Thursday, February 5, 2009

"The Truth About Radio Commentaries"

A few years back, I delivered a half a dozen commentaries on the NPR radio series “All Things Considered.” The following is a commentary they passed on. I could not understand why they turned it down.

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I really enjoy talking directly to an audience. It’s like a conversation. Well, not exactly like a conversation – I’m doing all the talking. Which, now that I think of it, differs only in degree from conversations I’ve experienced in my actual life.

When I deliver one of these commentaries, I’m hoping you’ll consider my point of view on whatever I’m talking about and when I’m finished, go, “Yeah” or “No”, but “Yeah” is better. The important thing is to elicit a reaction. Getting a reaction means I’ve made contact, and that makes me feel good. Less lonely. And – this one’s kind of embarrassing – immortal.

The way I see it, when I communicate my thoughts and opinions, it’s like, now, they’re out there, outside of me. Forever. After I die, they’ll still be floating around somewhere, in an archive, in cyberspace, in the minds of the people who were listening.

Simply by their being someplace, even though I’m no place, a piece of me would be left behind. Which would make me, in a certain way, not the best way – “the best way” being with me still around – but in a way that’s at least better than nothing, immortal.

The only kind of a “fudgy” thing about talking on the radio is that I’m not actually talking to you. I’m reading to you. Like the line, “I’m not actually talking to you, I’m reading to you”? I read that. And the line, “I read that”? I read that too.

I’m actually reading this whole thing. Including the line, “I’m actually reading this whole thing.”

It’s not natural reading to people, unless the people you’re reading to are children going to bed, or the blind. You never see, like, somebody you know coming up to you on the street, suddenly taking out a card and reading, “Hey. How’re ya doin’?” That would be weird.

Not on the radio. Reading is what radio commentators do. Which is fine, I guess. Except for the fact that, although we’re reading to you, we’re expected, in our writing and our delivery, to create the impression that we’re not.

To me, when you’re reading to someone but pretending you’re talking to them, that’s cheating. And it’s not like you can’t tell the difference. Somebody sounds like they’re talking to you, but there’s something unnatural about their delivery, like a missing human connection. There’s a reason for that. They’re reading to you off a page.

Reading doesn't compare to talking. Something gets lost. The spontaneity, for one thing. If, while you’re reading, new thoughts suddenly pop into your head, thoughts that precisely express what you’re currently expressing less precisely, if your mind starts considering those new thoughts, it would totally mess up your reading.

“I’m reading…now I’m considering…ooh, where was I?”

You know what I’d really like to do? Put down this paper I’m reading from and just talk. You know what? I’m gonna do it.

(WE HEAR THE SOUND OF A PERSON SETTING ASIDE HIS PREPARED MATERIAL.)

Okay. Here we go. Simply talking. From me to you.

Just a second, okay? I’m collecting my thoughts. I’ll be right with you.

Okay. Here we go.

Okay.

(THERE’S A LONG, TORTURED BEAT. FINALLY, WE HEAR THE SOUND OF A PERSON PICKING UP HIS PREPARED MATERIAL.)

You know what? I’m gonna keep reading. But at least now, you’ll know what I’m doing.
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You know the most incredible part of this thing? That I couldn’t understand why a radio show, which features people reading commentaries every day, would turn down a commentary on why doing that is bad. There are times when I truly amaze myself.

3 comments:

A. Buck Short said...

The corollary to this being a vision of TV anchors and reporters going through the rest of their day using the same exaggerated delivery they seem forced to employ on the air. "Would you PLEASE pass the KETCHUP?" "Excuse me, I have to take this CALL. FILM AT 11!"

Over-reliance on the written word also has its hazards, in that it encourages one not to trust his own judgment. Years ago, when I was newsreading on the air, we would regularly carry wire-stories filed by the UPI reporter Zander Hollander (not the sportswriter who, against all odds, bore the same name). At least 3-4 times a week, it was always Zander Hollander. Then one day, the wire copy slug came in with the typo Zander “Bollander.” Against my better judgment, I simply assumed that, incredibly, the wire service had recently employed another new journalist with an uncannily similar name. After the engineer fell down on the floor laughing, I exited the booth to show him the written proof. Fell down again.

growingupartists said...

Wow...for a second there, I was expecting an embedded video of you to pop up. Not that your stories need a shred of embellishment, the decorative (yet always truthful) kind.

Just thought you might be able to play up the accents a bit. In between your "You'll never find ME at Disneyland" advertisements.

Connector said...

I know exactly how you feel, Earl. It's the reason I wake up at 4:30 to write my novel. It's the reason that its completion will mean more to me by way of accomplishment than the birth of my 4 kids.

I mean, any woman can be a mother, right? But how many women (and men) can connect via the written word?