11 Thoughts Every Radio Presenter Has On Air (But Never Talks About)

11 Thoughts Every Radio Presenter Has On Air (But Never Talks About)


by Grazia |

As Emma Barnett launches her new radio show - a countdown of the week's 'top 40' new stories - this Sunday on BBC 5 Live this Sunday, here she shares a few of the cheekier thoughts racing through her brain when the mic goes live...

Emma Barnett with Jessie J [BBC]

To me live radio at its very best is a perfect conversation with plenty of eavesdroppers: informative, entertaining, intimate but most importantly – unpredictable. This blend of ingredients is precisely why I love it. Whether it’s talking to Londoners on my old LBC show, or Jessie J and the like when I present Woman’s Hour – these facets remain a constant.

As I begin my new BBC radio show this Sunday evening, The 5 Live Hit List – in which I count down the British public’s top 40 stories of the week based on their online habits – a lot of information will be racing through my mind. But at any one time I could also be thinking these thoughts and I imagine I’m not the only one on air to do so...

1. When the hell can I go for my next wee?

Finding the time to fit in a wee during a live programme is a constant battle, especially as it seems most people tasked with designing studios – don’t think to put a loo right outside the door. That and the copious amount of tea and water imbibing that goes on. Cue lots of laughter from my new team of producers during our pilot shows, as they’ve witnessed me sprint, I repeat SPRINT, to the nearest water closet. It ain’t pretty. I am close to requesting a commode but the webcam wouldn’t approve.

2. Sod the news, why can’t this conversation last longer?

While news bulletins are crucial, especially for affording the aforementioned windows of opportunity, they can massively get in the way. There you are talking to disgraced peer or Justin Bieber’s biggest fan, and you suddenly have to cut the chat short – just as it gets going – simply because the clock’s struck 10. Imagine if that were the case on a date or at a dinner party – you had to stop the chatter at a particularly fruity moment. It would irk. And on air it sometimes does. Believe.

3. Lose it. Lose it. Lose it.

Radio rage is radio gold. When someone loses it on air (within reason), as a presenter you are silently thanking the radio gods. A regular person would try and calm someone. A radio host? We let them get it out of their system…if you haven’t already, do listen to Ukip’s Elizabeth Jones flipping out on a London community radio show a few weeks ago It’s epic.

4. How can every studio be so bitterly, bitterly cold?

Being a Northerner, I know I should be tougher about this. But from BBC Radio 4 to 5 Live – I’ve never found a studio cosy. Quite the opposite in fact. And there’s only so much boiling tea you can drink before the throat becomes claggy. At tea-overload point, mugs of hot liquid are still required doubling up as mini hand radiators. Brrrr indeed.

5. Look up! And for god’s sake, stop bloody rustling.

You can have the best guest in the world in your studio but warning signs should start flashing if they walk in there armed with a wodge of paper. This usually means they are very conscientious about their facts (good) but highly likely to refer to their notes on air and create a rustle sound as they flap about with paper (bad). This also means they will look down far too much as you try but fail to meet their gaze for a good old chinwag.

6. Whoah. Did you really just say that? Live on air?

I have been astounded and humbled by what people have chosen to share with me on my radio shows. From the man who left his house to sit on a bench and cry to me about his wife suffering with postnatal depression – to the woman who confessed her extra-marital affair – I am often left open mouthed and full of awe for the people who often share more on air than most would with their own mums.

7. So, how many people I am going to have to block on Twitter after the show?

Sad but true. If you go near a controversial topic such as immigration, abortion or religion – this thought and subsequent action is almost guaranteed.

8. This chat is nowhere near as good as the one we had off air.

There are two schools of thought about presenters speaking to guests before the show begins. I personally think it can help to relax things – but there’s nothing worse on those occasions where the person has been so fluent and full of colourful anecdotes off air – and once the green mic light goes – clams up. Usually it’s salvageable but when it’s not – it’s most frustrating.

9. Thank God the audience can’t see me right now.

A lot of secret hand actions go on in a radio studio – mostly from presenters to producers – but occasionally our semaphore-esque skills help out guests too. The time an author forget a key detail from her own book and I took to miming the answer to trigger her memory springs to mind. I shall spare her blushes – but let’s just say that it was pretty acrobatic on my part. (Thankfully there was no webcam that day).

Emma Barnett radio presenter show BBC 5 Live

10. Toy monkeys rule

I was once told, right at the beginning of my radio career, that it’s crucial to always sound as if you are talking to someone and not just a cold microphone. So in came Curious George - a little stuffed toy monkey I picked up in San Francisco. He sat with me during my first three months of my LBC show and was the friendly face I turned to when kicking off each new item – in spite of the ribbing I received from the team. I did retire him a fair while ago but he may be making a come back on The 5 Live Hit List…

11. I wish my real life conversations were as good as this.

A real downside to being a radio presenter is getting used to calling the shots on tiresome chatter. You can edit them, cut them off and push people for the juiciest information when you are on air. Off air – many conversations just don’t quite live up to the same hype and there’s no fader to quell those dull exchanges at dinner parties…

Emma Barnett is presenting The 5 Live Hit List every Sunday evening 7.30-10pm starting this week, November 9.Get involved with the news chart on Twitter via @emmabarnett using the hashtag #5livehitlist

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