The thick door opens and you’re ushered into the inner sanctum by the clip-board carrying assistant. The stillness of the air immediately envelopes you ~ not a breeze, no outside sound can intrude into this secluded space. The walls are lined in soundproofing material and the small window is heavily double-glazed, with the panes slanting inwards at a peculiar, unfamiliar angle. You swallow hard. This is it!
The host rises to greet you, a warm smile immediately putting you at ease. In a nervouse daze, you vaguely take in the console with all the buttons, the headphones, the computer screens. Finally, reluctantly, you sit down in the guest chair, an enormous microphone thrust into your face. You open your mouth. Your time has come. What will you say?
Last week, I announced tomorrow’s big radio preview party for Sophie’s Run right here on this blog. As I was writing, I suddenly realized I was excited and exhilarated about the event, but not nervous, at least not about the radio side of things. Anymore!
I got a lot of questions after the blogpost went live. Many friends made jokey comments about how I’d become quite used to gracing the airwaves, and would I get my own show soon? I can’t answer that, but there is one recurring question that I now feel at least partially qualified to answer, and that’s what this post is about.
Siren 107.3 FM Midweek Drive, 23 January 2013
What’s it like to be on the radio?
Just over a year ago, I wouldn’t have been able to answer this question either and yet strangely, since December 2011, occasional radio appearances have begun to feature in my life. (You can find a blog diary of these events right here. ) I’m not a pro by a long shot but I have lost that jittery attack of radio nerves and I simply get the most enormous buzz from being on the radio. This is what it’s like to be on the radio—for me:
Exciting. Being invited to take part in a radio show is exciting in many ways. First of all, there is the obvious thought that there will be people listening to what you say. You get a big audience and the possibilities are endless. Second, there is the excitement of going to visit a real studio, meeting a real radio host. Using a microphone, and seeing the red ‘On Air’ signs. Awesome!
By Peter Eder (Foto von Peter Eder) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
. Did I mention that people will be listening, and the possibilities are endless? Among those possibilities is the potential for a monumental lapse of judgement, that dreadful faux pas, that Bridget-Jones (or indeed Sophie-Penhalligan) moment when you open your mouth and say completely the wrong thing. The show goes out live—there will be no opportunity to take anything back if you make a bumbling idiot out of yourself.
Unreal. Uh-huh, once you get chatting to that wonderful host who’ll make you feel at ease and stop you from turning into a jittery heap of jelly, once you’ve uttered the first few sentences into that big fat microphone pointing in your face… You forget. You forget about all the people listening, it’s just you and the host. You just talk, and it’s only afterwards that you remember that people are listening.
Nicky and Nicola after the chat on BBC Lincolnshire on 22 January 2013. OK, so I do look terrified, but I had a great time. Honestly!
Dangerously blundersome. (If, like me, you have a propensity for foot-in-mouth disease)
Let me give you an example or two. Twice I have been asked, on air, why I moved to Bristol, and both times I gave the same long-winded answer (learn, Nicky, learn?) involving an explanation of why my husband and I shunned a certain other city in our search for a new abode. “The good people of *&()(*$£^% will never now buy your books,” my husband joked after the first time and I lost sleep over it, went back to the podcast at least a dozen times, trying to decide whether there was real slander in my utterance. There wasn’t, of course, but what if I’d picked different words? What if somebody did take umbrage?
Then there was the time when I was asked what makes Dan (my rock star hero) so attractive. I went into great detail describing Dan and… changed his hair colour. Uh huh. I knew seconds after I’d said it that I got mixed up. Absolutely nobody else picked up on it but it jarred me and I felt jittery and scared all over again.
And most recently, I used a swear word on air. I couldn’t help it, it was right on the page that I was supposed to be reading. I didn’t think it was that bad a word, but it got a hiss and a raised eyebrow from the producer and I shrank and quivered in my boots, even more so when the host offered a quick apology for the use of bad language right after I finished reading. I could feel my ears burn red and I wanted to disappear in the ground. Nothing happened, obviously, and the consensus after the show was that really it wasn’t that bad a word for otherwise I wouldn’t have used it in my writing—but you never know who takes offense (I refer you back to points Scary and Unreal) and it’s better to err on the side of caution. Yes, indeed, lesson well and truly learned. I hope!
Exhilarating. I have mentioned the buzz, haven’t I? When you come off air and the show is done (or at least, your slot has finished), the adrenaline rush is totally overpowering. It’s like you’ve drunk a gallon of coffee and you are literally humming with excitement all over. If you’re anything like me, you’ll have a big smile on your face and you’ll just want to sing, shout, let it all out about the fabulous time you’ve had on the radio, blundersome moments notwithstanding. This buzz is addictive, it truly is. It’s a delicious head-rush that perhaps gives a small insight into what an actor, movie star or rock star must feel like after a performance.
Nicky and Elise after the interview on BBC Bristol in December ’11
So what would be my do’s and don’t’s for you if you have your first radio appearance coming up?
~Prepare, but don’t over-prepare. Know yourself and your books, and practice saying your two-line elevator pitch out loud several times, but don’t make yourself a slave to the exact text. You want to come across as lively and enthusiastic, not as a reciting robot. On that note—leave your crib notes outside the studio. Honestly, you’ll just get distracted. You’re not sitting an exam. You’re talking about YOU. Just wing it.
~Get there early. There’s nothing worse than turning up flustered and out of sorts.
~Don’t get hung up on the radio-ness of it all. It is only the airwaves (even though there may be webcams involved these days) but it’s all transient. Keep it real.
~Relax and have a good time. As with any kind of performance or public appearance, your listeners (and radio host) will take their cue from you. If you’re nervous, everyone will feel slightly anxious. (Yes, I know this comment isn’t helping, but it’s important to remember!!). If you’re at ease, everybody else will be at ease. If you’re enjoying yourself, everybody else will have a great time. Said something wrong or silly? Well, either ignore it or laugh about it. There, done. You can do this!
~Smile! Weird as it sounds, research has shown that you can hear a smile in someone’s voice.
Have you been on the radio or even the TV? I’d love to hear about it. Are you preparing for an appearance? Let me know if my thoughts helped. Rock on!
PS. What, me, nervous? About TOMORROW? Never. Why would I be? What could possibly go wrong? I suppose the phone lines could go down, or the computer for that matter. Or people might not phone in, or be poorly. I might lose my voice. Alex might lose his voice. I might say something really stupid. The sky might fall on my head and the world might come to an end… *Rallies* It’ll be FINE!