Archive for the 'Laura Bridgwater' Category

Writing for Radio: Universality in Radio Stories

Laura BridgwaterBy Laura Bridgwater
Whether you call it universality or theme or destination, all stories need it. Universality is the big payoff, the take-away, The Point. Think love, suffering, redemption. The Big Ideas.
If you don’t have universality, your story falls flat. Your reader stops reading, your listener stops listening, and both ask, “So what? What’s in it for me?”
If you’re a writer, especially a new one, you’ve probably written your share of non-universal stories. I have files of them.
So here are some ideas on what universality looks like in a radio story by one of the best on the airwaves, Ira Glass. Glass is the host of the radio and television show This American Life. He describes universality in his Radio Manifesto on this way: 
“Students often want to spend time with Hells Angels, or people who collect Beanie Babies, or ham radio operators, or knitters. But it’s not enough to just visit with these people. The story has to have more in it than ‘here’s what they do.’ They need to be putting them in categories, comparing them with other things, attaching them to bigger ideas. They need to always be thinking ‘this is like this, ‘ ‘this means that,’ ‘this little thing is an example of this bigger thing.’ ”
Another Internet resource that shares in-depth advice from Glass is the article “Mo’ Better Radio” at, the newspaper and website about public TV and radio. I was relieved to read in the article how hard Glass and his staff work to find universality in a story. If universality is elusive for the Pied Piper of Radio, then no wonder sometimes we struggle with it as writers.
A final resource is an insightful essay by Hillary Frank. Frank, who started as an intern at This American Life and became a contributor, wrote an essay called “How To Get On This American Life“.
Here’s how Frank characterizes universality:
“Without some bigger point, some moment of reflection, these stories come off like a private joke that the listener isn’t in on. That’s what a lot of the submissions seem like. I wonder if we all hear people like David Sedaris and Sarah Vowell on the air, and get fooled into thinking that the personal stories they tell are just that-personal stories-without noticing how often they jump to big universal ideas anyone can relate to.”
I like Frank’s observations because she uses the very universal experience of the inside joke to explain universality. I get that!
Ultimately, finding universality is worth the work. When I look through my files, the stories in my Acceptance Folder have universality. The stories in my Rejection Folder don’t. Universality is not only your reader’s pay off. It is also the writer’s paycheck. 
(Ira Glass is currently touring the lecture circuit. For his 2009 and 2010 schedule, check the Steven Barclay Agency website.) 

Laura Bridgwater is a writer, teacher, and radio commentator. To listen to or read a transcript of her commentary, visit KUNC FM 91.5. She can be reached at

Writing for Radio: What Do You Believe?

Laura BridgwaterBy Laura Bridgwater
This September, in honor of the annual rite when elementary children return to class and pen essays about what they did on their summer vacation, consider writing your own essay. But instead of describing a holiday, write about what you believe for the international radio project, This I Believe.

Ranging on themes from atheism to war, the This I Believe project gives writers the opportunity to share essays on the radio. Essays should be 500 words or less (about three minutes when aired) and reflect your daily life philosophy.

Edward R. Murrow originally broadcast these essays in the 1950s. Years later, National Public Radio (NPR) revived the project. NPR broadcast contemporary essays for four years until April 2009. From Helen Keller’s 1951 essay about her vision of faith to Penn Jillette’s contemporary contribution “There is No God,” essays show the diversity of what it means to be human.

Luckily, local public radio stations are unrolling the welcome mat for this project. Recently, some of the 900 public radio member stations launched a This I Believe initiative. Local stations want to hear what their local listeners believe.

Stations requesting This I Believe submissions include WHYY in Philadelphia, WRNI in Rhode Island, KUHF in Houston, WVXU in Cincinnati, WPSU in Pennsylvania, and the public radio station where I record commentary, KUNC in Colorado.

To find out if your local public radio member station is broadcasting these essays, tune in or check out their website for details. To find a local public radio member station near you, click on the station finder on NPR’s website.

To help you start your essay, check out these writing guidelines on the This I Believe website, where you will also find a submissions page. Additionally, you can listen to and read recently featured essays and essays from the 50s.

Two anthologies of these essays are also available at most public libraries and bookstores. Look for This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women and This I Believe II: More Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women.

