What it’s really like appearing on the radio

After I blogged about what it’s like doing live telly, lovely Twitter follower @mrjacktanner asked if doing live radio is different:

So here’s the answer: in my view, doing live radio is far easier than doing live telly, because no one can see you. You could literally be scratching your arse throughout the whole segment and no one would know. Of course, as it’s live, there’s always the chance that you’ll inadvertently say something stupid, which can give rise to nerves.

If I’m at the end of a phone line or alone in a separate studio (and not actually in the studio with the presenter), I generally get around this fear by writing down exactly what I’m going to say – or, at least, having a few pages of notes in front of me, because you can never predict exactly what questions you’re going to be asked. If I’m in the studio with the presenter, then I don’t take in the notes – I just prepare and rehearse beforehand and hope what I’m saying makes sense.

There’s not really much in the way of rigmarole when it comes to doing radio – you enter the studio quietly, making sure your phone is on silent, sit down at the desk, put your bag underneath it, put the headphones on and come close to the mic. Make sure you have some water nearby in case you have a coughing fit. If it’s before the show or the adverts are on or some music, the presenter will greet you; if not and they’re talking, they’ll just nod and smile at you. Your view of them can be blocked by monitors or mics, but you should be able to wheel your chair around for a better view.

I’ve done lots of radio in my pants on the end of a phone line (LBC in particular have lots of phone-in guests) and have also done radio in a studio by myself. It’s much more fun and glamorous when you’re in the studio with the presenter though. The last time was a couple of weeks ago on BBC Asian Network with Mobeen, talking about my experiences of cyberflashing and what we can do about it. It was the hottest day of the year and the New Broadcasting House studio was air-conditioned, which was very pleasant indeed!

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Generally, radio is a lot more low-stakes because of the lack of visuals and the lack of budgets. At my level, you rarely get paid for radio appearances, and nor do you get taxis. (It’s ironic that the more successful you are and the more money you have, the more you get!). During the Atheist Bus Campaign, I was asked to appear on a popular radio station halfway across town, and a celebrity friend suggested I ask the producer for a taxi. So I did, and was met with the coldly-asked question: ‘Do you have mobility issues?’ That put me in my place!

Another time, I was asked to do a few drafts of a page-long radio script and then come into a central London studio and read it out – so a day’s work, in effect. The princely sum I received? £66!

At the same time, radio can be a lot of fun. One of my favourite memories is appearing on Talk Radio’s The Ian Collins Show back in summer 2009, which basically entailed two hours of on-air flirting with Ian. I managed to relax, and the result was lots of witty repartee. We actually met up a few weeks after that, but by then I was dating Lily’s dad (though she was only a twinkle in his eye at that stage).

I was also interviewed about the Atheist Bus Campaign by George Galloway on Talk Radio in 2009. He was quite nice, despite not hiding the fact that he was a believer, and finished the interview by saying in his Scottish lilt, ‘Ariane, I hope you see the light very soon!’. I was going to make a quip about there being a lamp post outside, but I didn’t.

My most starry radio appearance was on Radio 4’s Loose Ends last October, where I promoted Talk Yourself Better. The show was presented by the wonderful Arthur Smith and Clive Anderson, both of whom I managed to convince to be in my next book, How to Live to 100. As a telling sign of a great show, there were pastries galore in the green room!

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I was on that episode of Loose Ends with lovely Hollywood actress Andrea Riseborough (who starred in the brilliant but terrifying Black Mirror episode ‘Crocodile’) as well as Northern Irish actor Colin Morgan and US million-selling author Michael Connelly – and music from British rapper Kojey Radical. It’s fair to say I was definitely the smallest fish in that pond! We all sat around the table together (except for Kojey, who was performing) and went for pizza afterwards, and Andrea emailed me a free download link to her new film Nancy. You can listen to the show here.

Lastly: in early 2009, I got to make radio history by giving Radio 4’s first atheist ‘Thought for the Afternoon’ on the iPM programme. It was considered such a big deal that it got its own Guardian news story, though they did describe the Atheist Bus Campaign as ‘controversial’. What is the world coming to when ‘There’s probably no God’ is seen as controversial in the UK, where at least 52% of the population is non-religious?!

You can hear my Thought for the Afternoon below. (They describe the campaign as controversial too, but then R4 are more old school.)

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

DAY 31

Me: 12st 5.4lbs (total loss in 31 days: 8.8lbs)

It’s really frustrating to have dieted really hard the previous day, eating nothing but protein, veg and fruit, and still be the same weight. Hopefully I’ll see a change on the scales soon.

