Signposting  - establishing the location at the beginning of a scene

See also Signposting - further definition

AND Signposting - more - Signposting and establishing location

Key terms: establishing the location, atmos, neutral atmos

Definition of signposting

Signposting is the technique for establishing the location at the beginning of a scene. This is done by effects, spot or FX, and sometimes backed by description.

 Discussion of signposting:

Most often these effects or spot are introduced (faded in) at the top of the scene, before the dialogue begins. It is up to the director whether speech begins quickly, or more seconds are needed to strengthen the effect of this signposting on the listener. If a new location, especially an outside location, is being established, the audience will need more time to absorb this information. So the scene will be established in this way: the beach - sea waves - with a seagull (though that is now a cliché), the ambience of a crowded street.

Spot effects can establish a kitchen by sounds of washing up at the sink, or a boiling kettle, and the livingroom by teacups or bottles for alcohol. Signposting has the same function as the establishing shot in film and TV. (See example below.)

Sometimes the signposting has a relatively simple function, especially in 'standard production'. But it can also be used to indicate mood, as symbolism (in the sense of the iconic/symbolic distinction). So the sound of the sea waves symbolizes loneliness or perseverance, depending on context.

Signposting is efficient in returning for the second and further times to the same location. The choice for the director is whether to return to the same signposting device (as washing-up), or vary this. Good writing will link a plot strand to a certain location, for clarity. This is especially to be observed in afternoon plays. For subplot strands, this works well, so that the audience can relocate minor characters in their memory by an easy trigger for recall.

For the director, choosing and presenting the signpost is often a task that demands clarity above subtlety or art. It must be immediately 'read' by the listener, hence the importance of establishing the location:


Signposting is famous in 'The Archers' where FX birds and animals are regularly used. (There is a history of letters in 'Radio Times' of complaints about unseasonal mistakes, as migrating birds heard too early or too late.)

It is the task of the playwright to offer locations which fit with signposting and open up aural possibilities. These locations are part of what make up, overall, the rhythm of the play.

Make a distinction between the old method of production (pre-stereo) where so much production was in a neutral location and today's stereo standard production, where atmos is used.

Examples of signposting (realism)

dog barking

mowing the lawn

old-fashioned shop door bell

knock on door

walking in outside acoustic

inside car acoustic, with traffic

Domestic Spot

tea cups

spirits bottle and glasses, pouring liquid

plates and cutlery

kettle boiling and then whistling

coffee machine

coffee bean grinder, electric or hand


playing stereo system in living room or bedroom



computer keyboard

portable cassette recorder switched on

Hand props

opening envelope

towel or clothes



Further, more detailed examples of signposting (realism):

* Close acoustic of dining-room, vocal reactions from four male and female adults, spot effects of cutlery on plates. First line: It was a magnificent meal, thank you.

Examples of signposting (non-realism):

* Sustained and electronically-treated musical note or phrase into interiorizing monologue







TO Index 'A' to 'Z' for this site - use to navigate


This site is 'Radio Drama - directing, acting, technical, learning & teaching, researching, styles, genres'.

This is part of a complete curriculum of scripts, techniques (acting & directing & post-production & genre styles), advice, sound files - effects and atmoses (with no copyright and so free to use), detailed script commentaries, etc. You are welcome to use these sites with no copyright restriction.

 The url of this site, 'Radio Drama Techniques', is:
 To Alan Beck's Radio Hub at
 To Alan Beck's HOME PAGE at
 See more of Alan Beck's work at


 To index - This will give you an A to Z of all the content of this site.
 Note: If the text is too small for you to read, go to VIEW on the top toolbar, then TEXT SIZE, and choose MEDIUM, LARGE or LARGER.
 Navigate this site using the back arrow on the top left of the screen.
 Use the FAVOURITES on the top toolbar, and create a FOLDER for this site 'Radio Drama Techniques', and FAVOURITE the WELCOME PAGE, and also various other pages in the site. So you can go to FAVOURITES, then the folder 'Radio Drama Techniques', and click on whatever you need. So nagivation around the site becomes quicker.
 Copy and paste it into WORD in the following way - ON THE WEB PAGE - Select what you want to copy Or (if all - from the Top Toolbar) EDIT and then SELECT ALL - OPEN WORD - Edit - Paste Special - Unformatted Text
 Use QUESTIONS - 'HOW DO I' - to navigate this site.


Any opinions expressed in this site are the personal opinions of the owner of the site. IF YOU HAVE COMMENTS, PLEASE EMAIL TO :

Further info on signposting and further information concerning site
Fastest FTPS and FTPS on the planet Go FTP FREE