Radio documentary is a spoken word radio format devoted to non-fiction narrative. It is broadcast on radio as well as distributed through media such as tape, CD, and podcast. A radio documentary, or feature, covers a topic in depth from one or more perspectives, often featuring interviews, commentary, and sound pictures. A radio feature may include original music compositions and creative sound design or can resemble traditional journalistic radio reporting, but covering an issue in greater depth.



The early stages of fiction audio storytelling did not entirely resemble what would later be called radio documentary. In the 1930s, with radio stations like WNYC entering the airspace, reporters documented real people and real life scenarios through short on-the-ground interviews rather than dramatization. Other notable documentary broadcasts include the unrefined one-shot audio recordings of events, such as the Hindenburg disaster in 1937. By 1939, CBS responded to growing anxieties about immigration in the U.S. with a six-month series, titled "Americans All…Immigrants All," that highlighted the stories of immigrant communities. The lack of documentary style reporting in this era can be attributed, in part, to technological limitations; recording equipment was not easily portable.


An important moment in the establishment of radio documentary as a widely used and discussed format is the expansion of portable audio recording devices. In 1945, sound archivist and radio producer, Tony Schwartz began to use portable audio recording equipment to collect the sounds of his neighborhood in New York City to share on his WNYC radio show; his features ran for 30 years and grew to include the sounds of daily life recorded by and mailed to him from people around the world. This style of sharing true-life sound bytes would remain in public radio documentary. In 1946, one of the most pivotal developments in the spread and stylization of radio documentary was the creation of the CBS Documentary Unit. It was the first sector of a major media network dedicated to this format of radio. The unit was "'devoted exclusively to the production of programs dealing with major domestic and international issues and involving extraordinary research and preparation'". Not only did the content deviate from programming that favors advertisers, the style deviated from the standard, creating a well known format. The style of reporting for the CBS features was adopted and melded by ABC and NBC networks. The format included extensive interviews to gain multiple perspectives of an issue, an adherence to journalistic ethics, and often a call to action; the programming was usually released as multiple segments and at peak times. Examples of these first documentary projects include CBS' 1946 war feature, ''The Empty Noose'', and ABC's 1949 program, ''V.D., A Conspiracy of Silence'', addressing the lack of public attention to venereal disease.


With the founding of National Public Radio in 1971, radio documentary began shifting again due to non-commercial educational media. For a short time, programs such as ''All Things Considered'' explored creative styles of presenting non-fiction by deviating from now traditional styles of radio documentary by hiring reporters outside of the radio sphere.


Important shifts in technology have allowed radio documentary to travel beyond the analog. In the advent of podcasting and internet radio, the FCC provides no guidelines for these media. Programs are allowed to skirt FCC regulation, marking yet another shift in content and style of documentary programming. Current features that exemplify the new possibilities opened by podcasting include the often gritty subject matter of Love + Radio and the critical success of the podcast Serial due to the ability of listeners across the globe to access the content for free.


Radio documentary in developing nations

There has been tremendous interest in the field of Radio Documentaries particularly in the developing nations such as India, Iran, South Korea and Malaysia. In India for example, Radio Documentary is gaining in popularity due to the flexibility, efficiency and accessibility to the masses. Producers such as Chitra Narain and Danish Iqbal have been accredited with its revival and popularity in the region. Danish Iqbal who is primarily a Drama Producer combined the elements of Dramatic narrative to produce some memorable Radio Documentaries. His Documentary "Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai' is considered a Classic for the use of effective narrative and ambient sounds. This Documentary presents a heartfelt account of unseen bridges between a Kashmiri Shikarah Wala and his Auto Rickshaw Driver friend in Delhi. Although they never met each other but their unseen bond is the subject of this rare Documentary which transcends the barriers of political, religious and regional prejudices. Because both Chitra and Danish had a long tenure at Delhi and had creative collaboration with many Media Institutes, their influence is seminal in shaping the thinking of many of their students and co-workers. Danish won twice the prestigious Public Service Broadcasting Award for his documentaries.

Notable feature makers

Notable resources

Association of Independents in Radio

American RadioWorks

Archive.org Audio


Hearing Voices

Public Radio eXchange

Radio Diaries


RTE Documentary On One

This American Life


Third Coast International Audio Festival

Tune In - Radio Documentaries

Notable programs by region



Documentary On Newstalk
RTE - Documentary on One
Irish Radio Documentaries.


