Real radio talent don’t read

“Most on-air radio professionals are under the misconception that they need to read. This is not true. They need to be able to read, but there’s only one occasion – unless they are a news reader or radio news anchor – when they actually need to read.”

I love telling radio talent this because it gets their attention. But it’s also true, and it’s one of the things that helps differentiate the wheat from the chaff – the true talent from the common line-reader.

Think about it: if you go on air and you read a story that you’ve found, what you are telling the listener is that you can read. Big deal! Bully for you. If you’re on air, the very least that’s expected of you is that you can read. That means if you’re reading stuff on air, you’re doing the very least that’s expected of you. Add to this the fact that most stories that appear in most popular newspapers and magazines should be readable to most of their target population (that’s why they’re ‘popular’) and devoid of any big words like ‘psychosomatic’, and it should become crystal clear that if you simply read something on air, you’re nothing special – you’re nowhere near ‘the edge’.

If you want to impress your listener and elevate yourself in their eyes, you want them to think that you’re smart. The sign of higher-level thinking is the ability to process information, not regurgitate it. This means in the ear of the listener, you need to sound not as if you’re reading what you’re reading, but you’re in fact talking about what you’re reading. What’s the difference? With the latter it sounds as if you know what you’re talking about – that you’ve read something, thought about it and processed it into a format that you can present to the listener – and that means you’re smart.

Here’s a little exercise that may help: find a movie review in the newspaper and read over it a couple of times. Then ask someone – a friend or family member – to listen to you read aloud a section of the review. Ask them to close their eyes whilst you do it and to concentrate on what you sound like. Then repeat the exercise without the review, just by trying to explain what it is you’ve just read; again ensuring the listener has their eyes closed. Then ask them if they heard any difference in how you sounded. If they were attentive they will most probably pick up that when you were reading the review your delivery was constant and less hesitant, with fewer gaps or pauses.

This is the big telltale difference between reading something and talking about it – the pace of delivery. When you’re reading something aloud, especially if you’ve already read through it a couple of times – you don’t have to think about what is coming up next because every word or phrase is right there in front of you. Yet when you’re talking about something you have to think about what you’re saying. Sometimes you may fish around for a word or phrase or think about whether the word or name you’re going to use is correct. These hesitations in thought are manifested in delivery as brief pauses.

So, if you’re reading something on air and you want the listener to think that you’re in fact talking about it, you have to sound as if you’re processing what you’re talking about. To do this you have to throw in the occasional pause, as if you’re just checking the facts in your head or otherwise searching for a word.

Here’s an example: Read the following aloud as if you a reading it to someone:

“The last thing China needs in proceeding smoothly through its industrial revolution is a world riven by wars and terror, where its security of supply of raw materials is threatened. For this reason alone, it is not surprising that on issues like Iran, China takes a dove-ish, diplomatic line. However, China does have the problem of North Korea and its nuclear potential on its doorstep.”

[‘riven’ – adj. torn apart; split]

Now read it as it is written but pause for a breath where you see ‘…’ and emphasise a word when it’s in italics:

“The last thing that China needs in proceeding smoothly through its industrial revolution is a world…riven by…wars and terror, where its…security of supply of raw materials is threatened. For this reason alone, it is not surprising that on issues like…er…Iran…China takes almost a…a…dove-ish, diplomatic line. However, China does have that problem of North Korea and its nuclear potential on its doorstep.”

Just by pausing and emphasising certain words you now sound as if you’re thinking about what you’re saying; as if you’re drawing on your vast general knowledge of China’s macroeconomic policies. (You’ve also been bit sneaky and thrown in a word or two, the best being ‘that’ instead of ‘the’ in the last line, suggesting you’re familiar with the ‘problem of North Korea’).

Sometimes it’s obvious you’re reading something because it contains too much information that you couldn’t possibly know or remember. As an example, here is something that if read as written will definitely sound as if it is being read:

“On Tuesday September 11, 2001, the world changed forever when…”

We all remember 9/11 but the reason it sounds as if it’s being read is because few people would remember what day of the week it was; so clearly the information is in front of you. You would therefore not be able to dramatise your delivery without sounding like a shallow tosser. If you want to come across powerfully, you have to be convincing in faking your honest emotional turmoil – you have to make the listener think that you will never forget those horrifying images…blah…blah…blah. You therefore have to ‘take your mind back’ and say it this way:

“September 11th, 2001…I remember it was a Tuesday…the world changed forever when…”

Sneaky, huh? I said in the beginning that there’s only one occasion when you should sound as if you’re clearly reading something; and that’s when you are quoting someone, in which case you should say exactly that, e.g. Instead of reading,

“The Minister of Safety and Security Minister Charles Nobbhed said ‘People who complain should leave the country’”.

You should tell people what you know,

“Our Minister of Safety and Security Minister Charles Nobbhed said, and I quote …‘People who complain should leave the country’, unquote…”

(Notice the pause for effect and the use of the more commentary ‘our’ instead of the more formally written ‘the’).

Don’t think that if you read something flawlessly it’s going to sound impressive. It won’t, it’ll just sound cold and matter-of-fact. If you throw in the occasional hesitation, gentle emphasis and change the pace of your presentation, it’ll sound like you’re thinking about it, as if it’s something honestly important to you. This will have more intellectual and emotional impact, which is what you want, if you want you’re listener to think you’re smart.

And smart radio professionals know where ‘the edge’ is.

[All the work here is original. Nothing has come from any other resource. So, if you’re going to use or repost any of The Edge then please give due credit. If not….fine – be an asshole.]

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