A couple of Saturdays ago, I stopped by the Operations corner to grab some headphones. Operations is the department of the radio station responsible for making sure everything sounds right on the air. Basically, the people in Ops are in charge of sound and anything technological that goes with it.
I’m supposed to be training in Ops this semester, so I introduced myself to the man at the post. He shared a few enlightening tidbits about the radio business.
James started out as a DJ at a station in the South. He told me that this is how he learned broadcast delivery. Now, I’m not sure I want to be an anchor. On the other hand, I’m not ruling it out. After all, I think I would clean computer keyboards for the rest of my life if that’s what it took to be in radio. And, because I’m a radio nerd, I would enjoy it, too.
Anyway, back from digression, James talked to me about the art of using your voice to project a mood. When he was a DJ, he had to switch between different moods. Sad song to peppy song, slow to fast, etc. It’s all about nuance, he said. And honestly, I don’t think I could transition like that without a lot of practice.
This is why anchors get angry at a producer who doesn’t pair news stories in a logical way (or so I’ve heard). Follow a story about a dancing clown doing something cute with a story about dead babies, and even the most experienced anchor can sound stupid. I know I’ve seen anchors on TV that ticked me off this way. They looked and sounded a little too chipper when they told me about that deadly mudslide. Even if you can’t see the smile or the chortle, you can hear it in radio. A good story flow helps, but an anchor in control can change the entire feel of a newscast with his voice. And again, I have no clue how.
And then James used his power of inflection to trick me. Ah, trick the intern, everyone’s favorite game. He was telling me about how anchoring is like talking to your friend. You have to read your script like you are having a conversation with one person. James focused his eyes over my shoulder and said “Hey, guess what?” Thinking someone was behind me, I flipped around. False alarm. No one home but the hypothetical radio audience.
And I hear that a lot in my journalism classes, as well as around the station. Be conversational. Usually this mantra is applied to writing for radio or television. This was the first time I thought about it in terms of radio.
He also told me about what it’s like to work at odd hours. News is 24/7, remember. That means someone has to be manning that Operations corner all the time. On that Saturday, James had come in at three in the morning as was about to get off at 11:00 a.m. The trick, he said, is the stay up really late on Thursday night. That was you’re tired enough to go to be at 7:00 p.m. on Friday. Wake up at 1:30, you’re ready to go. And did I mention no partying the night before. That would be a crash and burn in the making.
So maybe I didn’t learn as much about working in Ops as I thought I would, but I learned a little bit about a day in the life. And that’s what internships are supposed to be about.
But if I want this to be a day in MY life, I have one major setback: one major setback: my name. It’s not catchy. If I want to be like James, I need to get a tag. Hmmm, “Caitlin” doesn’t really rhyme or pun with anything, does it? OK, so joke over, I’m not trying to become a DJ on a soul station. That might be beyond me for other reasons.
But I could end up doing almost anything in radio. I’m learning the technical and the storytelling aspects of the game. After all, James has also done sound for Public Television and radio, among other places. I’m hoping to get his take on that history, too. And, don’t worry, I’ll be learning more about Operations any day now. I have to—I put it down on my internship sheet!