Behind the Scenes

For  the past two Saturday’s, I have been fortunate to be invited to broadcast on the radio.  I have been given a segment of time to write a small programme of my own.  A little like a ‘thought of the day’ segment.  The radio station is Radio Parkies; aimed at the Parkinson’s community.  The very talented host of the show that my segment appears in, is DJ Johnny.  He plays the best music I’ve heard in a long time on any radio station.  Johnny is entertaining, funny and he has a lovely way of delivering his show.  It was he who invited me to guest present.

What I’ve learnt in the past couple of weeks is how much I enjoy writing for radio.  I love the research for my topic, the forming of the ideas and then the script and I even enjoy recording the finished piece.  Yet, due to having Parkinson’s, I have also found that it can be challenging to get my recorded voice just how I want it to be.

One of the symptoms of Parkinson’s is weak voice.  I only experience this very occasionally but last week, when I was recording, it was one of those times that this symptom decided to manifest.  I have learnt that I need to slow my breathing, sit in a more upright position, speak a little more slowly than I usually would and then to really project my voice out.  It’s not easy.  Fortunately, I am seeing a speech therapist to learn about coping with this very issue and so this will be what I take to my next appointment.  I need to learn to better manage this symptom, when it occurs. Thankfully, it is quite a rare symptom for me.

A non-Parkinson’s aspect of difficulty, however, is just making a decent recording!  I’m sure that is the same challenge for anyone doing this.  To fill several minutes of radio time, I needed to write out what I wanted to say.  I am trained in writing for the radio; so that is not a problem.  I want this to be something a little informal and friendly.  I’m getting a great challenge, therefore, as a writer, to get the balance between presenting a broad variety of material.  For example, last Saturday I presented a little about my history with Parkinson’s, then about a voluntary group that I co-facilitate on Facebook, for people with Parkinson’s, and then I read a poem that I had written.

What was challenging was simply reading and speaking my written words!  That may sound odd, but it’s true.  I initially found that I wanted to ad-lib a little, but at first I did not allow myself to.  When playing that back to listen to, it sounded a little wooden.  My written word was fine but my presentation was too much as though I was reading.  I also realised that I needed to make the transition from presenting about a voluntary group to reading a poem, smoother and more comfortable for the listener.

I’ve done a lot of public speaking before, so this is not all new, but how the voice sounds on radio is different to how we hear a voice in public.  There are, for example, also no visual queues coming from observed body language and so the voice has to convey much more information than usual, when on air.

So began the challenge of learning to ad-lib into what I was reading, to make what I was saying sound more natural and also to ensure that I was changing the tone of my voice more; the last thing I want is to sound like a news reader in a situation like this!  With practice, which involved making sure that when I ad-lib, I do not lose my place in where I am reading, I started to get the hang of it.  As you can tell, at first I did lose my place in what I was reading and so there were quite a few outtakes before I got it right.  I now feel that I have mastered a new skill in that respect.  I am delighted to say that the end product, although not brilliant I’m sure, was quite good.

I’m very happy with the content of my presentations, but it felt good to get on top of the art of presenting.  You have to change the range of your voice, you have to speak in exaggerated tones so that the listener doesn’t just hear a monotone presentation and you have to give yourself the freedom to ad-lib, so that the presentation sounds more natural.  All the while, you have to breathe as well.  Initially, I found myself trying not to breathe much, for fear that my breathing would sound too loud!

DJ Johnny gave me some very nice feedback from he and his wife, who was listening as well; that I sounded as though I was just talking to someone naturally.  To me, that means I was getting it right.  I want the listener to feel that I am chatting to him/her/them.  He added that, after the broadcast, he had received positive feedback about my segment on his show, from other listeners.  That was very satisfying to know.

This is an interesting experience, in that I make a presentation and then the show progresses onto the next thing.  There is no immediate feedback.  You have no idea how well you have been received.  The audience is simply ‘out there’ experiencing the show.

Through this experience, I then reflected back on Johnny’s work in hosting the two hour show (Saturday evening from 8pm – 10pm, usually).  I gained a whole new respect for Johnny’s skill at facilitating a show which requires him to offer chat, give information and also to fit in a great music selection and recordings of guests.  I’m not sure whether he ever goes live with someone calling in, but certainly this is already quite a significant amount of work.  The skills he has learnt have enabled him to sound so completely natural, relaxed and confident about what he is doing.  Johnny, if you read this, you really are doing a great job and I’ve learnt a lot from you.

Well, I must now set about writing for the next programme.  To keep an eye on Johnny’s schedule, which can change if he needs it to, please visit www.radioparkies.com and hit the Union Jack symbol.  Then, select DJ Johnny.  To listen to podcasts, of my segment, simply visit my page entitled ‘Speakers Corner’, here on this site.

(C) Dean G. Parsons. 2019.

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