“Glass is a writer’s writer, or more aptly a writer’s radio host. He understands how narrative works, how to build tension, how to place words within sentences and sentences within paragraphs, how at the end of a story a character must be transformed. Every good writer knows that the most important, most evocative information should come at the end of a sentence or paragraph, and even in conversation he does this. Take his earlier words, for example: “They’ve chosen, as their medium, food. I love that.” He doesn’t say: “I love that they’ve chosen food as their medium.” Because he knows — probably instinctively — that what comes last will carry the most weight; he knows where inside a sentence the power lies — or rather where inside a sentence lies the power. And so even in his speech you hear the pregnant pauses, the places where, if he were writing the conversation, he would use colons, semicolons and dashes.”
“This question of tone, of how we accidentally alienate potential listeners, is something lots of people in public radio have been talking about lately. A 2010 NPR/SmithGeiger survey of news consumers who rightly should be in the public radio audience, showed that one of the biggest reasons adults say they choose not to listen to public radio is that they’re put off by the tone…Radiolab has invented a sound that won’t put off smart people who should be in our audience. Simply put: it’s a show that’s out for fun. It’s no surprise that a much younger audience loves Radiolab. It’s no surprise that a huge part of its fan base is people who don’t consider themselves public radio listeners.”
I’ve been thinking about radio (and more broadly, podcasting) lately. My working medium relies primarily on sight and the visuals but radio is all about sound and I find that constraint fascinating. Radiolab Ira Glass’s This American Life are two broadcasts I look forward to and I think it’s because of their tone. Ira Glass may be commenting on Radiolab’s friendly, conversational tone, but I think This American Life has that same feel. (I’d argue they have the same tone but very different styles.)
Tone in audio-driven pieces is obvious but I wonder how tone affects the visual mediums? How do the visual arts convey a “friendly conversational tone” that’s not “off-putting?” Is it even possible?