When people find out what I do for a living they often have questions about the mechanics of how radio stories are actually put together. First question is usually “Are you on the air?” Then “Who writes what you say on the air?” Then “Who does the interviews?” The fact is I do most of it. I do the interviews, I cut the tape (now digital audio files), I write the script, I read the narration. But then an editor sits down and listens to the whole shebang and we work together on a final version. (Edits almost always improve pieces, except for the occasional maddening exception.) What I don’t do because of the union rules at WGBH is “mix” the sound. Once an editor has approved the piece, our trusty engineers put the bits and pieces together and make us sound good on the air.
The other question I get a lot is “How long do you get to work on a story?” It varies tremendously. This week I’m on what we call the “day of” shift. That means I’m at the mercy of the show producer to churn out daily quick-turnaround stories on any topic under sun. So this week I’ve done race and the presidential campaign, the global food crisis, American farmers and food and fuel prices, U.S. policy on Somalia, and today a look at the Palestinian economy. Often there are gaps in the program that need filling–news is breaking, or we need analysis to follow a story that needs more fleshing out, or someone has a good idea we can’t pass up but we need a body to pull it off. We take turn doing these shifts because they’re gruelling and adrenalin-filled (morning meeting ends about 8:30, then you start reporting, and interviewing, and editing audio, and writing, and we need to be ready to edit by 2 because our show goes out at 3 and we need time to discuss the piece, fiddle with it, improve it, check facts AND voice it and mix it). It’s scary how often the radio story goes to air with just minutes to spare. Phew! (Lunch, by the way, is invariably gobbled or omitted. And Twitter has definitely added complications to my day.)
But when I’m not on the day of shift I have the luxury of spending days, weeks, occasionally even months to complete a project. No complaints. I’ve been at this gig for 10 years now minus a year off. I love it as much as ever.
Have a good weekend.