The last time I wrote about radio and the art of performing it in any kind of detail, it turned out to be one of the more popular pieces on this site for some time. I was quoted in newsletters, contacted by some big names and even invited onto Radio 4 to discuss it (an invitation I had to decline due to half term holidays getting in the way, alas). All because I saw nothing wrong with presenters on a quasi-national network being given a style guide.
Radio you see is actually quite hard. To do it well at least. It is all too easy to imagine that any idiot can sit down in front of a microphone with a few records and introduce them. But if you haven’t prepared properly or even learned the best way to do it, that is precisely how you sound. An idiot.
In an age when developing a career from the ground up is old hat, or when being a celebrity name in other walks of life is the best qualification for a high-profile radio slot you can always tell the ones who have been thrown in with little or no advanced guidance. They are the ones who commit the cardinal sin of ceasing to speak like human beings but instead say the kinds of things they imagine radio presenters are supposed to say. Telling the time seems a particular challenge for nascent broadcasters. Because to hand someone a microphone and an audience and is apparently to make it impossible for them to stop themselves from descending into cheery cheese mode and start saying dated rubbish like “twelve minutes to the hour of one o’clock”.
The first man ever to give me any kind of coaching in the art of radio was a man called Kenni James who was particularly keen on the correct way to tell the time. Even once people had moved past the urge to be Noel Edmonds circa 1976, the temptation to read the time straight off the studio clock was also to be resisted. “Three fourty-eight?” he mocked, “Who actually speaks like that in real life? You look at the clock and go ‘ooh, almost ten to four’. Just speak like a normal person”.
Time (as in the passing of years) has moved on since but the lesson still holds true. And there is one other strange verbal crutch which for some reason always raises my hackles when I hear radio presenters doing it. Now I’m about to call attention to it, you will notice it as well:
“This is me, Tommy Trebleknob, with you through ’til six”.
I’ve genuinely heard presenters do that as their opening link of a four-hour show. Telling people how long it is before they knock off.
So why is this bad? Well for a start, it introduces a stop point for the audience. Creating for them a reason to cease listening and go off and do something else. In radio, commercial radio, in particular, that is a huge no-no. Forget the ego for a moment, no matter how good you think you are or how much of an appointment to listen you dream of being, precious few people are tuning in specifically for you. Your “show” as it were is merely one part of a large and lovingly constructed schedule. Your only thought should be persuading people to consume as much of it as possible, to appreciate not only your hard work but those of your colleagues. Plus you are also there to give value for money to the advertisers whose money is paying your daily fee and who want as many people as possible to hear their message. So don’t tell people when they should be turning off. Tell them why they should be sticking around all day long and into the night if possible.
Why do presenters do it? Well, once again it is one of those things they imagine radio presenters are supposed to say without ever considering why. It is a sign of someone who in their head is “on the radio” rather than “communicating with the audience”. At the end of the day, it comes down to one simple point. Nobody cares what time you finish work for the day. So why beat them around the head with it?