I often get asked why I prepare my radio shows in advance – choosing the music or pre-recording the interviews and writing the outline running order or basic script. The questions often come from people who don’t really understand how radio works.
In radio, you can’t make things up as you go along. You need to plan. I don’t mean writing the script out word for word and then sticking to it without any move for changing it – that’s just silly. How do you react to listeners’ comments? What if your studio guest has something really interesting to say which you weren’t expecting? What would you do if something goes wrong?
This Christmas I was given a book written by Peter Stewart, an award-winning broadcaster, radio consultant and author with twenty years experience in media and works in the BBC’s regional tri-media news centre in Kent.
The “Essential Radio Skills – How to present and produce a radio show“ talks about a number of radio-related questions/issues – ranging from basic laws such as libel and contempt of court, to how to prepare for your show and what to do if the whole thing falls apart.
If you have ever wondered why people bother to prepare their radio shows, you may like to take note of the author’s personal opinion on the matter:
Some of your collegues will say that they don’t prep, and scoff at you with your notebook of ideas. These people say they’re experienced enough to wing it, and that preparing material means they can’t be reactive or spontaneous. They’re also usually the people who do poor shows.
Quoted from Peter Stewart,
Author, Essential Radio Skills – How to present and produce a radio show
What is happening here, is that people are misinterpreting the word “preparation”. It doesn’t mean a radio show is scripted or staged, or that its presenter is incompetent at talking on air.
What it does mean is that time has been taken to find content which will make the radio show interesting for the listener – content that may be personal to them or someone they know.
In my opinion, the best radio programmes are those which are personal to me – Mark Cummings on BBC Radio Gloucestershire regularly talks about his journey through Cirencester on the way to the studio isn’t aimed specifically at me, but I can relate to it. I know the area mentioned and I know what sort of things go well (or not so well) when people travel through the area.
Over on Radio 2, Terry Wogan regularly mentioned television programmes that I had watched the night before. Again, Wogan wasn’t specifically aiming his comments at me, but was making comments which I (and a lot of his other listeners) could relate to – having seen the programmes, we knew exactly what he was talking about, or saw a new side to what had been broadcast the night before.
Both of these may sound like they were made up on the spot. But completely the opposite is true – they were planned. Both are ways of planning a radio show – referring back to my radio book, it talks about how you can plan for a radio show by going where your listeners go, reading what they read, watching what they listen. Effectively being one of your listeners. But just doing that is not enough.
You then need to make the content relevent for your radio station. You need to turn in your basic idea – for example, what happened whilst walking your dog in the car – into something your listeners will understand. By thinking how it would fit into a radio show, and working out who’s it for, how are they involved and how does it relate to them, is there a “now” angle, how will you get in and out of the idea and is there a punch line or comment… they are all questions which radio presenters (and, to a certain extent, although not in that amount of detail), me, ask when an idea suddenly occurs. Basically, radio presenters try use things they’d genuinely talk about if they weren’t on the radio and make it fit in with their programme.
Try listening to a number of radio stations over the next few days. Do the presenters sound like they’re trying to make comments about something they’ve done, but sound like they’re reading off a script? Or do they sound very fluent, almost like they’re having a conversation with the listener? The ones who are almost having a conversation with the listener are the ones which have planned well. They have thought about how their content fits together. They haven’t written down their idea on paper as a script… because how many people do you know would do that when not on the radio?
There’s loads of other interesting stuff in the book… but I’ll let you buy it for yourself in order to find out what 😉