12 Examples of When Actors ‘doing radio’ Go Bad

August 9th, 2012

I downloaded 90’s Mancunian gore-fest-procedural Cracker this week. One scene inspired this less-than-serious post. It’s where Fitz, eager for information about the death of a former student, rather theatrically picks up a radio to turn it on.

As is the way in TV dramas, he is just in time to hear a whole jingle for the station concerned – on this occasion, BBC GMR, as the dear thing was called in those days. Because people on the telly, never tune in in the middle of something – always at the start.

So as a public service to any TV producers planning scenes involving radio (or just for the rest of us to point at them and laugh) here’s the 2ZY far-from-exhaustive list of “When Actors ‘doing radio’ Go Bad”. With the help of some Facebook friends.

Trevor Eve as Private Ear Eddie Shoestring

We start with the otherwise brilliant Shoestring, glossing over his playing fast and loose with broadcast law, of course. Start at 6.27 on the YouTube below.

Shoestring “Find the Lady”

1. Bizarre Segues. 

Radio West plays B. Bumble and the Stingers/Nutrocker followed by the Flying Lizards/Money. Or ‘the myth that presenters play what they like’ adds Laura Ellis. Although, hey, this was a simulation of IBA-era ILR so …

2. Presenters Always Use Presentery Voices.

3. Presenter Doesn’t Wear Headphones.

Or as Steve Martin says “Presenter wears headphones, but they’re round their necks!”

4. Receptionist Is There 24/7 And Deals With All Calls, including Those from Listeners.

All of which are recorded on reel-to-reel or even cassette.

Loving Tulah. Sorry, Toyah. Whatever.

Radio (TVS)

This radio soap was shown across the South and South West in the ’80s, set in a fictional Brighton station, Radio Phoenix. If you can tear yourself away from the gripping and realistic dialogue at 1.40ish ..

5. PPMs Not Corresponding To What’s Going Out. 

6. (and at 3.30) All Journalists Wear Raincoats,

‘like they’ve been exposing themselves in a local park’ says Jonathan Morrell.

7. (at 4.21) Random Operation of Faders.

(Although it has to be said the tragic combination of hessian, primary coloured paintwork, crippling claustrobia and dusty rubber plants are a painfully accurate rendition of generic radio station reception decor. Well done TVS. Even if the agony aunt from series one became station manager in series two. OK, so I know too much.)

Kit Curran Radio Show

Another from the ’80s, a purported comedy from Thames/Channel 4. Suggested to Tim Page, who adds, “I should imagine the people who saw Kit Curran came away with a less- than-rounded view of the industry!”

8. Underworked Producers on other side of glass.

Or at Radio Newtown it seems, at a desk opposite the presenters. Nice studio furniture too. Oh, my mistake, it’s just a table with some cart machines on it. As David Clayton says, “Engineers through the glass?! I wish.”

Andy Peebles says we shouldn’t forget KMRL star Dave Garver ‘with a little verse, a little talk and five hours of music to be very very nice to each other by …’

Play Misty For Me

AT 6.37 there’s the old no headphones thing going on. Andy: “a technical shambles but what a view through the studio window.”

And a few random extras to watch out for next time;

From Simon Pattern:

9. The final mix can only be heard in acoustically perfect surroundings, and not in real cars or homes.

10. Presenter starts a turntable and drops a needle bang onto the intro,

suggests Steve Suttie. Ever tried that?  Ha. And

11. Actor turns on radio at exactly the right time to hear news report thats directly related to his current situation.

“This just in – the Zombies are now walking up Victoria Road.” So he legs it away from Victoria Road (after switching radio off again.)

Sadly there appears to be nothing online relating to 1988’s Thin Air, a BBC 1 drama set on a radio station in London’s docklands in which the woman off the Communards plays a presenter who gets murdered in episode one and Bill Oddie’s daughter plays the cub journalist who solves it. Even if it earns a place on this list for the denouement being played out using crocodile clips and a Marantz at the transmitter site.

That was rather good, ISTR, bar some fader theatricals and the bizarre notion that a radio station would end up running a cafe/restaurant in its foyer.

Clearly that was a ridiculous idea that would never happen in real life.

And from Alex Hall, the classic

12. Ad breaks are long enough to enable the presenter to track a murderer down, have sex and grab a coffee before opening a fader at the exact minute his producer finishes a countdown.

