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A Relative Rookie's Guide to Appearing on the Radio

Coffee is so much better when it's funded by the taxpayer. (On the bright side they clearly haven't replaced their radio in 40 years!) (Benjamin Massey/Eighty Six Forever)
Coffee is so much better when it's funded by the taxpayer. (On the bright side they clearly haven't replaced their radio in 40 years!) (Benjamin Massey/Eighty Six Forever)

Warning: this article contains more self-indulgence and mental masturbation than usual. If this worries you, scroll down a bit and read about Massih Wassey or the Cascadia Cup; I won't be offended. However, I've always been interested in the workings of the "grown-up" media world and since there's a chance some of you might share this interest...

Early Friday morning (and I mean early; I-got-up-before-the-sun-did early), I was on CBC Radio One Vancouver's The Early Edition with the intimidatingly-named Stephen Smart for a brief, in-studio conversation about the Vancouver Whitecaps. For a consummate mother's-basement-style blogger who still isn't quite used to attending press conferences and asking real questions, it was a heck of a novelty.

This isn't the first time I've taken my constipated-duck-being-strangled voice onto the airwaves: I had a brief appearance on the first CBC Soccer Nation podcast where I showed up with a raging cold and confidently asserted that Teitur Thordarson would not be fired ten days before he was[1]. I've been on It's Called Football twice and Some Canadian Guys Talking About Soccer once, and was part of a CBC Radio group interview along with fellow Southsiders Michael McColl, Brett Graham, and John Knox.

But have I ever walked into the CBC studio, sat down opposite a Local Radio Personality, and tried to have a conversation about the Vancouver Whitecaps? No. But CBC Radio One came calling for a "super-fan"[2] to talk Whitecaps and I was available.

I showed up at the CBC studio about fifteen minutes before my segment was due to air as requested. A scowling security guard gave me questionable directions through the labyrinthine CBC studio; apparently the radio booths are at the back of the television newsroom, which leads to a vague "I've seen all of this before but at a different angle with Tony Parsons scowling in the middle" sort of pseudo-déja-vu.

The radio gig looks like quite a well-oiled machine. I didn't see ten CBC employees total in the place but everyone had their role. Wandering aimlessly down what I hoped was the right direction, a producer smiling more than is natural at 6:30AM intercepted me. I was given a life-giving cup of coffee and, after a bit of chit-chat but not much actual information, sat down in a waiting area to bide my time.

They brought me in to sit opposite Stephen Smart as another broadcaster wrapped up the sports segment in the adjoining studio. He, too, was very polite and professional, enduring my noobishness with good grace. The microphone had a few user-end controls - mic on, mic off, cough switch, and so on - and being disinclined to embarrass myself on-air I asked if I'd have to operate anything. I wouldn't. There were a couple of timers: a red display counted down the time until my segment ended, which allowed me to roughly budget the seconds and determine at a glance when I was rambling.

I'm a little surprised at how much of a comfort just knowing the time. I get nervous easily in these situations (recording the whole segment felt like it took forty-five seconds), and a little grounding in reality allowed me to think more than panic. Next time I call in to a podcast I'm keeping a stopwatch by my desk.

The interview went well, I thought. It's odd, distilling one's knowledge and opinions for radio. I knew going in that it would be a five to seven-minute interview; a couple quick questions which would require a couple quick answers. I also knew that, whereas here I'm writing for the die-hards and people at work with nothing better to do than read 800-word articles about Canadian-German-Afghan midfield trialists, on the radio I'm speaking to a more general audience. An audience of CBC Radio listeners, which meant I could probably use words with more than two syllables, but a general audience all the same.

I didn't know the questions going in, so all I could do was think about general points I might make. To my slight surprise I found I was more optimistic on the radio than I am in print. Speaking to a bunch of commuters and early risers rather than established soccer fans, I felt I had a duty to look on the bright side. "The results are terrible, but the team has some useful pieces, there have been some thrilling games, and the organization is working to improve things."

On Eighty Six Forever, I'd add that the useful pieces don't amount to half a starting eleven, I love the new coach but he's inexperienced and Tom Soehn is still around, and that some of the organization at least seems to think "signing Owen Hargreaves" is a synonym for "improving things", at which point we may as well flush the 2012 season down the can and buy FC Edmonton tickets. On the radio? "Sure, we're doing worse than Portland, but the atmosphere is so great!"

Of course, time factors made anything I said necessarily trite. There was a question about the team raising season ticket prices. Thursday I wrote 979 words on the topic. Friday morning my answer was pretty much "tickets are up by at most fifteen bucks, so if you really want to see the team you're not going to let that stop you and at any rate the increase is right around the rate of inflation."

I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it much more than my other experiences in audio: talking to the interviewer face-to-face and having a little timer turn out to make all the difference. That doesn't mean it wasn't terrifying, but it was fun terror.

[1] - To be fair to myself, the podcast was released on May 20 but my segment recorded much earlier; somewhere around late March or early April. Would you have bet ten bucks on Teitur getting the sack in April?

[2] - (wince)