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Oral history and the radio documentary/feature: Introducing the 'COHRD' form

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In an era when audio is increasingly associated with three-minute digital storytelling, the use of crafted oral history in long-form radio narratives deserves to be recognized as a specific genre: the 'COHRD' (Crafted Oral History Radio Documentary), a blend of oral history, art and radio journalism. The author, a long-term practitioner of both disciplines, compares the theory and practice of oral history interviewing and the narrative concerns of the radio documentary/feature producer. The article considers how oral history may be enhanced by imaginative treatment and careful crafting, to yield a hybrid COHRD form. This combines the creative scope of the feature, the editorial gravitas of the documentary and the ground-breaking personal narratives at the heart of oral history. Radio benefits from the in-depth primary research provided by oral history, which often records the experiences of the marginalized and the overlooked. Oral history benefits through broad dissemination and being made more engaging due to the radio documentary/feature aesthetic. The article suggests that the COHRD found a nascent expression in the pioneering work of producers such as Corwin (United States 1947), Mitchell (United Kingdom 1950s) and Terkel (United States 1958) and particularly in the Radio Ballads of MacColl, Parker and Seeger (United Kingdom 1958–64). Podcasting has reinvigorated long-form radio narratives, which can now be sourced online as academic research texts. The COHRD form is exemplified today in programmes such as Hindsight on ABC Radio National (Australia) and Hearing Voices and Radio Diaries on National Public Radio (United States).
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Keywords: COHRD; oral history; oral history on radio; orality; radio as academic text; radio documentary; radio feature

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Wollongong

Publication date: 2012-06-02

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  • The Radio Journal is committed to high-quality, diverse research in the arena of radio and sound media, from broadcast to podcast and all in between. We look for articles that explore the production, circulation and reception of radio and creative soundwork, addressing historical and contemporary issues in sound-based journalism and media studies from a wide range of national and transnational perspectives.
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