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What I’m really thinking: the radio listener

Posted 3rd June 2012

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Via the excellent @BobDinan, here’s a depressing article – What I’m really thinking: the radio presenter. It takes some feat to contradict yourself so splendidly using only four paragraphs, but somehow this piece manages it.

“Listeners have told me they’re pregnant before they’ve told their boyfriends. They’ve just had nobody else to go to. This job has made me realise there are a lot of lonely people in the world. I know they think I’m their friend.”

Radio as friend. Got you. Makes sense. I mean, I’d quibble with how it’s phrased, and it seems to pity an audience of which the vast majority doesn’t need pitying – but whatever.

“This is the only job I’ve done and I’m amazed we still have an audience. With a smartphone you can listen to whatever song you want, whenever you want. You don’t have to tune in on the off chance I’ll play something you like. Within a generation I think there will be no such thing as a radio presenter. Which is why, when people ask me how to get into radio, I think – don’t.”

…hang on. You started the piece by pointing out how radio can connect with an audience – using the human voice, in a way that an iPod can’t. Have you completely forgotten what you’ve just written?

It’s the classic mistake: radio is just about the music, man. Except… it isn’t. If radio was just about music, then yes, you may as well listen to your bloody phone. It’s about those damn presenters: informing, laughing, contextualising. It’s about being surprised by what might come out your radio next. It’s about creating something beautifully put together, each element flowing into another, in a way a random playlist just can’t do. Radio at its best is alive in a way an iPod can never hope to be. In short: it’s about all this stuff right here. And – however patronisingly – the article admits this in its very first paragraph!

The weird thing about the piece is that the actual issue is either skirted around, or has been unhelpfully edited out by an over-eager sub:

“It’s weird. I know I’m in their lives every day, but I don’t even entertain myself. I play the same songs and talk about the same things. I think I’d find a better friend than me. I suppose I must sound as if I care about Lady Gaga or the latest reality TV show, but I don’t. When Big Brother came back last year, I despaired. I’d run out of things to say about evictions and shopping budgets a long time ago.”

This is the key point. Why aren’t you talking about things that interest you? The heavy implication is that it’s management telling you what you have to talk about. Examine that point, and you might be getting somewhere interesting – and point the way towards actually realising radio’s potential.

As it is, all you’ve done is write a concise explanation as to why you’re not that great at your job.

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Dave on 6 August 2012 @ 8am

I get the same sort of experience you’re talking about from listening to podcasts. The good ones connect with their audiences in the same way but you don’t have to tune in at a certain time. I listen to The Brewing Network which does its shows live then podcasts, putting out great content and being really funny and interesting. It’s the reason why I haven’t listened to terrestrial radio for a long time.