Just don’t spend all of your time reading these compelling and brief pieces. Save time to write your own because these short essays are a good way to test your radio writing potential.

Laura Bridgwater is a writer, teacher, and radio commentator. To listen to or read a transcript of her commentary, visit KUNC FM 91.5. She can be reached at

Writing for Radio: Three Ways to Freelance for Radio

Laura Bridgwater

By Laura Bridgwater

Freelancing for radio means writing commentary, creating scripts, and reporting the news. As a writer, you will benefit from freelancing for radio by adding audio clips to your clip file. Here are some ideas about how to get started with these three freelance options.


Commentary usually runs less than 700 words, or four minutes of airtime. It offers opinion or insight like pieces on the Op-Ed page in the newspaper.

National Public Radio (NPR) airs commentary from freelancers. Two NPR news shows to pitch are All Things Considered and Morning Edition. NPR works with commentators from any location and pays $250 per commentary. For guidelines about how to pitch these two news shows visit this NPR submissions page.

Some of the 900 local public radio stations that are affiliated with NPR also air commentary. Local stations usually only work with commentators who live in the station’s listening area. These stations pay less than NPR or not at all. Visit this NPR station finder to find a station near you.


Whether it’s a comedy or a drama, scripts rely on literary elements to tell either a fiction or a non-fiction story. Scripts can range from two minutes to an hour.

The radio show This American Life is known for telling stories. You don’t need radio experience to write for This American Life. You just need to be able to tell a good story.

For information about how to pitch This American Life, read these submission guidelines . Also, check out this five-minute YouTube video titled  Ira Glass and Storytelling #1. It’s the first of four videos. Glass is the host of This American Life and considered the Pied Piper of public radio.


Just as newspapers have stringers, radio stations have freelance radio reporters. You will need your own equipment like a quality microphone and a recorder. For information about affordable equipment and resources about how to use it, check out .

For a list of radio outlets that work with freelancers, your first stop should be this pitch page Sound Reporting: The NPR Guide to Audio Journalism and Production by Jonathan Kern. This book also has a chapter about commentaries.

You won’t get rich freelancing for radio but you never know where your radio experiences might lead. Being on radio has helped commentators attract the attention of book publishers, and radio reporters can sell their expertise to non-radio businesses that create podcasts.

Remember that just as you need to know a print publication before pitching it, you need to know the radio show you are pitching. If you never listen to the radio, tune in.

But if you are an avid radio fan, jump in. Combine your knowledge of radio with your passion for writing. The experience and clips are good for your writing resume.

Laura Bridgwater is a writer, teacher, and radio commentator. To listen to or read a transcript of her commentary, visit KUNC FM 91.5. She can be reached at

Writing for Radio: Strike While the Market Is Hot

Laura BridgwaterBy Laura Bridgwater

Despite news stories of doom and gloom in the traditional media, radio is not having a dour hour. A recent Washington Post article reported that National Public Radio has achieved record ratings “at a time when newspapers, magazines and TV news continue to lose readers and viewers.”

If you are a freelance writer interested in writing for radio, strike while the market is hot.

Freelancing for radio is similar to freelancing for print markets. As always, know your audience. You wouldn’t pitch a story idea about motivating your toddler to eat more veggies to Smith & Wesson magazine. Likewise, what works for talk radio won’t work for public radio.

You also wouldn’t sell two competing national magazines the same article, so don’t sell radio stations in the same broadcast area the same script. There’s no reason to burn bridges or airwaves.

When writing a query letter to propose a story, “Dear Editor” is not the appropriate person to address in the salutation, nor is “Dear Program Manager.” To find the appropriate person to address in your query letter to a radio market, read the radio station’s website for contact information, staff bios, and submission guidelines, if available. Often, the news director is a good person to direct your query to. If you are still unsure about where to send or email your query, make a quick phone call to the receptionist.

Everyone’s busy these days and everyone has email overload. If you are querying by email, make your subject line snappy so your email isn’t glossed over. Avoid aggressive spam filters by sending your query and script in the body of the email. Do not use attachments unless the submission guidelines state otherwise. Attachments include text documents, audio files, and photographs.

After a few weeks, if you haven’t heard back about your query, follow up to see if the station received it and if the news director or other appropriate person had a chance to review it.

