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Week Four: Learning to Listen

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This week in ds106 we’re going to be diving into our first storytelling genre: audio. Working with audio can be a bit daunting and unfamiliar, so we’ll be easing you into it this week. We’ll ask you to do some listening exercises as well as begin to create your own short audio stories. By the end of the week, we’ll organize you into groups for your mid-term project: creating a 20-30 minute radio show, which is due right after fall break. You’ll have several weeks to work on this project, and we’ll be returning to audio in greater depth the week before fall break. 

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About Audio Storytelling

In last week’s assignment for describing what is storytelling, many of you touched on the tradition of oral storytelling. There is no place where this plays out more effectively than on the radio. You might be familiar with the panic caused in the late 1930s when Orson Wells produced the radio show of H.G. Wells War of the Worlds– it was so effective, people thought it was real.

If you think we are much more savvy in the modern age, read about what happened when producers of an Italian movie tried to play out a promotional video as something like looked like a real news broadcast.

We’d like you to listen to some experts at radio storytelling describe a bit of how this is effective, probably no one has their game on for this than Ira Glass, host of This American Life, a weekly radio storytelling show on National Public Radio.

Watch all four parts of Ira Glass’ Series on storytelling (all together they’re about 20 minutes)

See also Part TwoPart ThreePart Four.

For another point of view, listen to a short interview with Radiolab‘s Jad Abumrad on “How Radio Creates Empathy”:

Write a post summarizing some key points these experts describe their craft. Come back to these later when you review some audio shows we recommend listening to.

Tag this post audiostorycraft

Introduction to Audio Techniques

Some things to notice when listening to audio are the pacing (think of the equivalent of paragraphs in sound), the use of music, sound effects, ambient/envionmental sounds, the introduction of radio “bumpers” to remind us of the show, introduction and exits. Of key importance is trying to hear the layering of sounds, of how audio can create a sense of place by being more than just a recording, but a deliberate stacking of audio.

As some reference, we recommend listening to an episode of Howsound, the radio show that takes you behind the scenes to understand how these shows are produced- Dissecting Joanne Rosser, Papermaker.

As another example, we took out elements of an hour long episode of RadioLab, a 2007 show called Detective Stories, and uploaded a shorter version to Soundcloud, where the comments indicate how some of these are used in the show

Some other references that may help you understand radio techniques include:

These are all references for you to use in the listening activity below.

Listening to Stories

One of the best ways to understand how audio can be used to create stories is to listen to some great examples. We’ve assembled this list of possible stories for you to listen to. You need to tune into at least one this week and write up your reaction and thoughts about it.

Overall, how effective do you think audio was for telling the story(ies)? What types of audio techniques did the producers use — sound effects, layering of sounds, music, etc. — to convey their story? We’re interested in knowing what you thought of the story being told — but we’re just as interested in your reflection about HOW the story was told. Try and step back from the story itself, and reflect upon the technique that the storytelling/producers used. What choices did they make that impacted your understanding of and feelings about the story? What are the techniques from the references above that you may not have noticed before?






Tag your post for this assignment audiostorylistening

Listening to ds106 Radio

Understanding audio storytelling and the concept of radio means also learning how to be a participant by listening to ds106 radio. There are a number of methods to listen listed in the main radio document – the easy way is a direct link in your web browser

The way ds106 radio works is that normally it plays through a preset list of audio content (AutoDJ), but if anyone does a live broadcast, it will cut off the AutoDJ. Your assignment this week is to listen to at least an hour of ds106 radio, most preferably to a live broadcast and write a blog post about your experience.

How do you know what is on the radio? First of all on twitter, start following @ds106rado – this is an automated Twitter “bot” coded a few years ago by a ds106 student, and it polls the stream to announce that there is something new playing. You should also bookmark the radio status page, which lets you know what is currently playing.

Screenshot of the DS106 Status Page (click to see it larger)

When listening to the radio, try to send tweets to the person hosting the stream to let them know you are listening. Include those tweets in your radio experience post!

Your ds106 listening assignment this week:

  • Listen to at least an hour of ds106 radio this week. Try to listen when there is someone doing a live broadcast.
  • Make sure you tweet (and get the URL for your tweet) that you are listening. Use the #ds106 or #ds106radio hashtag so that whoever is on the air knows you are listening. Use Twitter to send your reactions, feedback, etc. to that person.
  • Write a blog post about the experience. Check the server status page to how many other people are listening, include this info in your post. Embed whatever tweets you or others sent during the show in your post.
  • If you write up a tutorial for listening to ds106 in any way other than through the web (e.g. in iTunes, VLC, on your mobile device), there is potential some extra credit dangled.

Tag your blog post ds106radiolistening

Your First Audio Stories

Start your work on these assignments by reviewing this list of audio resources and/or the Audio Section of the ds106 Handbook section on Tools. You will find information here about software you can use to produce your own audio, as well as links to sites where you can download free clips, music, and sound effects.

We will not force you to use any software, but most highly recommend using Audacity, the opensource (free) audio editing software. Besides having many useful tools, a key features is its ability for multitrack editing, so you can layer your sounds. Some more tool references:

This week, we do want you to get your feet wet with creating two short audio assignments.

