Recently, I managed to bluff my way into becoming a freelancer for CBC Radio One.* Even better, in an effort to get me fully trained in CBC standards and protocol and because they had a brief period of time where they could use an extra team member, I’m working with the morning show Daybreak North for most of the month of January.
I know a lot of people take issue with our public broadcaster, but I am a huge fan, especially of the radio department. I’ve made the argument in the past that CBC Radio is as essential a component of nation-building as the railway was, and I believe it stills play a very large role in leading and contributing to a national conversation. So to be even a very small part of it is, for me, a pretty big deal.
During my first week, I worked as a hybrid researcher/associate producer. What this essentially boils down to is I pitch story ideas and then pursue those that have been approved. For our purposes, stories can take the form of on-air interviews or self-contained tapes (think of them as mini-documentaries. Really, really mini-documentaries).
If the story is going to be an on-air interview I find guests and conduct a pre-interview. A pre-interview for radio, by the way, is awesome. If you’re working in print and conduct an interview, you have to make sure your quotes are exactly as your subject said, and often have to transcribe the full thing, which is not a fun task. Radio doesn’t have this problem, because, well, listeners actually hear the subject. And since I’m conducting a pre-interview and not the on-air interview, I don’t have the pressures of being on the air. I can just take part in a conversation with someone interesting, jotting down notes about which questions have the most interesting answers. I then write a script, including some background info on the story, and turn it over to the producer and hosts who use their experience to make everything sound radio-worthy.
I never knew such a job existed, but I love it.
For most of my first week, my role was mainly working on pre-interviews, and in that time I received what I think is probably a pretty fair representation of how things might work. On day one, everything went smoothly, including when I had to use a name and a position to track down someone who used to live in Prince George, currently lives in Canmore, Alberta, and was at present somewhere in Europe (fortunately, he was using his Canmore-based cell number and didn’t seem concerned about roaming charges).
Day two started seemed to start out in the same way. I had two fairly straightforward stories to set up: the first one was a wilderness story in which most of the leading experts were based in northern BC and the second was based on a series of press releases that had no less than five media contact people available. But this is where I learned about the unpredictability of the job: I managed to get the first story done using a contact from the southern part of the province and the second story was killed because I couldn’t find anyone to talk to us.
The other two days were about a mixture of the first two, as I learned new parts of the in-house communication systems and formatting and the like. On Thursday, my last day for the week (not counting Friday, when I was called in for a breaking news story), I put together my first tape piece, a story I discovered through a Facebook event invitation. To combat the January blues, a local couple had started a tradition they dubbed “International Souffle Day” which has been growing since its inception six years ago. I got in touch with one-half of the couple, conducted a phone interview, and then spliced it together with some music, taking my own voice out in the process, to make it sound as if she was giving one continuous narrative. I was pretty happy with it, and even happier when I learned it was picked up the national syndication service and broadcast on morning shows across the country including Yellowknife, Toronto, and Charlottetown.
That is one obvious highlight of my first week, but the other is a little more satisfying. I found out about an author up in Telkwa, and contacted him to set up an interview. After preliminaries had been taken care of, he sent me an email thanking me for contacting him and saying that his parents were really excited because someone from the CBC had called. Up until that point it hadn’t really occurred to me that I was “someone from the CBC”, but in his context, that’s what I am. Again, I know there are people who take issue with CBC, and many who never listen to it, but there are lots of people who do, and I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone in this country who doesn’t know what it is. My previous media experience has been pretty small-scale to the point that more often than not the first couple of minutes of setting up interviews were focused on explaining what and where the publication I was representing was. That is not a problem when you say, “I’m calling from the CBC.”
So all in all, it’s been a good first week. My only complaint so far is the fact that the office computers are locked into the archaic Internet Explorer 6 (it doesn’t even have tabbed browsing!), but that’s pretty small potatoes in the grand scheme of things. I’m feeling really lucky to get a foot in the door without any j-school background (nice to know experience, even as limited as mine, still counts for something) and am pretty positive about the idea of freelancing for the foreseeable future. For a more up-to-date commentary on my experiences, you can follow me on Twitter. Daybreak airs from Monday to Friday in northern BC from 5:55 to 8:37 a.m. Pacific Time on CBC Radio One or streaming online here.
*Actually, I didn’t bluff my way in because it implies I somehow fooled the very astute folks in charge of hiring. So let’s just say I’m very, very lucky.
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