without surprises
  • Video is an act of staring; staring at a box. In radio there’s an intimate kind of sharing.
  • There is a coolness to the stare and a warmness to radio
  • With radio, painting is going on in your head; you’re co-authoring a story.
  • Often interviewees open up more on radio

Why do I love radio storytelling? I like to zero in on voices – their intonation and emphasis. Words, without other distractions. When I listen to This American Life I usually do a mindless activity like walking, and I find that  my mind doesn’t wander like it can when I watch video. Instead, I’m involved. I use my imagination to paint the scene.

You can listen to a free episode of This American Life every week. 

How about you? Do you like audio storytelling? Please leave a Comment with your thoughts.

Possibly related sidenote: Reality Check (from Season 1)  includes a wonderful story about a beloved pet bull named Chance, and the first cloned bull named Second Chance. Check your local library or Netflix for This American Life on DVD (seasons 1 and 2).


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