The National Broadcasting School: tips for location links on radio

A “location link” is the stuff of real broadcasting.Location links are often broadcast ‘live’ or  ‘recorded as live’.  Without being scripted, they’re often even more effective with minor cock-ups: small errors emphasise draw their spontaneity and naturalness!

Location links add colour to any and all kinds of radio – notably news radio. (Why are radio news bulletins all scripted?) A brilliant bridge, a memorable counterpoint, or a powerful illustrative tool, ‘live’ location links have none of the stuffy predictability of scripted stuff.  They work best when they sound ad libbed. To be a fluent, effective ad-libber is to be a hugely valuable asset to any broadcast employer. But, like everything worthwhile, being articulate and coherent requires practice. Sorry about that!  But it’s good fun and it’s something you can do on your own, without making humiliating yourself publicly! Huge plus!

Location links are not skills that radio journalism students usually learn at broadcasting college. Yet it’s the skill at the heart of radio broadcasting. It’s gained by practice, and practice and more practice but here are some tips to help you on your way!

  1. Witness: be the best eye-witness; be as good a TV camera… and more;
  2. Create pictures: be articulate – memorable words and sounds will bring your ‘piece’ alive;
  3. THINK before you start ad libbing – what do you want to say? who are you speaking to?  etc
  4. Hear: before you start, hear how and where your location links might add colour to or bridge various points in your piece;
  5. Prepare: use ‘jog notes’ of facts you want to include, of names/titles of people, of words or phrases; and to make sure you cover the points you want to make, in the right order;
  6. KISS: keep your links simple – don’t be too ambitious; don’t meander; don’t go off-piste; no stream of consciousness stuff –  there’s no interest in your views and opinions;
  7. Be minimal: don’t record too long a link because they’re a nightmare to edit quickly;
  8. Right mic: make sure you have the right mic for the job and that your recording levels are on the button;
  9. Headphones: use them to hear ambience; to avoid sounds that are invasive; and to ensure your voice isn’t fighting the ambience;
  10. Pause: use the pause button to stay in the same digital track/file, if you stumble or if you want to move to a separate point or location;
  11. Facts: equip yourself with a few relevant facts that will advance listeners’/ vierwers’ understanding, enjoyment and knowledge;
  12. Accuracy: make sure that what you say is always accurate; never fake your report; never fake what you see; never fake a sound effect;
  13. Cliches: avoid cliched words and sounds like the plague!
  14. Language: be natural; no hyperbole; be accessible and inclusive – no jargon and no long words;
  15. Cock-ups: if you muck up and location link, don’t worry; start again – no-one will be any the wiser;
  16. Overlap: if you muck up, say “Overlap” and start over (you won’t need to start your whole piece again but it’ll help you to find a suitable edit point just before your mistake); when you start again, make sure you talk at the same pitch, at the same pace, with same background ambience;
  17. Easy editing: make your edits natural and well-paced;
  18. Wild-track: record wild-track wherever you are;
  19. Excess sound: don’t use sound for the sake of using sound – it’ll sound contrived:  use sounds to bring something extra to your piece;
  20. Strange noises:  don’t lose the listener by using sounds that are hard to decipher;
  21. Explaining the obvious: don’t bore/patronise the listener with sounds that are easy to decipher, then stating what the sound is;
  22. Record button ON: leave your recorder running (use the pause button if/possible) when you feel something important or colourful may be about to happen or when you might need to ‘overlap’;
  23. Listen to Just a Minute on Radio 4;
  24. Practise: pick a word or a phrase or an issue and practise talking on the subject for as long as possible in a way that is fluent, coherent and and informative; each time, try to remain coherent and fluent for longer;  recording yourself (on a mobile phone dictation machine) and listening back is an excellent way to improve;
  25. Tricks: 1. Think what you want to say and who you’re saying it to;  2. Work out how long you have;  3.  Ask (internally and silently)  ‘open’ questions such as  who?, what?, why?, where? etc  but answer them aloud – in this way you can talk coherently for a surprisingly long spell; 4. Start by picking a simple thing to describe, like the room you’re in;  5. Over time, practice on issues and events that are more complex.

Good luck


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