“Some of the people in Reality Radio I’ve met; some I’ve worked with. Yet much of the wisdom found in these pages is new to me. Each piece taught me something about radio that I didn’t know.”—Starlee Kine, host of Mystery Show, from the foreword

“Somehow in this manic digital age, Reality Radio—a mere book!—is more relevant than ever. Form and function manifest, here is the story of contemporary documentary audio, thoughtfully composed and offered straight from its most respected producers. Reality Radio is required reading for anyone at the beginning of her audio career. Or in the middle. Or finishing up. And for all invested listeners. This is radio canon.”—Julie Shapiro, executive producer, Radiotopia from PRX

Reality Radio is a fabulous book I wish I could have read when I started at NPR. It would have shaved ten to fifteen years off the learning curve discovering how to make great radio.”—Bob Edwards, former host of the Bob Edwards Show and now the Bob Edwards Podcast

“The essays in this book were written by people thinking with their ears.”—Rick Moody, author and audio maker

“How could something so good get better? Well, John Biewen and Alexa Dilworth have managed to do just that. Reality Radio will remain required reading for all my students—especially given the addition of essays from some of my radio heroes like Alix Spiegel, Dave Isay, and Sarah Koenig.”—Rob Rosenthal, independent radio producer and lead instructor at the Transom Story Workshop

“[Biewen] offers a lively history of creative documentary radio in his introduction to 19 passionate, instructive, and unexpectedly moving essays by innovative audio journalists and artists who use sound to tell true stories artfully. . . . Invaluable and many-faceted coverage of a thriving, populist, and mind-expanding art form.”—Booklist

“What is striking about this collection is how clearly the reader can 'hear' the diverse voices and stories, despite the print medium. . . . A wonderful and accessible read. . . . Highly recommended.”—Choice

“An incredibly important contribution to the field of public media, one that will invite introspection, spark creativity, and hopefully teach people that the first step in learning is listening.”—Public Radio Makers Quest 2.0

“This book is valuable for those who believe radio's future is in the art of storytelling and can be a particularly good resource for students enrolled in radio narrative or radio/audio documentary classes, and a valued tool for faculty teaching documentary, narrative, audio drama, and radio writing.”—Journal of Radio and Audio Media

“The producers who wrote these essays prove that there's nothing more moving than real, truthful radio. I read a lot of the book in bed and soon heard the voices whispering in my ear: 'Get up. Go record something. Now.' You will feel the same.”—Neenah Ellis, independent radio producer and author of If I Live to Be 100: Lessons from the Centenarians

“In [these] highly autobiographical essays . . . some of the finest practitioners of broadcast aural storytelling describe and celebrate their craft. . . . Though not every documentarian profiled in the book provides equally useful guidance to oral historians interested in transforming their work into aural narratives, they all provide plenty of inspiration and useful general principles.”—Oral History Review


Hearing the Work

In Reality Radio we’ve asked radio makers to do a hard thing: describe a sonic craft for the mute page. It’s an enterprise that could bring to mind the line, probably first uttered by Elvis Costello, “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture. It’s a really stupid thing to want to do.” Clearly, we don’t think it’s stupid to write about audio storytelling. (For that matter, that dance about architecture could be fascinating.) But throughout the book our contributors describe and explicate radio pieces, and those pieces ought to be heard. We’ve posted samples of our essayists’ works—the very pieces they’ve written about, whenever possible—at” —John Biewen, from his Editor’s Note to Reality Radio

Mystery Show podcast: Case #1 Video Store

Starlee Kine pieces from This American Life

JOHN BIEWEN: Introduction
CDS Radio website: Scene on Radio podcast

“Oh Freedom Over Me” by John Biewen and Kate Cavett

CHRIS BROOKES: “Are We on the Air?”
Battery Radio website: The Letter S

“Moose River Mine Disaster” by Frank Willis

SCOTT CARRIER: “That Jackie Kennedy Moment”
“A Hitchhiker Along a Lonely Utah Highway,” “Appreciation: Mexican Attorney Sergio Almaraz,” and “Gospel Mission”

Home of the Brave podcast

THE KITCHEN SISTERS: “Talking to Strangers”
“The Road Ranger” and “Tupperware”

