Monday, January 13, 2014

Video Killed the Radio Star

I hadn’t appeared on a radio show since I was a senior in high school, when a group of AP English classmates and I were interviewed about classic books, or writing poetry, or… something pseudo-literary like that. Considering it was thirty-five years ago, my recollection of the experience remained vague. All I remember was being a bit nervous and not saying much, surely to the surprise of any tuned-in teachers who were weary of issuing demerits to shut me up in class.

Who’d have guessed that public speaking was far more intimidating than muttering wisecracks from the back of a classroom? Whether or not I pulled it off or—more likely—nose-dived, was especially a blur, since my friends and I listened to the recorded session from a car in the parking lot at Charlie’s Blind Pig bar.

Being asked to solo-guest for a live radio gig, at age fifty-two, proved to be even more frightening. Video may have killed the radio star, yet I feared no video would be necessary to kill my midlife radio career. All it would take was two hours of stuttering, stammering, and awkward silence.

I’d been invited to appear on “The Theme Park,” a two-hour Sunday morning show on WXUT, the radio station of The University of Toledo. The co-hosts, Vicki Kroll and Tim Sanderson, had been doing this show together for eleven years. They were old pros, but in their decade-long DJ gig, they had never before had a guest. If I bombed, I guessed I’d be both their first and their last.

A 10 a.m. to noon slot wasn’t promising for someone who was generally just dragging herself out of bed at ten on a Sunday morning. I managed to down one Diet Coke on the drive to the station and finished off two more in the first hour. Still, I felt undercaffeinated and foggy. I hoped my fear-fueled adrenalin would carry me through.

“So, tell us about The 52/52 Project,” Vicki said, starting off the show. Probably a logical question most people would have anticipated and prepared for. My jaw hung open. “Umm,” I replied. I shook off my trepidation, gathered my wits, and followed up quickly with another thoughtful, “Umm.”

But Vicki and Tim’s expertise soon helped calm my nerves, brushing over much of my stuttering and stammering, and filling any awkward moments of silence that would have remained if I were left fully to my own devices.

And, holy hell, were the two of them fun—and funny!

Since it was primarily a music show, I fortunately didn’t have to fill the whole two hours with clever variations of “Umm.”

Each week’s show centered on a particular theme, so we chose songs related to The 52/52 Project. Thanks to Vicki and Tim’s imagination and extensive music collection, we featured a diverse assortment of both popular and obscure songs. Some were tied into specific experiences, such as “Talk to the Animals” by Sammy Davis Jr. (for my upcoming zoo-keeper stint), “Wedding Bell Blues” by the Fifth Dimension (wedding-crashing), and even a snippet from The Karate Kid: “Wax on, Wax off” (let’s hear it for my Brazilian).

Others related more generally to The 52/52 Project, including “I Wouldn't Normally Do This Kind of Thing” by the Pet Shop Boys, “Dare to Be Stupid” by Weird Al Yankovic, and “Undignified Ways to Die” by Bob and Tom.

Over my two-hour radio gig, I made my share of newbie mistakes, including talking to the co-hosts when I mistakenly thought our microphones were off. *sigh*

And, I’d forgotten that the online audio stream was indeed accompanied by a slightly blurry video of the three of us sitting in the station. My mother told me later that she lost count of how many times I adjusted my bra straps.

Yet still, I sensed my on-air presence got better as I went. The caffeine gradually kicked in, and as I delved into my specific experiences from the past several months, I managed a handful of articulate sentences and even a few witty comments.

As we walked to our cars in the parking lot, I called it a success.

I’d ventured outside my comfort zone and tackled my fear of public speaking, albeit in front of a mostly invisible audience.

I only hoped listeners enjoyed the radio show nearly as much as I did. A few people have graciously told me I did A-OK.

But, if anyone viewing the live stream watched me stammer and—hypothetically speaking—pick my nose? Please know I could gladly go my whole life without that news being broadcast.

On-air speaking--frightening or not? How do you quell your nerves? What's the biggest faux pas you've ever made in public?

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