Interviews are, obviously, the life blood of a talk station. They can also be an extremely important element at an all-news station – KRLD in Dallas does several short ones every hour, some live and some pre-recorded. And, they can improve the presentation of any newscast.
The two most memorable ones in my career were at WIFE in Indianapolis, and stand for the proposition that imagination and a little theater can make great radio.
Don Watson, who was the Program Director, set up a live interview with the leader of the Army Golden Knights exhibition parachute team to take place while the team was in the air. We attached a wireless microphone to the man, and a receiver in the drop zone. Our news anchor started asking questions as soon as the team leader jumped from the plane. The anchor was an amateur skydiver, so he knew what to ask and could interpret. The conversation continued all the way to the ground, punctuated by the various team members calling signals to one another.
Don also set up a live interview via ship to shore telephone with the team retrieving the safe from the liner Andrea Doria, which sank in the Atlantic in 1956 after a collision. By today’s standards, the communications were archaic – after a comment, each speaker had to say “over” so that the radio operator at sea could toggle back and forth between them. It was awkward, but added a measure of drama and a sense of geographic distance to the interview, making it appear exotic.
I once got into trouble with Don for pushing too hard. I was talking live with a foreign diplomatic attache. The man was infuriating in his evasiveness and I just kept insisting that he give a straight answer. In the process everybody got angry, and we went way over time – which angered my co-anchor because he had to scramble to get back on format. Have I been hard on evasive interviewees since? Yes – but I stay on point and within time. Pounding away doesn’t get you anything on any level. Once a point has been made, move on.
Conversely, I hear too many interviews on the radio today in which no point seems to be made. Too many interviewers, in the context of a news presentation, never ask a speaker to justify something just said, or explain where information came from, or outline how something is likely to play with a given audience. Unfortunately, this is often encouraged by a management which doesn’t want to offend. Politicians are notorious for taking advantage of this by offering all kinds of proposals, confident they’ll never be challenged. Airing this kind of interview, in my judgment, doesn’t keep faith with the listener.
Next week: Applying sound
Topic ideas, problems and solutions are always welcome. Contact me directly at Doug@newstalk.com.