How not to talk on the radio

No one gives you media training if you’re a writer, so I thought I’d share the mistakes I made on Women’s Hour, BBC radio Manchester, ALL FM and EL FM.

1. Don’t expect the actual interview to be anything like the discussion you had with the producer. It won’t be. Producers want to find out as much as they can about your work; they will ask nice open questions so you will feel at ease. In an interview, the point is getting an angle so the questions won’t be as nearly as nice, especially on radio 4.

2. If the interviewer starts widening her eyes at you, it means ‘SHUT UP’ so she can ask you another question. Don’t under any circumstances pause and then ask ‘excuse me?’ which I did on Women’s Hour.

3. Do copy politicians on the Today programme: go in with a sound bite, and get it in, no matter what they ask. Michelle Green, who was on Women’s Hour with me, did that with a quotation, and it was probably the best part of the interview.

4. Make sure you mention the name of your publisher or where the book is available. I completely forgot to do this on BBC radio Manchester. 

5. If you are shortlisted for a prize, remember to mention it too, which I forgot to do on EL FM.

6. In general, they will always always ask if the book is about you. If it isn’t, they won’t understand how it is possible to write anything not about yourself. You will have to think of a reason for not writing a book all about yourself and defend this terrible action. If your book is all about yourself, you are going to have to make a full confession about your life. Remember, interviewers aren’t interested in the book; they want the human story.

7. Make sure you know exactly where your book came from. If in doubt, invent an amusing anecdote about when you had your first inspiration. This always goes down well. My long explanations of the origins of The War Tour were dull and probably brought on the ‘eye widening’ moment.

8. If you have a cold or cough, like I had on WH, don’t worry; the adrenelin of being on the radio will make your cough magically disappear. Do sip a hot toddie in the studio. No one will know.

9. If you can bear it, listen to yourself afterwards. I have never done this. If I did I’d probably never get out of bed again. But it might have improved my interviews.

10. If you can organise it, do local or community stations first; the interview will be more relaxed and friendlier. My interviewers on ALL FM and ELFM were warm and supportive and lovely.In fact, community radio, I salute you!

11. Don’t worry too much if your tights have a massive hole in them, like mine had for EL FM. It’s the radio.

12. Make sure you ask reliable friends who are good at lying to listen in and tell you how amazing it was. Don’t not tell anyone and then go home feeling sorry for yourself (yes I did this).

8 thoughts on “How not to talk on the radio

  1. The War Tour says:

    Hi Jon. Yes, that's very confusing. Were they asking you not to digress, to repeat the question in your answer or somehow wrap your words around the question? It's hard enough forming full sentences when the microphone is in front of you. Never mind forming word-balls.


  2. says:

    About five or six years ago, I appeared on Channel M's breakfast show to talk about football stuff. The presenters had given me a rough idea what they wanted me to talk about, and so when we went live on air, I waffled on happily about transfers and hamstring injuries and what-not for several moments.

    Out of the blue, one of the presenters asked me about a veterans' football tournament being played in Manchester that weekend. Unfortunately, I had no idea who was playing it.

    “So, who are the players we should be looking out for?” he asked me.

    On live TV, I froze. “Er… oh, too many to mention,” I eventually stammered.

    My advice to anyone appearing on live TV or radio: Even if you talk complete bollocks, you can get away with an awful lot if you say it with confidence. And when you start a sentence, just make sure you can get to the end of it. Anything else is a bonus.

    Jon/Rob: I did a radio interview once where someone asked me to do the same thing. It's basically so they can use your answers as stand-alone clips without having to put the interviewer in. The interviewer should really have explained that to you at the start – and if it was obvious you were struggling, they ought to have given you some guidance on how to phrase your answers as well.


  3. The War Tour says:

    Thanks for sharing your experiences Mike and Martyn.

    Martyn, that is a wonderful moment of stunned silence in radio history. Good work. Though I must say overall it was an excellent interview. (Don't think we have met, but I wrote the Lise Meitner story in Litmus).


  4. Martyn Amos says:

    I know it, and admired it.

    The stunned pause seems longer every time I listen to it (i.e., whenever we have guests, and I'm instructed to “go on, play them the Turing breasts interview”).


  5. Dr. Kold_Kadavr_flatliner, M.D. says:

    Whoa. You're verily gorgeous. Please don't show thyself to me for any length of time. I'd have to, like, git some shades you're so adorable. Wanna nekk in Heaven? Up there, of course, I'll have my Ray-Bans. So, meet me in the Great Beyond, miss cutie PI, and I'll kiss your feets forever. God bless you.


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