On being on the Today programme.

Given the fact, that my readership stats have jumped fivefold this morning already,  most of you will know that I did a little bit about blogging on the radio this morning. 

Why you? I hear you cry. Well, I’m not just some random with a keyboard and an internet connection, I’ll have you know. I am a noted internet authority who is on lists for prizes, and everything. You have to take me seriously. Very very seriously.

I don’t know if this bad form, but I thought I’d write about what the experience of going on the Today programme is like for a random guest.

A caveat. I know that that getting on the Today programme is highly coveted as setting the news agenda, and to get a positive item on is a triumph for any organisation, requiring briefing, relationship building and selling the story to journalists who have heard it all before.  In my case though,  someone else did all the hard work and I got all the public benefit.

My life in politics has always been the other way round, so it was fun to be the recipient of publicity because someone else (in this case, the manager of the Orwell Trust prize competition thingy, Gavin Freeguard) is good at their job.

So what happens? First of all, you get asked the night before if you want to go on, and you say. “Not half”. Then the researcher asks you how you can get to the studio. You offer to get a bus or the tube, and they suggest that a taxi might be more likely to get you there on time and offer to book you one. You agree before they change their mind. Then they tell you the time you need to be up and you feel a slight sense of nausea.

If you’re me, you proceed to spend the evening reading about the subject you’re supposed to be talking about, and wondering what you’ll say. You write out a couple of notes, which you attempt to memorise and decide to take with you in the morning.

The next day, you wake at early o clock to discover that the cab has arrived even earlier than was mentioned. As you rush to get ready you are called by a very nice producer (I think) to remind you that your cab is waiting. This happens as you step out of the shower. With a slight tone of dismay she asks if you’re in the car. You turn the shower off before assuring her that you will be in the car very shortly indeed. She rightly sounds doubtful and calls back again five minutes later.

You then have a nervy tour of the traffic jams of South London. It is here that you make two fatal errors. First, you google to find out how many people listen to the Today programme. Fear ensues. Then you realise you have forgotten your notes.  The journey becomes tense.

Travel concluded, you are deposited at Broadcasting House, taken quickly to the studio area and placed in a glass pen. No really. It’s like a big glass cube, presumably designed like this so that you can be kept an eye on if you make a break for it, or get into a shouting match. There is coffee. You notice that nobody else in the glass cube seems terrified, but that they do appear to have notes.

After a little conversation with your fellow guest (Me: So you’re on the judging panel for the award I’m nominated for. Can I just say you’re strikingly intelligent and beautiful?”) you are ushered into the studio, where after hours of conversing with the nation, you sense the presenters are ready for brunch.  They stare at you quizically. You look at them nervously. They have the advantage.

As a taped story is played there is banter. You do not participate in the banter. You are too busy trying to remember if Evan Davies is the one who does Dragon’s Den or not.

Then the taped story ends, James Naughtie introduces you and you fight the urge to tell the nation that he’s clearly broken his (very nice) glasses recently because they’re held together by tape. This is immensely reassuring. You then wonder if perhaps his glasses are permanently taped in order to relax the nervous and put the arrogant off their guard.  You remember you should probably be listening to his question, just as it ends.

I shall not comment on the interview (which can be heard here), save to say I did not swear, fart or stare blankly into space when questioned, which were my over-riding concerns.   I didn’t need my notes, because they turned out to be on entirely the wrong topic. (My Lionel Trilling quote was particularly good, so it was a shame I didn’t get to use it and had forgotten it anyway.)

Oh, and the blogs mentioned in the discussion were these: Slacktivist, the Liberal American evangelical christian, Political Betting, Iain Dale and Night Jack.  All well worth reading, though I have a special fondness for Slacktivist.

After it’s all over you get another taxi, this time to your workplace, and you begin the days work with a slight sense of deflation. I mean, for a brief moment you were being listened to. After that, not being listened to seems peculiarly empty. You resolve to find something interesting to say so that you will enjoy the feeling of being listened to once again.

Then you start work, and carry on ’till your coffe break, when you write about what happened to you on your way to work that morning. Solipsism, here? Never.

15 Responses to “On being on the Today programme.”

  1. Paul

    Just one question of detail on this very entertaining story. If the guest is, lets just say, from a place called Bickerstaffe or somewhere, would the BBC still afford you a cab or would the producer refer you to the online bus timetable. Did you get chance to ask that?

    Anyway, twitter when you’re going to be on radio 3 , and I’ll listen.

  2. hopisen

    they didn’t know where I lived (pah, what’s wrong with their database, eh?) so originally asked me if I could get to a BBC studio. I guess that they’d normally get you to the nearest radio studio and do it “down the line” (I’ve used this phrase for years as a press officer, having no real clue what it means. Something to do with ISDN, I think).

    They did say they wouldn’t do it over the phone though. Which I was a bit isappointed about because being in bed and on the Today programme at the same time would have made me very happy indeed.

  3. pregethwr

    It’s time to start media training business on the side I think. You have this down pat.

  4. Matt Wardman

    Hi Shamik

    Most phone lines aren’t up to scratch – if I go on they sometimes try and persuade me to go to Derby or Nottingham to the local studio.


  5. hopisen

    Shamik – I recently read an article by the late, great David Foster Wallace that explains this. it’s all about compression. Phone lines have been designed to carry very little data, and they do this by compressing your voice, so when you hear someone on the phone on the radio they generally sound a bit distorted and fuzzy, even screechy. it’s one of the reasons hosts always win on talk radio stations – the sound levels of the person in the studio’s voice can be managed much more effectively.

    If a voice sounds bad, people will turn off. I imagine the people at today feel that making sure they have a good listenable “product” is more important that cost of taxis, and they’re probably right.

    The article is this one, and it’s fascinating,
    though the stuff about sound processing was in the notes, which are in “consider the lobster” only.

  6. martin

    Good luck in the Orwells. For accuracy rather than pendantry, I hope, you probably came to TV Centre in Wo0d Lane (where I happen to work) rather than Broadcasting House. That’s the one in Regent Street. Funnily enough I walked past the glass pen a couple of days ago for the first time and it looks horrid. Everybody looked up nervously at me as was passing and I looked away, so I did get a chance to spot anyone famous.

  7. hopisen

    You’re right about TV centre.. I got confused because I wasn’t on TV, so thought I couldn’t have been at TV centre…

  8. hopisen

    Also, the glass pen has an inhibitory effect on scoffing the food left there. For me, this is probably a good thing.

  9. nightjack

    I thought you did brilliantly on Today. Self deferential without crossing over into Uriah Heap and relevant. Well done on making the long list, it is thoroughly deserved.

  10. FredM

    I also thought it went very well. Incidentally, you’re correct about ISDN being used for down the line interviews. Last place I worked (a science research Institute) had its own dedicated line for interviews with local and national radio stations.

  11. Helen F

    Re not being listened to – thanks to iplayer, surely there is the potential that you are always been listened to, and by people across the globe, no less. Does that help with the emptiness?

  12. Iain McNicol

    Hopi thought you were good this morning, the blog puts great spin on it. Really glad you resisted the temptation to call him John, although I always laughed when Prescott did it, just presumed it was deliberate just to piss them off. You always have a warm place in my phone book being next to home. Go4th and good luck with the prize.

  13. Richard Salt

    Heard part of the interview live, have just listen again via the Today website to fill in the gaps. Very interesting. Not to sure why some blogs would be off putting to specifically to women though, especially by those who “shout”. Offensive language and…erm…shouting can potentially put anyone off.

    Do you realize this is the first blog I have visited. Not bad, I may by call again.


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