How to Do Radio Interviews

By George Merlis Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Radio II: Mastering the Radio

In my last post I wrote about booking yourself on call-in radio shows. This can be the easiest access you’ll have to media, but live radio is very unforgiving in a number of respects, so let’s deal with live radio media mastery today.

There are some basic radio rules. Last time I emphasized the need to brand. In fact, I put it in all upper case -- BRAND -- because it is so important. On live radio no one will know what company or product you’re talking about if you don’t tell them.

It is a rule of all media mastery that you speak clearly, simply, and in short but complete sentences. Nowhere is that rule as critical as it is in radio where you have only one tool, your voice, to capture the listener's attention. In Addition, you need to speak slowly enough for listeners to hear and understand you. But at the same time you need to energize your voice. Make your voice commanding by using inflection and stresses, not by talking at machine-gun speed. A lot of professional radio personalities achieve vocal energy by acting out as they speak or read. That is, they grimace and gesticulate with exaggerated movement. To brighten their speech, they do something old radio pros call “putting teeth in it.” Putting teeth in a line means delivering it with a huge smile on your face. It looks ridiculous but sounds great. And, since it's not TV, no one sees the jack-o'-lantern grin.

Here are some more live radio rules:
Be Brief
Keep it Simple
Never Pause

Be Brief: You already know that radio is a non-visual medium without a reread factor. A very long statement can sound like a speech or a sermon, rather than a conversation. Also speaking at excessive length may spur an interruption by the host. And even if he doesn't cut you off, your long-winded answers are sure to frustrate listeners and cause their attention to wander. Brevity is not “Yes” and “No,” by the way; “Yes” and “No” are not answers but are the beginning of answers.

Keep it Simple: Radio listeners get one brief shot at comprehending what you're saying. In media training sessions I used to tell participants that rather than “dumb down” their answers, just pretend to be talking to their aunt across the table at Thanksgiving dinner and speak at the appropriate level for her to understand without condescending to her. Simplify as much as you can without changing the meaning of what you're saying.

Don’t Pause: Just as nature abhors a vacuum, live radio abhors silence. A listener hunting through the radio dial and hearing no talk, no music, nothing but the “sound of silence,” assumes that there's no station and moves on. Radio interviewers know this and don't want to lose the station surfers, so if you are silent for too long after a question, it's likely your interviewer will begin talking to fill the void. When he's talking, he's using the medium's most precious commodity - airtime - and you are not; you can't deliver your message when he's talking. In print interviews and in edited broadcast interviews, there’s nothing wrong with pausing after a question is asked, thinking for a beat and then launching into your answer. But in live radio -- and live TV, for that matter -- you can’t afford the luxury of thinking before you speak. And that’s why it’s extremely important that you never go into a live broadcast interview without a well-thought-out, well-rehearsed agenda.

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