How working in radio prepared me for a UX writing career
What is your first thought when someone says: ‘I am a radio host’?
Maybe it’s something like: ‘Oh, that’s pretty cool,’ or ‘Wow, you get to play music for people.’ Maybe it’s more of a ‘Don’t you get tired of playing the same songs every day?’ comment. And maybe you just picture some Howard-Stern-type-of-guy behind the microphone talking to you on your way to work.
Whatever your answer is, I’m pretty sure no one thinks, ‘Well, here’s a guy who writes a lot.’
The truth is, if you are a radio host, you have to write a lot. You CAN go on-air without anything on paper, but at some point, your magic™/inspiration/call-it-whatever-you-want is going to drain, and you’ll be left with nothing meaningful to say. And it’s audible. People hear that. Maybe not immediately, but if you do it all the time, your listeners will notice the lack of preparation. Not everybody is Howard Stern. The point is, if you work as a radio host, you must write. A lot.
(And if you ever hear a radio host who says they don’t write, you can be sure there’s someone else doing the writing for them.)
I’m Filip, a radio host working on the number 1 radio in Croatia for the last eight years. I’m also a newbie UX writer. How did radio prepare me for a UX writing career?
You gotta start somewhere
That somewhere being the research. Sure, it’s not the same research you would do to write some copy for an app, but you must explore things that will fuel your on-air content. No matter what kind of radio station you work at, you’ll talk about something that interests your audience. As I said, you can’t just turn on the microphone and start talking about anything.
A good radio host will comb through news sites and social media (hello conversation mining), glance at daily newspapers, and listen closely to what people are commenting on when drinking coffee with friends. Everything’s a source, and inspiration can come at any time in whatever place. Preparation for the air is the bigger and harder part of the job than actually going on-air.
When you have a general direction of what to talk about, you then go deeper in on the subject, so you know what you’ll say and how you’ll say it. And write your thoughts down.
You must deliver relatable, engaging, interesting, and fun content. All that in the shortest possible way. (While you’re working the board, switching from the instrumental you’re talking over to the Ariana Grande song that you’ll play next, paying attention not to speak over her voice, but that’s a topic for another day.) To do that, you have to write it down. And edit. Read out loud. Rewrite. Edit some more. Now you have on-air content. Hopefully.
There’s another kind of research in radio that explores who listens to your station. Or what we call it in the biz — your target listener.
Target listener = User persona
Another thing that’s made my UX writing learning much easier. A target listener is THE listener, the ideal person listening to your show. You create and write content for them. Their needs shape your words. You must have a target listener to know who you’re speaking to.
Because I already understood what a target listener is and why you need it, I had no problem understanding user personas and how to create them.
Your listener is what matters. The same goes for user personas. You have to know who your product is for. And what their user journey looks like.
It’s another thing transferable from radio. You have some idea of what your listener is doing at different parts of the day. You try to understand what they think and speak about. You’re serving them with information and entertainment for the day. I work in the morning, so I’m aware my topics and news differ slightly from our afternoon or evening shows. You are in the listener’s ear — you better make their journey seamless.
KISS — Keep it short and simple
Or was it ‘keep it simple, stupid?’ Either way works. That’s the first thing they told me when I wrote my first on-air content. I wanted to be cool and fun, but also deep and smart, oh and don’t forget adding some unnecessary fun facts just to show my broad knowledge and superior way with words.
That piece of writing was shredded to pieces. My superiors told me: ‘Keep it short and simple.’ Listeners don’t want you to tire them with your rambling. Say what you have and get out.
When I started learning UX writing, I immediately discovered three crucial principles for writing good copy: clear, concise, useful. It was a great relief to know that my new career path uses the same principles I have been using for the last eight years.
You may wonder what’s so useful about radio. Besides being the co-host, I’m also a traffic and news guy on the show. I inform people about car accidents and traffic jams and bring them news in the form of a one-minute short talk. No time to lose, no place for essays.
Write in a simple way that solves the ‘problem’ and gives the information without dragging on. That’s pretty much implanted in my brain.
Tone and voice are my bread and butter
Not just the tone of voice I speak in, but the tone and voice of my radio writing. There’s a certain brand my radio established as the number one radio in Croatia (according to ratings, not my subjective feeling).
You got to stay on brand whatever you talk about. Our listeners need to know they are listening to our radio just a few seconds after they turn it on.
Adapting the tone of writing to the topic or news at hand is something you do constantly. It’s fairly easy for me to look at the voice guidelines and know how my writing should sound. Another thing that comes in handy in my UX writing path.
These are just some of the similarities between creating radio content and UX writing. I could add content strategy, content testing (in radio it’s called an air-check; where you listen to your show to see what could have been better), interviews with listeners and experts, brainstorming, managing stakeholders (there are a lot of them in radio), working as a team, and maybe the most important thing — making an emotional connection with your listener. I’ve been using those skills for years and now I’m ready to use them as a UX writer.
“Anytime in radio that you can reach somebody on an emotional level, you’re really connecting.”
I think it’s safe to say there’s little to no difference between a good user experience in an app and while listening to the radio. The principles are the same, the listeners are the users. Can I say I’ve been a UX writer for the last eight years?
I am always happy to chat about UX writing, radio, or anything else, so feel free to connect on LinkedIn. I’m looking for my first UX writing/content design role, so if you want to see my UX writing in action, here’s my portfolio.