5, because we could go on all day otherwise. And ‘immutable’ to give it that frisson. And ‘laws’ because radio clearly doesn’t have any such thing, and you should always break them ‘if’ (and it’s a big if) you will create a brilliant radio moment by doing so.

Thanks to all who contributed on Facebook and Twitter.

Rule #1: Be the Authentic You

As in life, on the air (thanks Valerie Geller). The best broadcasters are the same on air as off. (There are a few exceptions; Clearly, install your profanity filter. Unless you are blessed with perfect pace and diction, consider this when you’re on air. Talk slower if you’re prone to ramble. Inject energy if you’re naturally soporific. Try standing up?)

But other than that, just be you. At the risk of coming over all Dr Seussian, there is no-one better at being you than you. Be the best you, not the second-best [insert name of fashionable presenter on station you want to be on here].

Radio is the honest medium. Be you, or you will be shown up.

There is nothing more perfect than actual laughter on the radio. There is nothing worse than fake laughter.

Graeme Smith added ‘If you think you can be…be funny. If you’re not so sure that will work then opt for being useful. Then you’re never talking shit for no reason. People always turn that off.’ That’s echoed by BBC Tees’s Alex Hall. ‘Don’t try and be funny . You either are or you’re not’.

BFBS’s Jay Hirst told me, ‘Enjoy it, and smile… If you don’t do that, your listener is unlikely to either’. It’s a good point. You may have just been dumped, your house burnt down and your dog’s dead. Check it in at the door. If you MUST share all that with the listener, find the humour and the common ground.

This rule includes talking about radio. Or shows. Or programmes. They are meaningless radioisms. You are just Your Name on Station Name.

Oh and being authentic precludes telling the time like a numbskull: It’s twenty three and a half minutes past twelve? No. It’s nearly twenty five past, thanks.

Radio York’s Russell Walker adds ‘Never, unless it’s in your station name, refer to “radio”. The fact that i could have my song played “on the radio” no longer impresses anyone like it did when Tony Blackburn promised it… in 1965.’

BBC Radio Berkshire/Radio 2’s Andrew Peach sums it up. ‘Be real. Listen to the people you’re talking to. Take risks. Read Valerie Geller. Don’t fret too much about ‘rules’ becuase they tend more towards mediocre than exceptional broadcasting! Train your instinct to do the functional stuff.’

Rule #2: One to One

Is it me, or has this become deeply unfashionable? Radio is still an intimate medium and works best when your delivery is aimed at an individual, a singular conversation. It should always be ‘you’ not ‘all of you’. Particularly tough for ex-TV people (having worked with a few).

Refer to ‘listeners’ when talking to someone on air, to ‘members of the general public’ in a news cue, and you break this connection. Always find the words to avoid doing that.

Don’t worry about over-using ‘you’. One technique is to turn away from your co-host or interviewee, and emphasise YOU to an empty space when referring directly to a listener. You’ll hear the difference.

Signal’s Dave Johnson agrees with me. ‘Talk to ME. Never, ever pluralise or you instantly break the bond between us. (Are you reading this, a certain 5 Live presenter?)’

Rule #3: Feel the Length

How long is a good link? Long enough.

I’ve heard a brilliant one second link (A Brian Deacon back-anno off an old Newsbeat). And brilliant fifty minute links.

If you’re lucky enough to work with a producer who gets you, trust them. Get out when they say.

Be generous; if someone else says something funny or generates the perfect back-stop to a link, hit Next and get on with it. Don’t top it – unless your line will make it better.

If you’re broadcasting solo, learn to edit your work as you go. Train this muscle by listening back to your shows. What feels long? Jeez, it’s your show, so if YOU’RE bored listening back to it, the chances are, I was.

Radio Wave’s Andy Mitchell says ‘Know when to stop.’ It’s simple but so true. Learn to ‘feel’ when something’s done.

James Walshe is PD at Kerrang, ‘Don’t read me a list of what you just played and what you’re going to play. And don’t shut up and play another song. Tell me a fucking story. Make me laugh, make me cry. I don’t care about the ‘length of links’ or ‘backtiming’ or any other meaningless radio jargon – just say something to make my day better.’

Fuse FM’s Hattie Pearson says ‘Don’t go on forever and saying things over and over again once you’ve said what you need to say don’t repeat it get straight to the point then stop going on about the same bloody thing over and over’.

I’m not sure I agree with John Baish, who says ‘If you have nothing to say, say nothing,’ as there’d be a lot of dead air if we all followed that advice. But of course, John’s right to counsel against talking for talking’s sake. So FIND something to say. You are the most important thing that differentiates your station from the others at that moment, so don’t throw it away.

If you’re working with scripts, write tighter, shorter sentences. Write how you speak. Read things out loud before saving them.

Be Fawlty Towers, not Last of the Summer Wine. There’s a reason we love things that only went to two series.

