Learning Lincoln On-line

TOPIC:  Old Time Radio-- News Broadcasting   #11
the Light of the Fire "


The newscast is usually a five-minute period devoted to the latest headline news. It consists of from seven to ten swift-moving bulletins of front-page caliber. Each item contains from fifty to seventy-five words, except the featured story, which may be from one hundred and fifty to two hundred words long. The newscaster, in select­ing items to read, strives for variety. Local, international, national, economic, social, and religious items are included, and a human-interest story usually closes the period, leaving a laugh behind.

The newscaster never gives his own personal views. He merely reports. The generally accepted form of the five-minute newscast is the result of a compromise agreed upon by the radio industry and the press a few years ago, when the press questioned radio's right to use its various news services. Now practically every radio station engages the services of the Associated Press, the United Press, the Transradio Press Service, or the International News Service. Large stations employ more than one service.

The news items pour in over the teletype constantly and the newscaster—or the news editor—must select the items he wishes to use, interlarding them with local items of inter­est. Each item should be "date-lined"* but current custom is making it the usual thing to introduce the source of the news in the first sentence rather than to call out the name of a city or country before each piece of news broadcast.

The newscast is in a class by itself. Because the listener feels he is having a paper read to him, it is not so necessary to use a chatty style, as it is the case of other broadcasts. The news is so engrossing it requires no bid for attention.

An interesting and valuable experience for a student is to cull from the front page of a newspaper material sufficient for a five-minute newscast, taking the involved sen­tences of summary leads and breaking them up into several shorter ones, better suited to speech, arranging the items with the most important one first (or possibly second), making selections that cover a variety of types of news, giving the date-line information incidentally in the opening sentence and ending with the human-interest story.

The following is a portion of an edited newscast from WTOP. Date-line information as originally released by the United Press has been absorbed in the opening paragraph, and phonetic spelling of foreign names has been employed to make reading easy for the announcer.

Here are a few examples of the wire report of the Transradio Press Service. News stories, delivered daily, including Sunday, on a leased wire which operates from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m. E.W.T., at the rate of sixty words per minute, are made as short as possible to permit their ready use in newscasts, enabling stations in fifteen minutes to give a budget of all the major news throughout the world.

There are other special devices that Transradio has developed, such as occasional "thumbnail" word sketches of men or women who may, for the moment, be unusually prominent in the news; brief, unusual, dramatic news oddities, sometimes touched with humor and usually used as "end stories" in newscasts to give the program an effective final touch; thumbnail stories giving geographical, industrial, or economic pictures of certain cities, islands, or unusual world locations that come into the news, and so on.

But the basic content of the wire report is spot news. And the basic principle in the writing is simplicity of construction, so that the reader finds it easy to move smoothly through his newscast. The spot story organization is much like that of all news writing. The more important facts are placed toward the top to facilitate cutting in length, and factual information is emphasized for spot news programs, with color and dramatic phrasing used only to vivify the facts and not as an end in itself.

The distinction must be kept in mind between spot news programs and supplemental news feature programs; between straight radio news broadcasting and commentator programs, which are largely editorial.

The “Roundup” lead is particularly suitable for shorter news broadcasts, such as those of five minutes.  The stories mentioned in these roundups already have been covered in separate, individual stories.  (Note:  The news editor at a radio station can take this compactly written information and make it more conversational.)

* In radio, "date-line" refers to locale only, since the date is always current.