You can apply most information about freelancing for print markets to freelancing for radio markets. For more advice about the nuts and bolts of freelancing, read Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer: How to Win Top Writing Assignments by Jenna Glatzer.

We’ll talk about where to find radio markets in next month’s column. If the Washington Post article is accurate, those markets will continue to grow and writers will be in demand. Hopefully, WaPo and its kin will be around to report it.

Laura Bridgwater is a writer, teacher, and radio commentator. To listen to or read a transcript of her commentary, visit KUNC FM 91.5. She can be reached at

Writing for Radio: Polishing Your Script-The Read-Aloud Handbook

Laura BridgwaterBy Laura Bridgwater

Just as you would polish a written piece before e-mailing it to your editor, you can polish a piece for the radio before recording it.

One of the best ways to polish your script is to practice reading it aloud. Read your script to anyone who will listen, from friends and family to the cat if you need to. Read it to yourself until you are comfortable with it.

While you are reading aloud, listen for the answers to the following questions:

Do you pause in the middle of a sentence to take a breath? If so, go back to the keyboard. Unless you are William Faulkner, chances are your sentence is too long. Rewrite it as two shorter sentences. This is a good rule for other kinds of writing, too.

Can you read your script without stumbling over certain phrases? Some phrases that work in print become tongue twisters when spoken. When you find these stumbling blocks, it’s better to reword than try to master them. Invariably, those glitches will trip you up when you are recording.

Does your script sound conversational? If you write mostly for print markets, you may need to tweak your script to make it sound more conversational. For example, the transition “For example” works well in a written piece, but “I was thinking about this…” sounds more conversational in commentary.

Do you know the correct pronunciation of all the words in your text? When in doubt, check an online dictionary like beauty of online dictionaries is that they have audio clips. You won’t need your special phonics decoder ring to figure out the pronunciation key.

Have you made a recording of yourself? It’s worth the effort no matter how much you might detest the sound of your voice. When you play back your recording, take the pillow off your head and listen critically.

Do you sound as if you are underlining every other word? If so, this is Shatner-esque and you should stop. Instead, pause naturally at the ends of your sentences. Also listen to whether you clear your throat or make other distracting sounds. Unless, of course, you are still reading to the cat. The cat might like the hairball sound effects.

Ultimately, writing for radio means translating the written word into the spoken word. The key to sounding good is to read as if you weren’t reading. And that comes, like everything else in life, with practice.

Laura Bridgwater is a freelance writer and radio commentator at KUNC. To listen to her commentary go to and click on tapes and transcripts. She can be reached at

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 and click on tapes and transcripts. She can be reached at

Writing for Radio: How to Meet and Marry a Genre

Laura BridgwaterBy Laura Bridgwater

When I was a new writer, I flirted with many kinds of writing before I met the genre of my dreams. Unfortunately, there was no online dating service to match me with compatible writing, so I went on a number of blind dates.

First I dated children’s books. I figured that since I dragged a diaper bag and a book bag to the library three times a week, I could write stories that appealed to the Sesame Street crowd. Plus, I had years of experience reading aloud to first graders as a teacher. Despite these qualifications, I learned that it is surprisingly hard to write a bad children’s book and even harder to write a good one. It wasn’t a match made in heaven and we broke up.

Next, I dated poetry, mostly because I fancy Shel Silverstein. My best poem started like this:  Hurray! Hurray!/ The flowers are dead/ No more pollen/ Cloggin’ up my head. After I combed through Poet’s Market and discovered that many small publishers had folded or were on vacation indefinitely, I settled for reciting Silverstein to my children instead of publishing my own verse.

Then I had an affair with a 1,500-words-or-fewer short story and entered The Writer’s Digest Annual Short Short Story Competition. My wonderfully supportive and encouraging writing group giggled at what were supposed to be my serious passages. Short short story writing was a short short fling.

I was starting to tire of these courtships. I now had a history of serial monogamy with bad children’s books, embarrassing poetry, and laughable fiction. Was there a genre out there for me, or would I die a spinster alone with my orphan words?

Naturally, when I was poised to throw in the pen and join a cloister, I met my first published clip: a humorous personal essay about what happens when you combine a cranky two year old and a cheap tent in the middle of nowhere. We went on a second date that was quickly followed by spending all of our time together. I started writing articles for newspapers and magazines and won awards from the Colorado Press Women. It was a labor of love.