John: 14st 3.75lbs (total loss in 31 days: 3.75lbs)

I have put a filter on so John’s fungal toenails (and political leanings) aren’t so obvious!

This post has been made possible by my awesome Patreon supporters Ricky Steer, Marc Alexander, Chris Birkett, John Fleming, Mary Clarke, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Dave Nattriss, Musical Comedy Guide, Mark White, Lucy Spencer, Shane Jarvis, Graham Nunn, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

They receive a whole host of exciting rewards in addition to this credit, including my secret never-published fiction and top secret photos! If you enjoyed this post, please support me on Patreon. 

Rewards start from just $1 a month, which is 85p in real money and gets you access to my weekly Patreon email. It’s like this blog, but EVEN BETTER!

Calling the devil at Radio 4

In 2008, I created the Atheist Bus Campaign – an atheist advertising campaign running on British public transport with the slogan ‘There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.’ The UK campaign was only meant to raise £5,500 over six months, but such was the strength of feeling among atheists, it raised £100,000 in four days. It then went global, running in 13 countries around the world, from the US to Germany to Australia.

Because of all this, the press wanted to interview me a lot. One of the keenest outlets was BBC Radio 4, home of regular religious morning slot Thought for the Day. As I wasn’t religious, I wasn’t allowed to do a proper Thought for the Day, but gave the first atheist Thought for the Afternoon instead a few months later. Soon after the bus campaign launch, I was also asked to chat to Edward Stourton on the regular Radio 4 weekend programme Sunday.

Ironically, I was very bad at taking public transport at the time, as I had experienced severe claustrophobia since being violently attacked and suffocated during pregnancy in 2005. If I was ever trapped somewhere I felt air was restricted, and I couldn’t escape, I would quickly start hyperventilating and have a full-on panic attack. This happened most often when Tube trains stopped in a tunnel underground, but it also happened in TV and radio studios, which either have no windows, or windows that don’t open.

The interview on Sunday was arranged for late October 2008. It was to take place remotely in a BBC studio in Weston House in Great Portland Street, London. I was shown into the studio and was told to wait there on my own for a phone call from Edward Stourton. I set my bag down, put the headphones on and waited. And then it occurred to me that I was in an airless studio with the door shut.

So I took the headphones off and ran over to the door, expecting to be able to open it easily – but it wouldn’t budge. I tugged it hard, but it was so heavy that my brain decided it was locked. And then I started to panic. I was going to die there with no air. I yelled as loudly as I could, but the security guard who had let me in was gone, and there was no one in sight. Why had they locked the door? Maybe they wanted me to die there. I started screaming and crying and shaking.

Then I called my friend Charlie Brooker, and told him what was happening. ‘I’m locked in a studio and am going to die!’

He was very calm and said ‘You’re not going to die. The BBC is the safest place in the world. Calm down. Slow your breathing down. Breathe with me – in – out. In – out.’

I breathed along with him, and slowly felt myself relax. Then I noticed there was an emergency number by a landline phone on the studio desk. I told Charlie I was going to call for help, and phoned the number on the desk. ‘I’m trapped in the studio!’ I told the man who answered. ‘Please can you come and let me out?’

The security guard came quickly and opened the door. It wasn’t locked, he told me – it was just very heavy and stiff, in order that the room would be soundproof. I asked him if he could come and sit in the studio while I did the interview, so that I would be able to get out afterwards. He agreed, and I relaxed and took part in the interview. Edward Stourton was very nice and reassuring, and was kindly and avuncular towards me, despite being a staunch Catholic.

In fact, except for my claustrophobia and the heaviness of the studio door, there was only one unsettling thing about the whole experience of doing an interview on atheism: the BBC emergency telephone number I’d had to dial in order to get rescued…

It was 666.

 

THE GREAT WEIGHT LOSS CHALLENGE!

Apologies in advance for our manky feet. We can’t reach them, you see.

Day 2

Me: 12st 11.6lbs (total loss: 2.6lbs in two days)

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John: 14st 5lbs (total loss: 2.5lbs in two days)

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I am winning by a fraction!

This post has been made possible by my Patreon supporters Chris Birkett, John Fleming, Mary Clarke, Matthew Sylvester, Brian Engler, Jack Scanlan, Dave Nattriss, Mark White, Lucy Spencer, Shane Jarvis, Graham Nunn, Emily Hill and Marcus P Knight.

They receive a whole host of exciting rewards in addition to this credit, including my secret never-published fiction and top secret photos! If you enjoyed this post, please support me on Patreon.