Afficiendoes of radio on TV will note the omission of ‘Midnight Caller’. It’s because this is a list of 12 examples, not several hundred.


Community vs Radio

August 4th, 2012

As well as running 2ZY, I’m Chair of the Manchester radio station, Gaydio.

It’s a community station – but we tend not to shout about that on the air. It’s our view that community information, social gain, and the sheer ‘out-ness’ of our sound and tone should shine through the output, without any need to reinforce those credentials in a clumsy or manufactured fashion.

I’m proud of everything our volunteers and four staff achieve, on the air and through the LGBT projects we deliver across Greater Manchester – but I thought one recent achievement in particular deserved a wider audience.

Gaydio’s Emma Goswell and Chris Holliday with Ellis at a Manchester Pride OB

Your Story is a Heritage Lottery Fund project. Gaydio’s Chris Holliday trained a small army of volunteers to interview a cross-section of LGBT people from across Manchester. These stories have been used in a number of ways – exhibitions, forthcoming web content, a pod walk – and this weekend, formed an hour-long history of LGBT Manchester.

2ZY cut and mixed the documentary pro bono for Gaydio, and you can hear the result here: http://player.gaydio.co.uk/?odCat=21&odItem=282.

The Guardian’s Elisabeth Mahoney gave it a rave review here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/tv-and-radio/2012/aug/09/a-week-in-radio-your-story-gaydio .

The debate about what community radio should and shouldn’t be goes on, particularly in those areas whose own local stations are becoming less and less local. There are those who believe the correct mix is more community than radio. (And I hear other stations that sound like old-school 107.something style ILR done on the cheap. But that’s another blog for another day.)

I guess my personal view is that community activity and social gain, centred on audio, could be done much more cheaply and efficiently without those pesky transmitters and web-streams.

Surely the presence of those, and the consequent availability of a local FM and a worldwide Radioplayer audience, means we have a duty to ensure that what comes out of the speaker should be so much more than a by-product of the community work?

Anyway. Hope you like the doc.

25 Heinous Crimes of Radio News

June 27th, 2012

1. Replacing a regular word with a ridiculous word to avoid repetition

‘Blaze’ alternating with ‘fire’ on fire stories is the best example. It’s just a fire. Keri Jones of Radio Scilly adds ‘stories about dogs where they can’t think of a second way of talking about them so they say pooches – who says pooches in real life?!’.

2. Ambulances ‘rushing’ to hospital

As opposed to dawdling or stopping off to get a Ginsters on the way?

3. ‘Fighting for his life’, ‘Battling cancer’ etc

It’s a sad fact of death that when someone has an incurable disease or a terrible injury, they’re usually wired up to a machine. Or go between being very ill, and being slightly less ill.

4. Vox Pops

Usually lazy, never enlightening, says BBC World Service’s Steve Martin. And if you must use them, always more than three people and a range of views. And don’t get into it with the words ‘had mixed views’.

5. Mispronunciation of Place Names

Says Smooth’s Andy Peebles. Violators should be sent to Llanelli, Bicester or Alnwick.

6. “Our reporter has more.”

More what?

7. Pointless Localisation of National Stories

‘Bogshire has scored averagely in the new survey of how often people purchase a new toilet seat’, ‘Bogshire MP Joe Flush has said he’s shocked at latest bad news on the global economic crisis’, contributes the BBC’s Laura Ellis.

8. Voicers 

Voicers are vampires. They suck the life out of your bulletin. Write it tighter and say it yourself. Or find some actuality. And if you must use one, only ever use one, short one. Or turn it into a mini mid-bulletin two-way.

9. ‘He’s critical in hospital.’

This food’s disgusting. And my bed’s really uncomfortable. If you mean critically ill, say it.

10. Mother-of-three

Defining people by their levels of procreation, when it’s totally irrelevant to the story. See also, 58 year old Grandad who’s a drug dealer.

11. People are People (with apologies to Depeche Mode)

Saying ‘residents’ instead of ‘people who live in ..’ or ‘if you live in …’ says BBC Radio Stoke’s Justin Bones.

