Writing for the Radio: The Commentator

Laura BridgwaterBy Laura Bridgwater

Being a columnist is a close cousin to being a commentator. While columns are measured in word count and commentary is measured in minutes and seconds, their character is similar. A commentary is tweaked to sound more conversational and a column is written more formally, but they are both in the same family.

Currently, I’m a columnist for a few publications and a radio commentator. Does that make me a commentist or a columnator?  Probably not, but the advice for breaking into both jobs cross-pollinates even if the titles don’t. Here are some words of wisdom about being a columnist or commentator that I picked up from others who wear those hats, too.

The Sound of Applause
I’ve attended three standing-room-only readings by David Sedaris, the nationally-acclaimed humorist, writer, best-selling author and radio contributor. I noticed that when he reads aloud to the crowd, he does not read passively. He is constantly taking notes. I assume that he’s marking where the audience laughed or where a passage seemed awkward.

There’s nothing like an audience for immediate feedback. So with a nod to David Sedaris, I now read aloud my humorous pieces to my writing group or anyone else kind enough to listen. I note where they laugh and I mark where it’s awkward. It has helped me improve my timing for pieces I read on the air.

A Sounding Board
When I heard Norris Burkes , a chaplain, syndicated columnist, and author of the book No Small Miracles, speak about column writing at our local newspaper, he said he has a team of friends from different faiths who vet his religion columns. He said this feedback helps him to turn in clean copy which makes the editors’ jobs easier and makes Burkes a dream to work with.

In my quest to also turn in clean copy, I turn to my Internet connections. I know I can email pieces to my writing group, my writing partner, a former editor I worked with, and writers I’ve met in writing classes. Writing is about communicating effectively, so getting feedback helps you to know if you have or have not successfully done that.

Sound Advice
It’s age-old writing advice, but it’s worth repeating: Put your butt in the chair. Natalie Costanza-Chavez, the author of the Grace Notes column and mother of two, said at a presentation on column writing through Northern Colorado Writers that she started column writing by locking herself in her bathroom each morning. I took this suggestion, but instead of putting my butt on the bath mat, I set my alarm for an hour before I needed to wake up my kids for school.

It’s informative to listen to others who are doing what you want to do, so check out your local venues for book signings and readings. You never know what tip you might pick up that will help you break in.

Laura Bridgwater is a freelance writer and radio commentator at KUNC. To listen to her commentary go to http://www.kunc.org and click on tapes and transcripts. She can be reached at blipps@comcast.net.

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1 Response to “Writing for the Radio: The Commentator”


  1. 1 Mridu Khullar March 24, 2009 at 5:09 am

    Thanks for this very helpful piece, Laura. I’ve been looking at breaking into radio lately, and these tips are good to keep in mind.


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