Lost & Found Sound: “WHER: 1000 Beautiful Watts, Part I and II” and “Walkin’ Talkin’ Bill Hawkins: Searching for My Father’s Voice”

Kitchen Sisters website: Hidden Kitchens and The Sonic Memorial Project website

ALIX SPIEGEL: “Variations in Tape Use and the Position of the Narrator: Alix Spiegel’s Practical Guide to Different Radio Techniques”
“Shootings Leave Sandy Hook Survivors Rethinking The Odds”

Invisibilia podcast: “Entanglement”

Alix Spiegel pieces from This American Life

JAD ABUMRAD: “No Holes Were Drilled in the Heads of Animals in the Making of This Radio Show”
Radiolab: “Sleep”

More Perfect podcast

IRA GLASS: “Harnessing Luck as an Industrial Product”
This American Life: “Living the Dream”

SARAH KOENIG and JULIE SNYDER: “An Interview with Sarah Koenig and Julie Snyder”
Serial podcast

Sarah Koenig and Julie Snyder pieces from This American Life

DANIEL ALARCÓN: “Story Time at the Azteca Boxing Club”
Radio Ambulante podcast: “The Stowaways”

KATIE DAVIS: “Covering Home”
Neighborhood Stories: “Steal This Bike”

Anacostia Unmapped

DAMALI AYO: “What Did She Just Say?”
“Living Flag: Panhandling for Reparations,” “The Paintmixers,” and “White Noise”

damali ayo website

“Stories from the Heart of the Land: Speaking through the Land,” “If,” and “Jarman’s Garden”

ALAN HALL: “Cigarettes and Dance Steps”
Falling Tree Productions website: “William Thompson IV’s War,” “Knoxville: Summer of 1995,” “Kindertotenlied: Song on the Death of Children,” and “Enter the Garden: A Portrait of Toru Takemitsu”

NATALIE KESTECHER: “Unreality Radio”
“… But I Insisted…: Tailor Made” and “Von Trapped”


GLYNN WASHINGTON: “Finding the Beats”
Snap Judgement: “The Reunion”

DMAE ROBERTS: “Finding the Poetry”
Crossing East: “Hawaiian Pidgin English” and “The Story of Ing (Doc) Hay”

“Miracle on the Streets,” “Angels and Demons,” “The Breast Cancer Monologues,” “Sisters,” and “Mei Mei, A Daughter’s Song”

MediaRites website: Crossing East Archive Project

DAVE ISAY: “Everyone around You Has a Story the World Needs to Hear”
“Remembering Stonewall” and “The Sunshine Hotel”

StoryCorps: “Sarah Littman and Joshua Littman,” “Danny Perasa and Annie Perasa,” “Mary Johnson and Oshea Israel,” and “Alexis Martinez and Lesley Martinez Etherly”

JOE RICHMAN: “Diaries and Detritus”
Radio Diaries: “Mandela: An Audio History,” “Josh’s Diaries: Tourette’s / First Kiss,” “Going Home: Cristel’s Diary,” and “Thembi’s AIDS Diary”

STEPHEN SMITH: “Living History”
American RadioWorks website: “The President Calling,” “Song Catcher, Frances Densmore of Red Wing,” “Battles of Belief,” “Remembering Jim Crow,” and “Korea: The Unfinished War”

APM Reports website

SANDY TOLAN: “The Voice and the Place”
Homelands Productions website: Border Stories, “The Lemon Tree,” “Runaway,” WORKING, and Vanishing Homelands.

MARIA MARTIN: “Crossing Borders”
GraciasVida website: Despues de la Guerras: Central America After the Wars, Latino USA, and Noticias de mi Gente website

KAREN MICHEL: “Adventurers in Sound”
Radio Rookies website: “My Struggle with Obesity by Samer ‘Rocky’ Tayeh” and “Battling Obesity: The Story of Rocky’s Reduction by Samr ‘Rocky’ Tayeh”

Live? Die? Kill? Three Questions in Two Geographies

EMILY BOTEIN: “Salt is Flavor and Other Tips Learned While Cooking”
“Stories from the Heart of the Land”

Emily Botein pieces from WYNC and Third Coast International Audio Festival

Atlantic Public Media website: The Moth Radio Hour, This I Believe, Public Radio Exchange website, WCAI website, Sonic IDs and