12. Understatement

Emma Gilliam at the Cardiff School of Journalism gives a timely example; “The RBS debacle chaos repeatedly described as a ‘glitch’. Like it’s some kind of minor hiccup akin to a drunk uncle on Boxing Day.” A triumph of PR. My personal favourite here is the way any hospital that routinely kills a group of patients over a period of time is often described as a ‘blunder’. No. A blunder is when you lose your car keys or stub your toe.

13. Creeping Americanisms

It is sh-edule not skedule. Lef-tenant not loo-tenant. Met the Queen, not met with the Queen. Get the picture, y’all?

14. Random and irrelevant titles

“Fred Schnurg is the Lead Member on Recycling and the Environment at Sprocketshire Council”? No. Fred Schnurg’s in charge of bin collections.

15. Have you ever started a cue with a question?

Have you ever wondered why the cathedral spire is a funny shape? Have you ever wondered what happens to the Olympic Torch overnight? No. Have you ever considered that I have a mortgage and a life and kids and a screwy relationship, and have much more to think about than whimsical mechanics to get me even faintly bothered by a down-bulletin bit of filler?

16. “In other news …”

Suggests Keri again. Isn’t it all just ‘the news?’!

17. Anything involving Town Criers

Oh yay.

18. Mixing Singulars and Plurals

The council is, Manchester United is. It, not they.

19. Regurgitating police speak

IRN sent some copy the other day suggesting police were using ‘ground-penetrating equipment’ at a potential murder scene. Was this a case of not calling a spade a spade? Or was it some kind of SONAR device? That line leaves us none the wiser.

20. Meaningless numbers

A ‘6% increase in gas bills’, ‘the new building will be 170 metres tall’, ‘.. will provide power for about 300,000 people’. Better to say ‘about £30 extra a year for the average family’, ‘the same size as the Beetham Tower’ or ‘provide power for a city the size of Coventry’. Double decker buses are clearly the standard unit of height, but it’s easier for the audience to imagine buildings in their locale than unlikely vehicles stacked on top of one another.

21. Mindless speculation

Cash Peters writes, “Abusing our curiosity, by resorting to every version of ‘could be’, ‘maybe’ or ‘is likely to’, which only confirms to the audience that you’re not reporting the news, you’re either creating it, guessing it, or predicting what might happen.”

22. The Public

As in, ‘the event opens to the public at three o’clock’. See also General Public.

23. Surveys

Usually utter bollocks. PR masquerading as news. If it’s under 1,000 people, always ignore. Who’s paid for it and what does it tell us?

24. “A quick look at the weather ..”

It regularly surveys as the most important thing the audience wants to hear. So let’s look at it properly, shall we? And I’m an adult. I don’t need reminding to take an umbrella if it’s wet or wear a coat if it’s cold.

25. “And Finally …”

There is no finally. You are one part of an endless conveyor of sound, a seamless experience for the listener. Nasty TV-ism.

Thanks also to Sean Coleman, Nick Layton, Sarah Collins, Oonagh Jaquest, Meera Pattni, James Walshe and Simon Torkington for adding to the debate on Facebook.

I have not included much on presentation of bulletins. Maybe that’s one for the future. But it’s worth remembering this brilliant take on it from the clever guys at Gremlins Audio:



5 Immutable Laws of Radio Presentation

June 13th, 2012

5, because we could go on all day otherwise. And ‘immutable’ to give it that frisson. And ‘laws’ because radio clearly doesn’t have any such thing, and you should always break them ‘if’ (and it’s a big if) you will create a brilliant radio moment by doing so.

Thanks to all who contributed on Facebook and Twitter.

Rule #1: Be the Authentic You

As in life, on the air (thanks Valerie Geller). The best broadcasters are the same on air as off. (There are a few exceptions; Clearly, install your profanity filter. Unless you are blessed with perfect pace and diction, consider this when you’re on air. Talk slower if you’re prone to ramble. Inject energy if you’re naturally soporific. Try standing up?)

But other than that, just be you. At the risk of coming over all Dr Seussian, there is no-one better at being you than you. Be the best you, not the second-best [insert name of fashionable presenter on station you want to be on here].

Radio is the honest medium. Be you, or you will be shown up.

There is nothing more perfect than actual laughter on the radio. There is nothing worse than fake laughter.

Graeme Smith added ‘If you think you can be…be funny. If you’re not so sure that will work then opt for being useful. Then you’re never talking shit for no reason. People always turn that off.’ That’s echoed by BBC Tees’s Alex Hall. ‘Don’t try and be funny . You either are or you’re not’.

