A summer of radio production

"So you're building radios?"
20 August 2019


Ankita holding a mic


“I’m doing an internship in radio production.”

“So you’re building radios?”

...That’s what my research group members asked, when I told them I’d spend the summer doing radio production. But having spent the last few years of my PhD fabricating electronic devices, that’s the last thing I wanted to do. I wanted to use the summer to have a break from the lab, and develop my other interests - writing, interviewing, audio editing. And the Naked Scientists internship was an opportunity to do all this and learn so much more.

Picking up the phone

The very first skill I learnt during the internship was to pick up the phone. It sounds trivial, but calling strangers was not something I was used to! On my first day, I had to quickly get over this as the most efficient way to chase someone up is by calling them. Phone calls are also used to research news stories and gauge the ability of the speaker to communicate their work in an accessible way. I had to learn how to make the most of a short phone call to get all this information, so we could decide whether to run with a news story or not. By the end of the summer, I was confidently picking up the phone and and able to chat to anyone.

Relaxing on the mic

During the recorded interviews, I had to try to forget that I was in front of a mic, and have a natural conversation with the interviewees. This was much easier during in-person interviews, and I have a renewed appreciation of how much body language contributes to conversation! The biggest challenge for me was when I was recording parts of narration to add to an audio piece. Here, I was in the studio by myself, reading a script into a microphone, and it was really difficult to sound engaging, as if I were speaking rather than reading. Adam gave me some tips which helped a lot - standing up and imagining someone else there - and in addition, I found it helpful to dance on the spot while I spoke!

Writing a news article

Having just written my PhD thesis, I felt like I’d had a lot of writing practice in the months before the internship. I confidently wrote my first news article, using all my thesis skills, and it read like a thorough abstract describing the findings of the research paper. However, Adam quickly pointed out that the reader of a news article was expecting something quite different! He talked me through the very different structure and style required for an effective news article and helped me to rewrite the story into a much more engaging piece. Over the weeks, this started to come more naturally, and now when I read the news, I'm a much more critical reader!

Producing a show

One of my longer tasks for the internship was to produce the back-half of a radio show. This is half an hour dedicated to exploring a topic in some depth, with a mixture of pre-recorded pieces and live studio interviews. I had the opportunity to be as creative with it as I liked but I had to choose something which hadn’t been done before - quite a challenge, as the back catalogue stretches back for 20 years! I decided to do my show on the electron which was a broad enough umbrella to allow me to include a variety of pieces. This was handy, as I had a lot of options for guests, who can be hard to pin down in the middle of the summer holidays!

Producing the show involved organising, recording and editing down two pre-recorded pieces, and also finding two suitable guests who could come live on air. Finally, I had to write a script which brought these four sections together to form a continuous narrative, and try to include some jokes and puns in as well! The best part was being in the studio on the day, listening in to the live interviews and keeping my fingers crossed that the timings would work out. Everything went smoothly! And it was incredibly rewarding to think that something which started as an idea I had, was now a full-fledged radio programme which would be broadcast to people all over the world.

...and more

I picked up so many other skills from doing the wide variety of tasks we were encouraged to try. I learnt to speak at an angle towards the mic, to minimise “popping” from pronouncing hard consonants, and how to subtly fade-in music into an interview to break up the voices. I found out that over-compressing the audio waveform can cause the voice to sound more “forceful” and that Radio 1 uses this technique to demand the attention of their listeners! One of my favourite tasks was to go to Market Square and record “vox pops”. These are snippets of audio of comments from the public which are stitched together to give an impression of a topic. I approached strangers and asked for thoughts/recollections of the Apollo 11 moon landing, and I heard some amazing stories!

Thank you Chris, Adam, Izzie, Katie and Phil for welcoming me into the team, and to fellow interns, Heather, Matt and Emma for all the cups of tea, lunchtime walks and pub trips. I’ve had an incredible summer!


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