The dating game was over! I entered a long-term relationship with nonfiction. I announced our engagement with business cards printed with the title freelance writer.

After I married nonfiction, I shopped for a home for my writing. In my search for more markets, I submitted essays to my local public radio station KUNC. I broke into radio because I was in the right place at the right time after being in the wrong place for a long time.

My advice to writers who want to break into any genre, including radio, is to keep dating. After all, even J.K. Rowling had to kiss a lot of frogs before she found her prince.

Laura Bridgwater is an award-winning writer, teacher, and radio commentator who loves to pen funny essays, bad poetry, and grocery lists. She lives in Fort Collins, Colorado, with her husband and Tax Deduction #1 and #2. When she isn’t busy driving Mom’s Yellow Taxi Service, she freelances for newspapers, magazines, blogs, and online publications. Laura can be found as an active member of Northern Colorado Writers and commentating at KUNC. In 2008, she won first place for humorous personal essay writing from the National Federation of Press Women.

Writing for Radio: Listen and Learn

laura-bridgwaterBy Laura Bridgwater

My first love affair with National Public Radio (NPR) began when I started graduate school in my twenties.For that first year, I commuted an hour and a half through a national forest. During those drives down desolate Florida byways, it was just me, a few cows, maybe an alien or two, and the voices in the dark on my local public radio station. That’s when I heard Bailey White, a school teacher from Georgia who told stories about living with her quirky, elderly mother. I didn’t live with my mother, but I was a school teacher from the South, and I related to her commentaries.

After graduate school, my husband and I moved to Colorado, where I drove white-knuckled in the snow and fell in love with the voice of Baxter Black, a self-described cowboy poet and former large animal veterinarian. Even though I had no intention of ever helping a cow deliver a calf in the middle of a blizzard, I enjoyed knowing about a world that I drove past regularly.

Not all of my radio affairs happened in the car. When I left teaching to stay at home with our first daughter, I kept the radio on in the kitchen through middle-of-the-night feedings, breakfast, snack, lunch, and dinner. I listened to Marion Winik and Sandra Tsing Loh, two women who shared candidly about parenthood.

I like to think that I’ve found an NPR commentator for most stages of my life. I know these writers made me feel connected during times of isolation, whether it was a lonely drive, a new home, or becoming a parent. Fortunately, these days with Internet access, I don’t have to move across the country to listen to my favorite ones. I click on NPR on my laptop almost as often as I turn the knob in my automobile.

In my current stage, I’m a freelance writer. In 2008 I began recording commentaries for my local public radio station, KUNC. With NPR’s 22 million listeners and almost 800 affiliate public radio stations, chances are good that you, too, have a public radio station that might be interested in what you have to say. (To find your local public radio station, go to and enter your zip code.)

Commentaries are simply essays in script form. If you want to break into public radio, start by tuning in. Listen and learn. All of the above commentators also have books of their essays available at Amazon, so with a highlighter in hand, you can study their writing. Then one day you might find yourself driving down the road to the sound of your own voice. Hopefully, it won’t be because you are talking to yourself, but because your voice is being broadcast over the airwaves.

Laura Bridgwater is an award-winning writer, teacher, and radio commentator who loves to pen funny essays, bad poetry, and grocery lists. She lives in Fort Collins, Colorado, with her husband and Tax Deduction #1 and #2. When she isn’t busy driving Mom’s Yellow Taxi Service, she freelances for newspapers, magazines, blogs, and online publications. Laura can be found as an active member of Northern Colorado Writers and commentating at KUNC. In 2008, she won first place for humorous personal essay writing from the National Federation of Press Women.

Introducing Laura Bridgwater: Our newest Writers on the Rise Columnist

laura-bridgwaterLaura will cover a topic I’ve wanted to explore for a long time: writing for the radio. Be sure to subscribe now to Writers on the Rise, so you won’t miss a single issue.

If you need a little holiday cheer, tune in to Laura Bridgwater’s second KUNC commentary. Hear why the Bridgwaters keep their Christmas tree under wraps.

“The Leaning Tree of Tchotchke” will air Monday morning, Dec. 21, at 6:35am and 8:35am on KUNC 91.5 FM.

You can catch it at a later time by going to

Welcome, Laura!

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