BFBS’s Jay Hirst told me, ‘Enjoy it, and smile… If you don’t do that, your listener is unlikely to either’. It’s a good point. You may have just been dumped, your house burnt down and your dog’s dead. Check it in at the door. If you MUST share all that with the listener, find the humour and the common ground.

This rule includes talking about radio. Or shows. Or programmes. They are meaningless radioisms. You are just Your Name on Station Name.

Oh and being authentic precludes telling the time like a numbskull: It’s twenty three and a half minutes past twelve? No. It’s nearly twenty five past, thanks.

Radio York’s Russell Walker adds ‘Never, unless it’s in your station name, refer to “radio”. The fact that i could have my song played “on the radio” no longer impresses anyone like it did when Tony Blackburn promised it… in 1965.’

BBC Radio Berkshire/Radio 2’s Andrew Peach sums it up. ‘Be real. Listen to the people you’re talking to. Take risks. Read Valerie Geller. Don’t fret too much about ‘rules’ becuase they tend more towards mediocre than exceptional broadcasting! Train your instinct to do the functional stuff.’

Rule #2: One to One

Is it me, or has this become deeply unfashionable? Radio is still an intimate medium and works best when your delivery is aimed at an individual, a singular conversation. It should always be ‘you’ not ‘all of you’. Particularly tough for ex-TV people (having worked with a few).

Refer to ‘listeners’ when talking to someone on air, to ‘members of the general public’ in a news cue, and you break this connection. Always find the words to avoid doing that.

Don’t worry about over-using ‘you’. One technique is to turn away from your co-host or interviewee, and emphasise YOU to an empty space when referring directly to a listener. You’ll hear the difference.

Signal’s Dave Johnson agrees with me. ‘Talk to ME. Never, ever pluralise or you instantly break the bond between us. (Are you reading this, a certain 5 Live presenter?)’

Rule #3: Feel the Length

How long is a good link? Long enough.

I’ve heard a brilliant one second link (A Brian Deacon back-anno off an old Newsbeat). And brilliant fifty minute links.

If you’re lucky enough to work with a producer who gets you, trust them. Get out when they say.

Be generous; if someone else says something funny or generates the perfect back-stop to a link, hit Next and get on with it. Don’t top it – unless your line will make it better.

If you’re broadcasting solo, learn to edit your work as you go. Train this muscle by listening back to your shows. What feels long? Jeez, it’s your show, so if YOU’RE bored listening back to it, the chances are, I was.

Radio Wave’s Andy Mitchell says ‘Know when to stop.’ It’s simple but so true. Learn to ‘feel’ when something’s done.

James Walshe is PD at Kerrang, ‘Don’t read me a list of what you just played and what you’re going to play. And don’t shut up and play another song. Tell me a fucking story. Make me laugh, make me cry. I don’t care about the ‘length of links’ or ‘backtiming’ or any other meaningless radio jargon – just say something to make my day better.’

Fuse FM’s Hattie Pearson says ‘Don’t go on forever and saying things over and over again once you’ve said what you need to say don’t repeat it get straight to the point then stop going on about the same bloody thing over and over’.

I’m not sure I agree with John Baish, who says ‘If you have nothing to say, say nothing,’ as there’d be a lot of dead air if we all followed that advice. But of course, John’s right to counsel against talking for talking’s sake. So FIND something to say. You are the most important thing that differentiates your station from the others at that moment, so don’t throw it away.

If you’re working with scripts, write tighter, shorter sentences. Write how you speak. Read things out loud before saving them.

Be Fawlty Towers, not Last of the Summer Wine. There’s a reason we love things that only went to two series.

Rule #4: Respect the Music

Imagine walking into an art gallery, where the last fifth of all the paintings had been graffiti-ed over. That’s what you do when you talk over the end of a song that ends.

Yes, you can get out of a song early. But only if it’s one that fades.

And only if you’re beyond the chorus after the middle eight. If you don’t know what a middle eight is, there’s probably no hope.

Learn how to add up in base sixty, and start to think about how you’re going to get out of the hour no later than 40.

James Walshe again; ‘Don’t pretend to love the music. Tell me if you don’t like a song but balance it by asking for listener opinion. Friends are honest. Friends don’t lie. BE MY FRIEND.’ Versus Hattie’s ‘Be passionate about the music you’re playing (even if you think it’s crap) and say what you’ve got to say then get out.’

