What are the advantages of children’s radio on contrary to children’s TV ?
In my opinion the advantage of radio is that it activates the children’s imagination. They learn to make up their own picture in mind. When children watch TV they are focused on the screen only. While listening to radio programs they can do other things aside, like painting pictures and even they don’t have to sit on the couch. They can be outside in the garden playing, while listening to radio programs.
Also it’s a totally different kind of relationship between the children and the radio presenters. It is much more intimate. The presenter can be like a friend. Radio is a very interactive medium. In our programs children call in and participate as guests.
You have been working for radio for a long time. Which kinds of radio programs for children did you produce ?
I produced very different kinds of formats. Magazines for example or news for children, reports, radio portraits about important persons and pieces about historic events for example. We recently produced a radio feature about one historic event that took place on Christmas 1914. In the middle of First World War. It is actually an extremely interesting story. On Christmas eve the British troops and the German troops were supposed to be in combat situation, but for that special day they agreed on a truce and in the end the soldiers even climbed over the dugouts, they did shake hands and celebrated Christmas together! Many German and English soldiers realized that they are in a very similar situation: The soldiers were all missing their homes and their families. That is a very illustrative story. We try to teach the children some moral with telling it. We want to them understand that war is something bad and absurd. Because their governments were enemies they were supposed to be enemies. But on that special Christmas the soldiers on both sides realized that in the end they are all human beings and that humanity totally got lost in that cruel war.
There are a lot of countries on this world were there is still war or civil war and we want the children to think about how bad war is and behind the term enemy or troops are always people with feelings and families.
So you can teach a lot of moral and values through Radio programs. Did you produce programs for entertainment purposes as well ?
Yes I also developed comedy programs or programs with interactive riddles. And I produced a lot of live shows and children were participating in it. I am producing a news show for children as well and it has a special twist: The news team visits a school and produces one news episode together with children. The children do the research and they even are presenting their news by themselves. This way we want them to get to know how news is made.
I especially like programs that involve children. They always become very active and contribute to the program. One good example of an interactive radio program produced by WDR (Public Radio Station) is called “Herzfunk” (meaning: radio from the heart). For this program the team visits schools, meets children and talks about their problems. The topics are always very emotional. Something like friendship or fears. I remember a boy who was bullied at school. Or another boy that was loosing his friends because he had to change school. We talk about these problems together with a psychologist and the presenter. First we try to make the children understand what is happening to them and why they are feeling the way they do. Then we try to find solutions together. Basically this program deals with hard topics in a very sensitive way.
To keep children hooked you have to be interactive within programs. This can be achieved through e.g. riddles or call-ins.
What is the difference between producing for adults and producing for children ?
Many editors think it would be much easier to produce programs for children than for adults. But every person that once has worked in the field of children’s media knows that this is absolutely not true. It is at least as difficult as producing for adults. If not even more.
Children are a very honest audience and they don’t accept empty phrases as answers. They will ask you until they get a satisfactory in depth answer. If you do not have one you cannot hide it. So you have to understand your subject very precisely if you want to explain it to children. This is especially hard in the field of children’s news.
Are there any basic rules for producing radio content for children ?
Never talk down to them. Take children serious. They want to be entertained but they also want to be informed about the world around them.
On the other side kids don’t want to be treated like small children. This is a very thin line. So you have to simplify information for them and explain issues in their language but you should still take them serious. Don’t talk to them “babyish”. If you try to teach morals don’t do it with a pointer finger.
Children like to listen to stories. They like to laugh and they want to learn. They want to interchange their thoughts with other children and they want to get to know what other children have to say. So involve children in your program. Give them a voice.
Interaction and Participation is very valuable. We for example have a guestbook on our website. It is used for polls e.g. on music or topics and they can point out their opinion on different issues.
Which kinds of programs are appropriate for children ?
There are no boundaries. Almost every type of format you use for adults can be adapted for children. We even produced a program about time. “When does time fly by and when is it slow and minutes seem to turn into hours?” We were observing this topic from a philosophical perspective. Basically we were philosophizing together with children. You can perfectly do that. Children are very able to evolve very deep and well-grounded thoughts.
How long should a program for children be ?
If they are younger than five then they have a very short attention span. Programs produced for that age group should not be longer than 30 minutes. Preschoolers often loose interest very quickly so the elements of the show have to be very short. There has to happen something new all the time.
For 8 to 12 year old children half an hour program is totally fine as radio is somehow a medium that happens aside doing other things. Sometimes they pay a lot of attention what is happening on the program and then they might think of something else again and get distracted. They eat alongside listening to radio shows or paint or play and that is not an issue at all. Radio is created for listening to it additionally to other activities and you as listener pick and choose what catches you.
Which programs can be produced with small capacities and cost-effective ?
Live studio productions are more cost-effective than reports and features, which have to be recorded, edited, finalized. You can invite guests and interview them. For example an author who talks about his books (for children) and reads from it. Or you invite a scientist that introduces some phenomena. And most important: invite children with success stories.
But actually also reports are not very difficult to produce. That is Radios great advantage in comparison to TV. And reports are perfect for children. There are sounds, there is action, there is something happening.
Thank you for the Interview!