Saturday, 13 March 2010

A day in the life

I have two alarms. One alarm goes off at 4am. The other alarm goes off at 4.01am. Getting up isn't the problem - it's going to sleep at an early enough time. Presuming eight hours is a good idea, I usually get six.

At 4.01am I pull on my Slobbing Around At Home Clothes and head downstairs with my ipod in my hand. Over breakfast I check my twitter feeds, which will usually alert me to any big local or national story and an interesting number of small ones. I can also check my emails and facebook messages so that by the time I go back upstairs to have a shower and get dressed I'm already thinking about what I can put into the show.

I make sure I'm in the car by 4.55am as that allows me to get a bit of the LBC paper review before switching over to BBC Surrey at 5am to a) check the early breakfast show presenter is there and b) hear what he has to say in the 5am news.

As soon as he finishes the news and weather, I switch over to Morning Reports on BBC 5 live and keep it there until I arrive at BBC Surrey in Guildford at around 5.15am.

It takes 15 minutes to make a cuppa, log on and generally adjust to being at work, but by 5.30am I am having an initial conversation with my producer about the big topics on the show.

Between 5.30am and 6am my producer is cutting, writing and editing. I am usually going through listener correspondence - deciding what I will read out on air, and how much any listener correspondence will shape the editorial direction of the show.

By 6am I am looking through the scripts we've been left from the night before, getting my head round the stories.

I know at breakfast people are dipping in for a short period of time, but if I start with a few things and a few ideas about where they might go, it helps. You need to have a few (hopefully witty, pithy and illuminating) lines ready in your head before you go on air. Scripting doesn't work - it has to sound right.

Also around 6am the papers and the newsreader arrives. We have an hour to get the programme ready and we do so by beavering away feverishly at our terminals, watching the telly and reading the papers, but also by talking - what is the big story? how do we present it? what ideas and audio will lift the programme and make it genuinely engaging?

So the hardest creative thinking work is done at the most difficult time of day - between 5.30am and going on air at 7am.

Starting the programme isn't easy - we hot desk, which means the early breakfast show presenter Ben Kerrigan finishes saying what he's saying and leaps out of his seat, giving me the duration of a song to watch his computer log off, log back in as me, re-arrange the keyboard layout to the way I need it, log out of his running order and log mine in, all the while trying to come up with hilarious, witty weather/travel/news/music-based banter which will ease the transition into my show and keep in my head the top stories and a reasonably sharp preamble.

Thankfully Ben is a past master, both technically and professionally, so we get through what is quite a sticky junction without too much awkwardness.

The next three hours (7am - 10am) are about being across my brief, and concentration.

During the programme, I interview at least ten people, talk my way around various recorded features, promote the schedule, host a quiz and try to steer the listener through the news, weather, travel and sport, without too much in the way of hesitation or repetition. Deviation is fine, though.

At 10am I switch the transmitter and saunter/stagger back into the newsroom. Usually I am assigned to report on a story happening somewhere in Surrey or North East Hampshire for the following day's programme. I wolf down a sandwich and head out in the car. After recording what I need to record, I go straight home, and try to get an hour's sleep before waking to pick my daughter up from school at 3pm. I then have 4 hours of childcare before my wife returns home.

This does not leave much time to make calls or process emails, let along grub up stories. Like anyone at work, I get around 50 - 100 emails a day and I prioritise those from listeners, and then those directly addressed to me. The rest don't really get read, let alone actioned.

Between 6-6.30pm I'll get a call from the day producer, to talk me through the next day's show. This is vital - chewing everying over with the person who has set the stories up, asking the questions you'd ask on air and making sure they're happy you know what you're going to talk about, and you're happy you've got a proper story to get your teeth into.

My wife Nic returns home around 7.15pm and helps put the kids to bed. Once they go down, usually around 8pm, we eat some dinner, tidy up, and have a brief chat before we start preparing for the next day.

Each second after 9pm I am awake has a significant impact on my ability to perform the next day. I usually get to sleep around 10pm.

It's a tough gig, but there's nothing I'd rather be doing right now. And, of course, the weekends provide a respite. It's how I find the time to do things like put together this.


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