Saturday, August 9, 2008


By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer

Good radio programming doesn't just happen naturally. It takes planning, thinking and lots and lots of hard work. Jessica Abel, with help from Ira Glass, gives an inside look into one popular public radio show – This American Life – in RADIO: AN ILLUSTRATED GUIDE. As the comic version of Ira Glass notes on the first pages of this short book, "When correctly harnessed, radio can be as emotional, as funny, and as satisfying as the best motion pictures or television shows…. No mass medium is cheaper to do or easier to learn."

In the course of just 30 pages, Abel and Glass give the reader an intimate look at how the producers find, develop, and create radio programs that go to the heart of the human experience. From time to time, Abel (who is the main author and illustration here) injects herself as a character into the book as she interviews Glass about what he is doing, and why he is doing what he is doing. Abel is the reporter here, but she is successfully using the comic medium to tell the tale and capture the art of storytelling. It's interesting how one medium (graphic book) gives us insight into another medium (radio).

Although this book could be read as simply a tutorial on how to get a piece published on the radio (or even, how to think about podcasting on the Web), RADIO: AN ILLUSTRATED GUIDE is much more than that. It is a story inside a story, letting the reader inside the world of creating stories, and the graphic platform seems to be a perfect way to capture this experience. Illustrations, narration, thought and speech bubbles – all of these techniques give the reader the sense of being in the room with Glass and his radio programmers as they hash out ideas and then bring them to fruition over the course of a few months time.

RADIO: AN ILLUSTRATED GUIDE is a black and white production, and Jessica Abel's artwork is vivid in details. You can see the knobs on the engineering boards and the scripts in the hands of reporters. The backgrounds of most of the frames are helpful in establishing a true sense of the radio engineering studio, which can often seem claustrophobic as people lean in to over-sized microphones and tables strewn with coffee cups and food wrappers. These are scenes of people at work. Abel does a fine job, too, of capturing the personalities of the radio engineers and producers in her illustrations. The characters come alive within the frames and are very expressive.

RADIO: AN ILLUSTRATED GUIDE is a rich resource for the classroom, particularly for teachers and students who are exploring the possibilities of radio and podcasting as a publishing venue for writing and voice. The book gives a detailed and insightful look at how a radio show on public radio is produced – with a true look at the difficulties of gathering sources, editing the pieces down to just a few minutes, and then finding space for all of the stories within a set block of time. The book also gives practical advice to beginners of radio on many levels including a page entitled “Make Radio At Home with Technology!” that demonstrates how to use a simple microphone and computer to create a podcast. For writing instruction, there is an entire page devoted to breaking down the way a radio script is created, with notes from Ira Glass on what works and what does not work when writing for radio.

The book was first issued in 1999 as part of a fundraising effort for public radio and then released to the public in the following year.

AUTHORS: Jessica Abel and Ira Glass
PUBLISHER: W B E Z Alliance Inc
FORMAT: Paperback
ISBN-10: 0967967104
ISBN-13: 978-0967967103

This book is appropriate for all ages with no violence or profanity. The reading level is more for middle and high school students, however. At times, Abel and Glass get a bit verbose in their writing.

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