The radio documentary is one of the most powerful genres we have for storytelling, education, and the exploration of ideas. This course will discuss the origin and theory of radio documentaries, how they are made, the different acoustic elements they employ–voice, sound, music, silence–and how those elements can be combined in different ways to produce a range of radio documentary styles. Drawing on both video and audio material, we will listen to and discuss examples of documentaries produced by CBC, BBC, NPR and other public broadcasters.

March 29: Where Ideas Come From

The CBC program Ideas is a mainstay of the long-form radio documentary. This lecture tells the story of the evolution of the program from its beginnings in 1965 and the thinking behind it.

April 5: The Documentary Idea

What is a documentary? John Grierson, the founding head of the National Film Board of Canada, is often credited with having coined the word, “documentary.” Though Grierson was referencing film, his ideas apply in other genres such as radio documentary.

April 12: Composing With Sound

Radio documentaries draw on an infinite symphony of sounds that envelop our lives – sounds we use to navigate the world, talk to each other, entertain ourselves, find our way in the dark – people, cars, planes, music, computers, seagulls, dogs, wind, ocean waves – everything in the built and natural environments.

April 26: Tell Me a Story

Aristotle was the first theorist of dramatic storytelling. In a book called Poetics, he laid out the basic structure of storytelling: every story has a beginning, a middle and an end. Aristotle’s ideas still guide our approach to documentary-making.

May 3: The Nuts and Bolts

The lecture is about the strategies documentary makers use to create documentaries and the challenges they face. We discuss the documentary process from gathering interviews and sounds in the field to the management of the raw material to shape it into a compelling documentary story.

May 10: “Contrapuntal Radio”: The Documentaries of Glenn Gould

Between 1967 and 1977, Glenn Gould produced three pioneering radio documentaries under the title, The Solitude Trilogy. The documentaries introduced the idea of “contrapuntal radio,” in which several voices are heard speaking simultaneously. Gould described his approach as, “musically derived.” He was testing the extent to which it is possible to listen to more than one conversation at a time and make sense of the whole.

Bernie Lucht is Distinguished Visiting Professor in the RTA School of Media at Ryerson University, where he coaches media production students and leads workshops in audio and video documentary production. He was a long time documentary producer at CBC Radio, and the executive producer of the CBC series Ideas from 1984-2012.