Radio cues

The cue is the introduction to a radio correspondent's piece. Neil Churchman is an assistant editor in the BBC network newsroom in London.

The cue might introduce a clip of actuality, a sound bite, or other audio, such as a piece of music.

Writing cues is a core skill in a radio newsroom and there's a lot to think about: accuracy, clarity, grabbing your audience's attention just by the power of your words.

So ditch those sub-clauses; use short sentences to maximum effect. If you bore or confuse, the cue could have the opposite effect and turn the listener off, warns Neil Churchman.

Remember, neither you nor your cue work in isolation. Talk to colleagues about what will immediately follow what you’re writing. Listeners hear the cue and the piece as part of a whole, so they'll be annoyed by repetition.

"If the cue and the piece don’t meet until transmission, this sort of thing happens: Cues are our shop window and we’re selling news"

Cue: “The supermarket chain Tesco has announced a major expansion in its operations. It says it will be creating 20,000 new jobs worldwide, 8,000 of them in the UK. Here’s (our correspondent).”

Correspondent: “Tesco is creating 20,000 new jobs worldwide, 12,000 in Central Europe and Asia and 8,000 in this country…”

And it pays to drop in telling phrases sparingly.

When the parents of a murdered child accused a politician of using their son’s death as “a political football”, the phrase was used in the news headlines, the cue and the piece, all in a matter of minutes. Any power it might have had was diluted by overuse.

The cue might only be a few dozen words long but you need to know the story in detail and keep up with developments. 

Finally, whether you're writing for a BBC Radio 2 summary, Radio 5 live's Drive programme or a Radio 4 bulletin, the same rules apply. It's just the tone of your writing that needs to change according to your audience.

If in doubt, says Neil Churchman, “ask yourself how you would tell that story in one sentence.”


The College of Journalism offers face-to-face and online courses for BBC staff:

Online Production

TV & Radio Production

BBC training is available to non-BBC staff on a commercial basis.