Kiron Patka: Auditory Rhetoric in Radio Practice

Radio Sound Designer/SWR

The following outline provides some examples that illustrate how radio practitioners make use of sound to achieve rhetorical goals.


Although it is common practice to use artificial reverberation to create illusions of real or realistic settings—especially in fictional forms like radio drama—radio producers also apply reverberation as a mere sound effect. It is suitable to emphasise words or phrases, that is one reason why we find reverberation as sound effect particularly in commercials and promos. The shape of reverberation may reflect the topic addressed by the spoken phrase (e.g. the stadium sound in a promo for a sports event). Nevertheless the effect does not aim at an illusion but provides an acoustic distinction from the context.

Climactic Structures

Media Folder: 

[Audio sample; caption: Clip from German public-service broadcasting station SWR1, 28/8/2014, 6:30:am, edited]

It is easy to build up a climax via sound, e.g. by increasing loudness. In this particular example this is achieved by pitch, namely in a musical manner. The clip from a morning show consists of four spoken segments (traffic service, news, weather report, show opening), each segment is introduced by a musical ident and supported by a music bed. The melody of the first three idents stays the same, only the pitch changes:
1.    f♯–g–a–d (D Major)
2.    a–b♭–c–f (F Major)
3.    c♯–d–e–a (A Major)
Although the fourth ident sounds differently, it is the most energetic one and focusses on the music of the radio station. The climactic structure of the first three elements thus culminates in the last one, which again flows into a pop song. This packaging stands in contrast to the very information-based spoken text—one could even state that this climax has the ›subversive‹ function to bridge the music gap.

Segregation and Junction

Within the never-ending flow of a radio programme, segregation and junction are two main principles that manifest each time a programme element is succeeded by the next one. A simple approach would be to use a junction to express an inner relationship, and a gap to indicate a change of subject. On the wider scope of a whole programme, a tendency toward junctions can emphasise radio as a stream (and background medium). A tendency toward segregation can express the variety of and focus on distinct topics.
It might be insightful to examine the occurrence of gaps and junctions in foreground elements (e.g. spoken word, singing voice) and background elements (e.g. music beds, intros) separately. This can reveal the DJ’s or engineer’s »Fahrweise« and serve as an operationalisation for the ›hot‹ or ›easy‹ feeling of a radio programme.