  • Create a DS106 Radio Bumper. Once you’ve familiarized yourself with ds106 radio, try your hand at making your first radio “bumper.” This should be saved as an MP3 file, and then upload it to SoundCloud. Make sure in soundcloud that you enable to option to allow downloads (so we can add it to ds106 radio!) Your audio must be embedded in your blog post summary of this assignment.
  • Create a sound effect story. This is a challenge to tell a short story (no longer than 60 seconds) using nothing but sound effects! Again, upload it to SoundCloud and make sure you embed your audio in your assignment poet.
Share each of these contributions in posts on your blog, and tag them according to the instructions on their assignment page.

Radio Shows

By Friday, we (Alan and Martha) will be organizing each section of the UMW sections into groups to produce a short radio show. Groups will consist of 4-6 students. Each show must be at least as long as 5 minutes per student member (4 students = 20 minute show; 6 students = 30 minute show). You will get more information and instructions about the requirements for the show when we send around group assignments at the end of this week. But, generally, you should know that you will be required to pick a theme and then build a creative, multi-layered show around that theme.

Radio shows will be due on October 17, when you return from Fall Break. We will then be playing all of the contributions, live, during several “marathon” shows on ds106 radio from October 18-20.

After this week, we will be turning our attention to visual and design stories — but we will return to audio again during the week of October 14th ( the week before Fall Break). You should begin working in your groups and organizing and preparing your shows ASAP.  You should continue to develop them until they are due. Please don’t leave all of your work until the week before Fall Break! You will feel rushed and stressed if you do this!

Daily Creates

Complete three daily creates this week. As usual, write them up in a summary post at the end of the week.

Weekly Summary

Your weekly summary is due by Sunday, September 23 at midnight. As always, link to or embed all of your work from the week. Use this as an opportunity to reflect upon your initial foray into audio. What did you struggle with? What ideas/exercises were most challenging or interesting?

Now we are moving into the main part of the course where the bulk of your work is writing up assignments, you are going to be expected to follow the criteria for Blogging Assignments Like a Champ – just posting “here is my assignment” is not going to be enough to earn credit. There needs to be writing with your media, a story about the story.

The checklist includes:

  • Key points of audio storytelling (what Glass and/or Abumrad described in videos)
  • Summary of the radio story you listened to, making special notes of the techniques used. Be sure to link to the show you listened to
  • Your ds106 radio listenig experience
  • Audio assignments – ds106 radio bumper and Five sound story- must be linked and tagged with the ones listed for the assignment.
  • At least 3 Daily Creates
  • Weekly Reflection


  1. afghanwoman

    September 18, 2012

    Listening to ds106 Radio…

    it has been more than an hour I am listening to it-songs are playing- my question is how about the following (;•Make sure you tweet (and get the URL for your tweet) that you are listening. Use the #ds106 or #ds106radio hashtag so that whoever is on the air knows you are listening. Use Twitter to send your reactions, feedback, etc. to that person.)
    how to send my reaction to that person-I am in #ds106radio and it shows what is going on in the radio so do i need to put my reactions there or ….confused about this part

  2. afghanwoman

    September 18, 2012

    (Download and install the plugin needed to save your Audacity sounds as mp3 files-)

    how to find this, can we use google to find this or from it own webside.

  3. Martha

    September 18, 2012


    When you are just hearing music playing on the radio station that generally means there is no one broadcasting live — you’re just hearing the Auto DJ. One thing you can do is send a tweet with the hashtag #ds106radio. You could say something like “Hey I’m listening to #ds106radio and I like what I hear!” Often when someone is on live, they are monitoring the #ds106radio hashtag, and they’ll reply.

    The other thing you can do is keep an eye on the ds106 radio Twitter bot ( This will tell you what’s currently playing, and sometimes that will include the name of the person who is broadcasting live (if someone is broadcasting live).

    As for the MP3 encoder, the link is provided right above in the section that directs you to install it:

  4. afghanwoman

    September 19, 2012

    (Audio assignments – ds106 radio bumper and Five sound story- must be linked and tagged with the ones listed for the assignment.)

    Do we need to embad it to our blog or put a link to it -secondly where is the lists for assignment so I can tag it ..

    Thank you for help In advance

  5. Martha

    September 19, 2012

    Whenever you create media, if you can embed it, you should. And if you upload your audio to SoundCloud, you can embed it.

    The links to the assignments are above. Click the links for the Radio Bumper and sound effects story — that will take you to the assignment pages with directions about tagging.

  6. afghanwoman

    September 19, 2012

    Thank you so much professor Burtis- It was helpful.

  7. Matt Meyer

    September 19, 2012

    Maybe I’m just missing the obvious but where can we see our partners for the radio show project? I got an email saying I’ve been added to a group but I cant find that list anywhere ><

    • cogdog

      September 20, 2012

      You are not missing anything; we are posting this later this week. Please stand by.

  8. afghanwoman

    September 21, 2012

    •Key points of audio storytelling (what Glass and/or Abumrad described in videos)

    do we have to provide the link for it for weekliy summery or to rewrite the keypoints.

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