Guest Lecture – Dan Shepherd – Radio Producer

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Blog post by L3 Audio Production student Gareth Bailey.

Dan Shepherd is primarily a radio producer and provider of training and teaching for people working in radio. He runs Far Shoreline Productions.

This guest lecture had Dan showing us examples of some of his more notable radio features, and giving us some insight into the production of these.

The first was an audio ‘feature documentary’ of an Australian train journey, recorded on numerous tapes in the pre-digital era for the BBC. He made the point that certain sounds on the journey were evocative, and capturing these enables the producer to build the world of the experience for the listeners…Interviews with train passengers both tell a story and evoke a sense of place, which is critical to documentary of this type, as well as a sense of the journey itself. This is so important that some of the sounds used were taken from the library at the expense of authenticity, as it wasn’t always possible to collect the audio to a sufficient standard for later use.

This sense of place is particularly relevant to our film project this term as we’ve been consciously trying to collect as much ‘authentic’ foley sound from our sets, but these have often been unusable due to external factors like traffic noise necessitating their recreation which, in turn, has sometimes led to a better ‘fit’ with the picture than the authentic sound would have achieved. This is different from radio, where sound is all, but the idea of communicating a sense of place is similar.

For Dan, the key differentiating factor with features is their enabling of depth and scope of approach. A ‘good feature will always be greater than the sum of its parts’ – a travelogue becomes more than that by telling a story and capturing the experience of others. Where news and current affairs programs condense data, feature documentaries allow the exploration of different dimensions of creativity around an idea.

Dan’s discussion of a second program on ‘cut-ups’, created for Radio 4, touched upon the importance of making your feature for a specific audience. This particular show featured a presenter working in an explanatory role as the Radio 4 audience were likely being introduced to the idea of the mash-up for the first time. For Dan, the question became how to make the subject relevant and interesting for a Radio 4 audience and this along with the prescribed format conventions when working for the BBC narrowed the focus of the show as it was edited.

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About David McSherry

Senior Lecturer in Audio Production