Broadcast Listening Factor

By Nirmaldasan

Tim Wulfemeyer, author of Beginning Radio-TV Newswriting, suggests that radio-TV news sentences should have on the average about 20 ‘nickel and dime’ words. He writes: “The big, impressive-sounding, multisyllabic, ‘10-dollar’ words don’t belong in radio-TV newswriting.” He discusses several principles that help listeners and half-listeners get the news.

A good broadcast copy will obey these principles such as ‘write the way you talk’, ‘place attribution before what was said’, ‘place titles before names’, ‘place ages before names’, ‘place time elements in sentences so they sound natural’, ‘round off numbers to make them more memorable’ and ‘match words with pictures, graphics and video’.

But how listenable is a good broadcast copy? In an earlier article ‘Measuring Listenability’, I suggested the use of two formulae: Modified Smog Listening Grade (MSLG) = 4 * (square root of P3), where P3 is the number of polysyllabic words in three sentences; and, Approximate Easy Listening Grade (AELG) = N + P, where N and P are the number of non-monosyllabic words and polysyllabic words in a sentence respectively.

My latest article proposes a simpler measure — the broadcast listening factor (BLF). It is the roughest of rough measures, simpler than the MSLG, and yet very useful for broadcast writers in a hurry. Here it is: BLF = P3.  This factor is not pegged to a grade and has a scale of 1 to 10+; the lower the score, the higher the listenability.

Let us apply the BLF on the following radio news item: “The Union Minister of State for Home Sriprakash Jaiswal has said that India may consider the status of Indo-Nepal extradition treaty in view of fast changing trans-border scenario. Talking to newsmen in Gorakhpur, he said that the treaty is very old and Nepal is very vulnerable for the elements intending to sabotage Indian security and integrity. He said if the need arises we might consider a new extradition treaty with Nepal.” There are three sentences and 17 polysyllabic words. Hence BLF = 10+.  

Here is my revision: “The Union Minister of State for Home Sriprakash Jaiswal has said that India may review the status of the extradition treaty between India and Nepal in view of fast changing scenario across the border. Talking to newsmen in Gorakhpur, he said that the treaty is very old and Nepal is vulnerable to saboteurs. He said that in case of need India might sign a new treaty with Nepal.” There are three sentences and seven polysyllabic words. Hence BLF = 7. 

For a better estimate, BLF = P30/10; P30 being the number of polysyllabic words in 30 sentences.

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