Views are split on back-announcing. I’d front-announce anything likely to be unfamiliar to your audience. New stuff, spicier stuff. And back-anno everything – but only as part of a conversational link. Respecting the music doesn’t mean I want to hear every bloody detail about the song or the artist. Links by Wikipedia. But if you have a genuinely interesting or unique observation inspired by the tune, go ahead and share. Answering questions posed by a lyric or song title are solely the province of Steve Coogan.

Not a fan of music positioners, unless they are the truth. ‘We play what we want’, works for Jack, for example, and can be proven. But ‘The Right Song, Right Now’ was used for a while by Chrysalis-era Heart. Whenever I tuned in, it was mid break. Or playing Gabrielle. Neither of which matched the promise for me. Likewise superlatives. Is that song really an example of ‘the Best Variety’? Unless I think so, when I listen, you’re breaking a promise to me as a listener.

Don’t be a fader wanker. If you talk over the end of a (fading) song, start talking and carry on. Drop the fader within ten seconds. Clean and neat. None of this talking (and pausing) and talking (and pausing). See ‘Authentic You’ above. If you talked like that in real life, you’d be sectioned.

Rule #5: Life is Prep

There is no rule about prep.

I have worked with presenters who spent all day planning the next show, some with reams of handwritten notes and carefully rehearsed ‘ad libs’.

I know others walk in during their news with their coats still on. Both can be as brilliant as each other. But know how much *you* need to do to make the show the best you can.

John Myers told me, ‘Whatever can go wrong usually does, so you always need to prepare for just that.’ I always used to have the ‘Oh Dear’ pile of content in an on-air studio. That stuff you can riff off when for whatever reason it’s just you and a red light against the world.

Paul Graham suggests the old ‘Engage brain before opening mouth’ and Anthony Rudd reckons ‘Never open the mic without knowing exactly what you’re going to say, and how you’re going to get out’. Certainly Anecdote Avenue is always a cul-de-sac.

Links should be simple. Gaydio’s Simon Peel suggested ‘One thought, one line’ and I remember my first PD telling me ‘one idea per link’. However sound that thinking, there are moments you’ll have more heavy lifting to do – a music thought, a promo read, a throw forward, maybe a gag – all in one link.

Listen to how great presenters do this. Practice your gear changes. Bullet point a link if it helps. Nothing’s more annoying than thinking of a great line or thought then doing the link and realising you didn’t actually say it before closing the mic!

If you are serious about being on the radio (and if you’re not, you really shouldn’t be on the radio) then your whole life is show prep. Ideas should come to you in the shower, in the car, in dreams, even. Write stuff down. Keep a pad, or a notes page in your phone. Read. Talk to strangers. Put yourself in new situations, have new experiences, meet new people. Interested is interesting.

There is a fine line between being the voice on the radio who never gives anything away – and the presenter who repels people with the minutiae of his/her life. Or as Kerrang’s James Walshe puts it, ‘don’t be the overpaid tosser telling me about the famous people you hang out with.’ Alex Hall has a similar thought. ‘Don’t name drop. And don’t be telling listeners about your glamorous glittering lifestyle. Especially in a recession. It’s offensive.’

Over-prep, and you sound like a robot. Under-prep, and you sound like a clown. The brilliance of live radio (or even voice-tracking as live, if you must) is that moment when mid-link, bathed in red light, your brain makes a great connection and you go off in a new direction. Don’t prep out the chance of that happening. The brilliant David Clayton at Radio Norfolk says live is always better than perfect. And he’s so right.

The Runners Up

‘Listen,’ says BBC Weatherman Nick Miller, simply. Alex Hall agrees.’Oh and if you’re interviewing someone , listen to their responses rather than looking at your questions.. and be prepared to go somewhere else if you hear something interesting. I’ve heard so many presenters miss brilliant openings by not listening.’

Gerald Jackson reminded me of one of my old mantras; the station is carried in everything you say and everything you play. So really, you have to think about all of it, all the time.

And finally

Never eat anything listeners send in, says Andy Larner. Anthony Rudd says never ‘get involved’ with a listener.


Here’s the advert: 2ZY offers presentation coaching for stations, individuals or as part of media coaching for non-radio people.