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This is visualising radio

December 2, 2008

Radio was the reason I wanted to work at the BBC. That was my “way in”. At least that’s what I thought when I came out of the second session of my radio production training course.

I enrolled myself. It was an evening course at Morley College. Three former World Service types ran the course for a knock-down rate.

They evangelised. They inspired. They charged very little money.

Aside from a tricky beginning where it appeared that neither the college hosting the course nor the tutors actually knew when the course began – something us students were a little put out by initially – those ten weeks spent discovering the fundamentals of making a radio package and “producing” a live radio programme were a real joy.

Something clicked, you see. As soon as I sat down in the studio and peered down at the script below the foam head of the microphone I suddenly felt at home. Radio was for me.

The key to breaking into the radio industry was, according to the lead tutor, in persuading various radio producers at the BBC that your radio package was the one they absolutely needed for their programme. An entire lesson was devoted to the art of pitching to producers, the art of persuading BBC producers. There was even special attention given to how to navigate one’s way around that very special type of producer who refused to answer emails and loathed picking up the telephone. Pity they didn’t prepare me for the ones who – apparently – had absolutely no concept of what to do when faced with an MP3 file.

In my confident if misguided eagerness I did frequently come up against some quite bizarre responses from those who I thought were the ones who held the keys to my future success in radioland. Some had no idea what a podcast was. Some didn’t know where to put a CD into a computer. Some, shamefully, didn’t possess a pair of headphones.

You won’t be surprised to learn that aside from a brief stint working with Sandi Toksvig on LBC, radio has remained an unrealised dream.

Part of the problem has been what I had believed was the death of the radio package. Shortly after I started work at the BBC I noted with a slight amount of irritation a conversation between two people on the work message boards mourning the passing of this much treasured audio format.

I was doomed. I’d spent £100+ on learning an art form which I felt really comfortable with and reckoned I could do quite well with if only I could have a break. Here I was, on the periphery of the BBC and it turned out that my skills wouldn’t be required especially as some reckoned it was on its way out.

Only today however, I stumbled on this, an audio slideshow featuring audio from a woman who hasn’t worked ever – nor anyone who lives in the house with her – accompanied by photographs of a lady who, in the business, is callously referred to as “the contributor”.

Why am I blogging about it? Well, there are a number of reasons.

First, is the joy that seeing this on the BBC website provides me with. Listening to the audio (even without the photographs) reminds me that far from the negative comments conveyed by those message board postings back in 2005, the radio package isn’t dead. This is high quality audio, mysterious, robust and engaging. It doesn’t need a commentary because the person speaking is engaging. I end the oh-so-brief 1 minute 47 seconds wanting more. That is the mark of brilliant radio.

Second, is that this is another example of a new development of what I think I’m right in referring to as “visualising radio”, that dangerous development where radio producers dare to join pictures with audio.

Thirdly (and perhaps most importantly), it means that contrary to what some people think, sticking images with audio isn’t bad TV. It isn’t radio trying to be TV either or, worse, radio trying to be bad video on the web.

Instead, it’s a series of thought-provoking images accompanying an already punchy piece of audio, leading the listener into an interesting journey.

This stuff is great. And, thankfully, it means that maybe that training course wasn’t the waste of money I thought it was three and a half years ago.

One Comment
  1. Nice post. I disagree with the talk.gateway doom-mongers that the radio package is dead. A well-crafted radio pack, made by someone who really cares about the medium, gives you a warm feeling like nothing else – certainly more so than its TV equivalent. Even in these days of on-demand short clips I think there’s still an appetite, and need, for that sort of craft.

    But audio slideshows are definitely one of the web’s best journalism formats. Check out the BBC website’s In Pictures index for lots more of the same. The New York Times excels at this format too. The BBC’s ones are produced using Soundslides which is pretty cheap and easy to use.

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