By Will Coley

Recently I met up with folks at WITNESS to talk about how making public radio has changed my video production. I’ve been learning from great radio producers about what makes their work so compelling and I wanted to translate these lessons into tips for videography.

[ Featured image from Ultimate Podcast Microphone Shootout ]

You may have heard the adage “Audio is 2/3rds of a good video.” In other words, if the audio in your video isn’t that great, people will be less inclined to watch it. So it’s important to give some thought to the sound that helps tell the story. Listen to great radio and pay attention to how producers organize clips into a story, find ambient sound that sets the scene, etc. In this radio story by producer Marianne Mccune at WNYC, you can really see in your mind’s eye what one building is experiencing after Hurricane Sandy.

I’ve also noticed a big difference between doing audio-only interviews versus video interviews. Without a camera, the subject is often much more comfortable and reveals more. Consider NOT recording that “talking head” video but rely on an audio interview combined with video b-roll to illustrate the interview like in this video, “Occupy Bakery.”

Ira Glass, the host of “This American Life,” says that every story on his radio show has the same format: an anecdote that is composed of a sequence of actions followed by reflection on what this means and then onto the next series of actions.

'Listen' How Radio Can Improve Your Videos
Radio: An Illustrated Guide” by Abel and Glass

When you interview someone, think about asking them questions that elicit stories rather than a collection of human rights catchphrases or wonky policy statements. Consider:

  • Walking the person through their story, step by step.
  • Ask “Then what happened?” a lot but also ask “How’d that make you feel?” (where appropriate)
  • I’ve also found it helpful to ask people to bring mementos or old photos to the interview to help them remember something in the past.
  • To find the story of your interview subject’s activism, ask them about a challenge they faced, a choice they made to confront it and what the outcome was. ~ paraphrased from Marshall Ganz

When you’re recording audio for your video, be sure to get close with the right mic (i.e. a shotgun mic or lavaliere). Location is important too. If you can, record the interview in a quiet space with carpeting and lots of soft surfaces that will help absorb sound. You can then combine this interview audio with ambient or location sound. For example, I made this video after interviewing a student at a conference in Washington, D.C., then my partner photographed the student at his school in Los Angeles.

Websites like SoundCloud reach approximately 250 million users a month and it’s been dubbed the “YouTube of audio.” With all this sharing online, there’s an even greater opportunity for collaboration and learning between mediamakers. Transom, the DIY public radio website, has recently shared great advice from videographer Andrew Norton (who makes radio too).

I also recommend following the Howsound podcast which “explores the backstory to great radio storytelling.” Use the Talent Directory for the Association of Independents in Radio to reach out to radio producers in your area to see if they’d like to collaborate on a video project.

Ultimately the secret to producing great audio for your video is…just do it! Experiment! Try things out! Here’s a great video pep talk from Ira Glass.

Let me know what you think of this advice above. Anything I missed that you’d like to add? And if you’re in the New York City area, let me know if you’d like to join a mediamaker convening.


@WillColey is an independent radio producer, social media strategist, trainer and videographer with experience in social change campaigns, particularly around immigrant and refugee rights. See more of his work at

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