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Radio. The “Subconscious” Medium

By Allan Bonner

Radio is everywhere.  It’s in our cars, homes and offices.  It’s on at the barbershop, the convenience store, and in the dentist’s office.

In politics radio has played an increasingly important role through bombastic talk show hosts on all sides of the issues, especially the right.  But radio is really several different types of media all at once.  Here are the venues you might find yourself in:

Radio - Talk
Some radio talk shows have a seven second delay in case nuts call.  Some encourage those calls.  Hosts are left, right, thoughtful, and thoughtless.  Regardless, you don’t need to run the show, but you do need to get your message out.

Most of the time, the host will handle obnoxious callers.  At least the host will step in and make some bridging comment between the caller and you.  This gives you time to compose yourself and deliver the messages you rehearsed.  Often you simply acknowledge the caller’s perspective and then offer your own.  If the caller and host start shouting at you or each other, stop talking.  It’s very hard to interrupt a professional interrupter.  Most stations also have an audio “limiter” that turns down all microphones except the host’s.  It may not be democratic, but it can certainly be successful in diverting chaos.

Radio - Multiple Guests
Even if there is shouting of insightful comments from the other guests, your job is to get your fair share of the available airtime.  If you are in the studio, you can often signal to the host that you have something to say with your body language.  Lift a hand, use eye contact, lean forward, sit up, and look vigilant in order to get the attention of the host.  Do likewise while speaking in order to maintain control for that extra few seconds before the host jumps in to cut you off.  You can also, at an appropriate moment, jump in with “Look, what I want to say is…” Simply make certain that you are on-topic and you will get by with it.  

If you’re not in the studio you only have your vocal quality over the phone to carry the day.  That’s tough to do for someone not used to speaking professionally. Try using many energetic gestures in the privacy of your situation to enliven your voice and improve your presence across the phone line.

All News
WINS 1010 in New York used to be the home of Disc Jockey Murray the K, sometimes known as “the fifth Beatle.” But that was the sixties and WINS has been an “all-news” radio format now for decades.  One reason for the movement to talk and news formats is the deterioration of the AM radio band.

Most all news formats feature short cycles of news, weather, sport, business, traffic, and lifestyle items. You may get interviewed for 3 minutes, but your sound byte will last only for 10 seconds on the newscast.  On the positive side, if you are a good news source, you will be asked to return over and over again.

Hype Rock News
There used to be a format I worked in called 20/20 news.  There was also “Contemporary” news.  These staccato newscasts were designed to be shouted at 20 after and 20 before the hour and to fit in with the rock and roll songs on the station’s playlist.  There are still a lot of stations using the “KISS” call letters, and lots of oldies stations.  News is more entertaining, shorter and superficial on these outlets.

There are hourly newscasts, headlines on the half-hour, ten minute major newscasts, and even half-hour regional and network newscasts.  Your clip will vary accordingly between 8 seconds to 45 seconds.  You may even be the feature interviewee or subject of a short, “pocket” documentary.  The interview may take thirty seconds or thirty minutes.  Take a look at the clock.  If it’s getting near the hour (or sometimes the half-hour) the reporter is nearing deadline and will be in a rush.  Some news formats have continuous deadlines.  

When called for a pre-interview or to see if you’d make a good guest, try putting the reporter on hold for thirty seconds to compose, or see if you can call back.  Unless you’re a veteran, you need a little time to collect your thoughts. But when they call you after you have agreed to be interviewed, be sharp and at your best, because “you’re on the air.” 

Public Radio
Slow down.  Better yet, stop. You’re really going to have a conversation.  On some NPR programs they won’t allow two microphones open at the same time, so there’s no shouting match.  I’ve been on for an hour with scientists and even a Pulitzer Prize winning author.  Typical sound bites will make you sound like a light-weight.  The same is true of the long-form PBS interviews.  Do your homework and make sure you are especially prepared for this format.

Talk Back
Many programs have a talk back line.  They record, edit and play on air the random comments of listeners who call in.  Very occasionally and selectively you can too.  Call in off hours, say your piece, and listen for the results.

The Telephone
Most people interact with reporters on the telephone more than in any other way.  In fact, some radio programs only want phone-quality interviews—they won’t take a guest in the studio. But, if they’ll let you, go to the studio so your voice will sound better through a high-quality microphone.  Moreover, the host might not be as bombastic if he or she is only a foot away from you. On the other hand, you may find that you are intimidated by all the action in the studio.

Never use a speaker phone because you will sound pretentious.  The exception is if you assemble a few staffers to brief a reporter and the call is not for broadcast.  Be careful of the hand-held phone.  You can’t conduct a good interview in a crowd or with background noise.  Find a quiet spot.  Experiment with good plug-in microphones to get better sound quality.  Make sure that you utilize some “quiet time” to prepare yourself. 

Hold the phone or microphone about an inch from your mouth.  Stand or sit straight up and don’t hunch over notes—you’ll constrict your voice.  Gesture like an actor would (bigger, but slower) because you can “hear” gestures on the radio and in the voice that you transmit.

And finally …

Radio is the great “subconscious” medium.  Since it’s everywhere, so will you be, and that’s great for your campaign.

Allan Bonner has coached 8 heads of government and
several dozen cabinet level politicians. He is the author of several

books on communication and can be reached at Click here to contact this Author.

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