Friday, 25 May 2012

On the mic - Surrey Life - May 2012


Here is my column for the May edition of Surrey Life. Regular readers will note this is not the first time I have used the angry imp metaphor. It doesn't improve with age.

Links to previous Surrey Life columns are at the bottom of this post. If you want to subscribe to Surrey Life and read my latest column, I'm sure that would make my editor very, very happy.

 
Radio is about stories. Whether you are listening to the narrative development of a song, or the heartbreaking personal testimony of a parent who has lost a child, radio excels at enriching the world we live in with the lives of others.
 
At its best, the medium can be so compelling we find ourselves reaching into somebody else’s world, connecting with their stories, and intertwining them with our own emotions and experiences.
 
Every radio professional should be working tirelessly to create those moments of connection with the listener. A facility with the written and spoken word, accuracy, ideas, empathy and a sense of theatre are all important, but nothing beats individual, human stories. 
 
Finding those stories and the people to tell them takes no little skill. On a breakfast show, those tales need to fit in around all the things you would expect from breakfast radio - news bulletins, weather reports, travel updates - the complete delivery of all the information you need about the world around you.
 
The secret is in what we call the “clock hour”. Every minute of every hour in the breakfast show has a designated purpose. A radio programme should sound like nothing more technical than a series of smooth, easy, purposeful conversations, but the reality is very different.
 
Each guest, each story, each information segment should appear at a specific time and serve a specific need. Not just because we have a lot to fit in, and not just because every breakfast show needs light and shade, but because people set their morning routines by what they hear on their kitchen wireless.
 
If you switch on your radio at eight o’clock in the morning, you expect to hear the news. If you know you need to be in the shower by the time I get to the paper review, how infuriating would it be if an interview overran, and you found you were late for work? 
 
Plotting the clock hour starts a day in advance - there is a set amount of “furniture” we have to negotiate - the travel, the sport, the weather, the news. Then there are the minutes allotted to stories - different sorts of stories for different parts of the clock hour. If you are listening at 7.10am, you will hear a different sort of story to one you hear at 7.25am, and again at 7.50am. The idea is to create a rhythm to the programme that you can subconsciously use to inform your morning routine.
 
Of course, this all goes out live, which means it does so in an atmosphere of controlled unpredictability. I have a hopeless recipe-based metaphor about this which I will inflict on you now:
 
Get an angry imp, some good ingredients, ten talented chefs and a boiling cooking pot on a portable stove. 
 
Ask your talented chefs to stand in a circle at least 20 yards from the portable stove and chuck some prepared ingredients towards the boiling cooking pot, whilst the imp (has to be an imp, or a hobbit), pushes the stove around the room, swearing loudly at everyone.
 
To make a live radio show work, you need the quality ingredients, you need the talented chefs, and then you need to accept that whatever you're trying to make may be completely different from what you set out to make, or rather wonderful in spite of the circumstances.

To read April's column click here. To read my first column, in March 2012, click here.

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