Comment on radio documentary structure

by Robert Reichle


According to Ira Glass, most radio documentaries follow the structure of "anecdote-reflection." However, there are instances in I Can Almost See the Lights of Home: A Field Trip to Harlan County when this is not the case. Charles Hardy and Alessandro Portelli, though unsure at first as to the direction of their project, eventually decided to treat it as less of a radio documentary than an "essay in sound." Their essay is meant to present oral data as actual data for oral historians, rather than presenting the data as sound bytes used only to further the flow of a narrative documentary. As such, its format differs slightly from that of the standard radio documentary.

One of the most significant stylistic choices Hardy and Portelli made was that of narration. Instead of using a removed, uninvolved narrator, they use the dialogue between Hardy and Portelli as their narration device. In the second introductory clip, Hardy asks Portelli about when and why he came to Harlan County. The piece then cuts to recordings of Portelli chatting with his subjects. At the beginning of the "Snakes" movement, this technique is used again. The two interviewers talk about the fact that all of Portelli's data really only amounts to snapshots of his relationships with the people of Harlan County, then the piece jumps to some of those said snapshots.

This means of transition does resemble Glass' "anecdote-reflection" model because the exchanges between Hardy and Portelli are, in a sense, anecdotes. However, it differs from Glass' model in two major ways:

Robert Reichle
Updated 9/17/01