Rule #4: Respect the Music

Imagine walking into an art gallery, where the last fifth of all the paintings had been graffiti-ed over. That’s what you do when you talk over the end of a song that ends.

Yes, you can get out of a song early. But only if it’s one that fades.

And only if you’re beyond the chorus after the middle eight. If you don’t know what a middle eight is, there’s probably no hope.

Learn how to add up in base sixty, and start to think about how you’re going to get out of the hour no later than 40.

James Walshe again; ‘Don’t pretend to love the music. Tell me if you don’t like a song but balance it by asking for listener opinion. Friends are honest. Friends don’t lie. BE MY FRIEND.’ Versus Hattie’s ‘Be passionate about the music you’re playing (even if you think it’s crap) and say what you’ve got to say then get out.’

Views are split on back-announcing. I’d front-announce anything likely to be unfamiliar to your audience. New stuff, spicier stuff. And back-anno everything – but only as part of a conversational link. Respecting the music doesn’t mean I want to hear every bloody detail about the song or the artist. Links by Wikipedia. But if you have a genuinely interesting or unique observation inspired by the tune, go ahead and share. Answering questions posed by a lyric or song title are solely the province of Steve Coogan.

Not a fan of music positioners, unless they are the truth. ‘We play what we want’, works for Jack, for example, and can be proven. But ‘The Right Song, Right Now’ was used for a while by Chrysalis-era Heart. Whenever I tuned in, it was mid break. Or playing Gabrielle. Neither of which matched the promise for me. Likewise superlatives. Is that song really an example of ‘the Best Variety’? Unless I think so, when I listen, you’re breaking a promise to me as a listener.

Don’t be a fader wanker. If you talk over the end of a (fading) song, start talking and carry on. Drop the fader within ten seconds. Clean and neat. None of this talking (and pausing) and talking (and pausing). See ‘Authentic You’ above. If you talked like that in real life, you’d be sectioned.

Rule #5: Life is Prep

There is no rule about prep.

I have worked with presenters who spent all day planning the next show, some with reams of handwritten notes and carefully rehearsed ‘ad libs’.

I know others walk in during their news with their coats still on. Both can be as brilliant as each other. But know how much *you* need to do to make the show the best you can.

John Myers told me, ‘Whatever can go wrong usually does, so you always need to prepare for just that.’ I always used to have the ‘Oh Dear’ pile of content in an on-air studio. That stuff you can riff off when for whatever reason it’s just you and a red light against the world.

Paul Graham suggests the old ‘Engage brain before opening mouth’ and Anthony Rudd reckons ‘Never open the mic without knowing exactly what you’re going to say, and how you’re going to get out’. Certainly Anecdote Avenue is always a cul-de-sac.

Links should be simple. Gaydio’s Simon Peel suggested ‘One thought, one line’ and I remember my first PD telling me ‘one idea per link’. However sound that thinking, there are moments you’ll have more heavy lifting to do – a music thought, a promo read, a throw forward, maybe a gag – all in one link.

Listen to how great presenters do this. Practice your gear changes. Bullet point a link if it helps. Nothing’s more annoying than thinking of a great line or thought then doing the link and realising you didn’t actually say it before closing the mic!

If you are serious about being on the radio (and if you’re not, you really shouldn’t be on the radio) then your whole life is show prep. Ideas should come to you in the shower, in the car, in dreams, even. Write stuff down. Keep a pad, or a notes page in your phone. Read. Talk to strangers. Put yourself in new situations, have new experiences, meet new people. Interested is interesting.

There is a fine line between being the voice on the radio who never gives anything away – and the presenter who repels people with the minutiae of his/her life. Or as Kerrang’s James Walshe puts it, ‘don’t be the overpaid tosser telling me about the famous people you hang out with.’ Alex Hall has a similar thought. ‘Don’t name drop. And don’t be telling listeners about your glamorous glittering lifestyle. Especially in a recession. It’s offensive.’

Over-prep, and you sound like a robot. Under-prep, and you sound like a clown. The brilliance of live radio (or even voice-tracking as live, if you must) is that moment when mid-link, bathed in red light, your brain makes a great connection and you go off in a new direction. Don’t prep out the chance of that happening. The brilliant David Clayton at Radio Norfolk says live is always better than perfect. And he’s so right.

The Runners Up

‘Listen,’ says BBC Weatherman Nick Miller, simply. Alex Hall agrees.’Oh and if you’re interviewing someone , listen to their responses rather than looking at your questions.. and be prepared to go somewhere else if you hear something interesting. I’ve heard so many presenters miss brilliant openings by not listening.’

Gerald Jackson reminded me of one of my old mantras; the station is carried in everything you say and everything you play. So really, you have to think about all of it, all the time.

And finally

Never eat anything listeners send in, says Andy Larner. Anthony Rudd says never ‘get involved’ with a listener.


Here’s the advert: 2ZY offers presentation coaching for stations, individuals or as part of media coaching for non-radio people.

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