NPO radio documentaries
Dutch radio documentaries.


Swedish Radio, The Documentary Department

United Kingdom

BBC - Newshour Extra

BBC Radio Documentaries available to listen to online

BBC Radio 2 - World War One
Radio documentary about World War One
BBC Radio 3 - The Radio 3 Documentary

BBC Radio 4 - Punt PI
Humorous radio documentary series.
BBC - The Radio Ballads

BBC World Service documentaries

North America


CBC - As It Happened

CBC - Back Story

CBC - By Design

CBC - Rewind

CBC - Stripped
Documentary series about the human body.
CBC - The Doc Project

CBC - The Sunday Edition
Radio programme featuring interviews, music, and radio documentaries.

United States

Alabama Life

America Abroad

American Radio Works - documentaries

APM Reports


Babe Ruth's Major League Debut: 100th. Anniversary
Radio documentary series about baseball star Babe Ruth featuring interviews, documentaries, and tributes.

Radio documentary series about Asian migration to the United States of America.
El Nuevo Sol documentaries

Radio documentary series produced by ''Slate'' magazine about applying for college.
Human Media
Radio documentary production group.
Happy Presidents Day!
Conversations, speeches, and documentaries about American presidents.
International Day of Peace

Lichtenstein Creative Media

KCRW - Sonic Trace

KCRW - Strangers

KCUR documentaries and specials

KQED documentaries

Making Contact

Michele Freeman
Radio documentary-maker.
Michigan Radio series & documentaries

Nature Stories

New York Academy

99% Invisible
Radio documentary programme about architecture and design.

NYC Media - Secrets of New York

Documentary series about nature and how humankind uses it.
Pacifica Radio Network's Audioport

PBS - Frontline Audiocast

PBS - Point Of View

Post-Apartheid South Africa: 20 Years On
Radio documentary series.
PRI - Whose Century Is It?

PRX Remix

Radio Diaries of Sciences - Science & The City

Radiolab Presents: More Perfect


Rowan radio documentaries

RT radio documentaries

Siobhan McHugh
Radio documentary-maker.
Smithsonian Folkways
Record label that produces recordings of music and radio documentaries.
Sound Portraits

SoundFeatures.Com - Updated listing of downloadable documentaries

State Of The Re:Union

Stuff They Don't Want You To Know
Radio documentary series examining conspiracy theories.
Talking History


The Changing World

The Heart

The Kitchen Sisters
Radio documentary-makers.
The Listening Lounge

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration In The Age Of Colorblindness
Radio documentary series
The Outside Podcast

The Stanley Foundation radio documentaries

The 7th. Avenue Project
Radio programme featuring documentaries and interviews.
The Trail

The Uncertain Hour

The Untold

Us & Them

Vinny Hurrell

The World In Words
Radio documentary series about linguistics.
This Thing Called Love


Voices of the First World War
Radio documentary series by the Imperial War Museum about the First World War.
Documentary series about issues related to the Washington D.C. railways.
WBUR - Inside Out

WFIU - Profiles

WNYC - Documentary of the Week

WNYC - Documentary Specials

WNYC - Radio Rookies

WNYC - There Goes The Neighborhood
Documentary series about the gentrification of Brooklyn.

South Pacific / Australia


ABC Radio National - Background Briefing

ABC Radio National - Current Affairs Specials

ABC Radio National - Earshot

ABC Radio National - Hindsight

ABC Radio National - Mongrel Nation
Six-part radio documentary series about immigration and multiculturalism in Australia.
ABC Radio National - Pocketdocs

ABC Radio National - Radio Eye

ABC Radio National - Showcase

ABC Radio National - The Night Air

ABC Radio National - 360 Documentaries

SBS - The Story Untold - Part 1
Part 1 of the radio documentary ''The Story Untold'', which is about the possibility of contact between people from the Indian subcontinent with the Indigenous people of Australia during the Stone Age.
SBS - The Story Untold - Part 2
Part 2 of the radio documentary ''The Story Untold'', which is about the possibility of contact between people from the Indian subcontinent with the Indigenous people of Australia during the Stone Age.

New Zealand

Radio New Zealand - A Wrinkle In Time
Radio documentary series about ageing.
Radio New Zealand - Spectrum

Radio New Zealand - Sunday Morning With Wallace Chapman

Western Asia



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