Last week I had the opportunity to work on BBC Radio Wales’ Jason Mohammad programme as a researcher. It was a fantastic week that reminded me of the joys and stresses that live radio can bring. I also enjoyed seeing how shows like the Jason Mohammad programme, which comprises of a number of news items, is put together and thought I would share my insights with you.
The programme goes out every weekday at 10am – 1pm so early starts are required; 7am starts to be exact. This was one of the toughest aspects of the week as my body clock wasn’t ready for such a drastic change but I got through it with the prospect of making radio enough to prise me from my bed.
Firstly, the team (comprised of the presenter, two producers and around 5 researchers) take a look through the day’s papers for topics to talk about. After around 20 minutes we get together and share the stories we have found then the producers choose the stories/topics that they believe will create the best radio and generate a great response. When the topics are chosen, they are placed on three ‘clocks’ (one for each hour of the show) where the team can see when and for how long each item will feature on the programme. Each researcher is then assigned to one or two stories which they have to ‘fix’.
Fixing items involves finding a guest or contributor that can speak on-air (on the phone or in the studio) about the subject at hand. This can be very easy if you find someone quickly, but it can also be the most stressful part of the day if you’re met with answer phone messages, emails that aren’t responded to or people who are simply unavailable.
One of the lessons I needed to learn quickly was to have patience when looking for contributors. As we begin contacting people so early, it makes sense that people may still be in bed or commuting to work, but when deadlines are so tight an unanswered call can be extremely frustrating. The first call on my first day saw me needing to leave a voicemail and I found it really tough to simply sit around and wait for a response. My mind was put at ease by the team who had been in the same situation hundreds of times but as time went on and without a response I had to move on and find another target.
While patience was one lesson I had to learn, I also had to try and change my mindset and approach when lining up guests. Having undertaken similar tasks during university, I was used to being turned down as people always seemed reluctant to speak to a student. So when looking to contributors for a BBC programme, I had to remind myself that I wasn’t a student anymore and that I could be more ambitious with the type of people I could contact.
While trying to secure someone to speak to Jason on the show, I also had to write a presenter link and the guest information into the running order of the show. I was always decent at writing reads for news projects in university so I found creating links was pretty similar. However, the producers would then cast their eye over what I’d written and often alter it in some way; sometimes to re-word it completely or to format it in a way that made it easier for Jason to read.
Once everything was sorted and the link is in the system, it is simply a case of hoping that a guest either shows up to the studio or picks up their phone when they are called. This was another thing I had to get used to as I would get very paranoid that I’d entered a phone number wrong or I had given the contributor the wrong timeslot. Thankfully all went well throughout the week and all my contributors picked up their phones!
As well as setting up items, as a researcher I also answered calls from listeners who wanted to join in on a debate, enquire about something to do with the programme or complain when we spoke about Chris Coleman’s role as manager of the Wales national football team. It was another great experience and I always enjoy speaking to people, no matter what the topic. I was surprised by how many regular callers the programme had, something which reminded me of my time as producer of the Cardiff City Phone-In.
Overall, it was an excellent experience and something I hope will turn into a regular (and paid) occurrence. After creating ‘Fancy That!’ it was great to get back into the stressful-but-rewarding world of live radio.
Also, I have to mention the JM programme team and thank them for being so supportive. They are an extremely friendly bunch and despite being in the office for just a week they made me feel like I’d been there for much longer.
In fact, I liked it so much I’m going back there to help out tomorrow so make sure you tune into BBC Radio Wales at 10am tomorrow!