Radio interview tips

In the last few weeks I've done 18 or 20 radio interviews, everything from a tiny solar-powered NPR affiliate to world-wide Voice of America. I thought I'd share some tips for doing a compelling radio interview.

Some interviews are done with a studio-to-studio connection where you go into a local radio station. Some are done with the interviewer calling you on a land line. The interview can be live, or taped. They can be at crazy hours. I did one last week at 10 pm for a nighttime talk show, and did several at the crack of dawn for morning shows.

It quickly became obvious how hard these interviewers work. They are doing this day after day, week after week. They book time in their studio, and will call you on time to do the interview. Be sitting at your desk with a landline, ready to answer their questions.

I put the interviews in my Google calendar, and set up a half hour reminder to hit my email, and a ding to come through on my cell phone ten minutes before the interview, in case I was deep in my writing and needed to come out. This gets a little more tricky if you are traveling and jumping time zones. Make sure your calendar is set to alert you in the right time zone.

Notice how long you are booked for. Are they calling you for ten minutes? Or have they scheduled half an hour? The longer the time, the more complex your answers can be.

The support staff really varies for these shows. I sat on a corner couch one day at KQED and listened to two producers arranging interviews for the next day for one show. They were asking smart, informed questions and taking rapid fire notes for the host the next day. I'm sure he does plenty of prep, but with their help, he was going to be very smart and informed.

Others interviewers don't have that kind of support. And frankly, a few aren't that well prepared. I had one guy tell me he loved the book, and so did someone else who swiped it off his desk, and by the way what was the title again? Be ready to punt.  You might have to basically interview yourself.

Every interviewer will have different interests. Some wanted to know about Dorothea's life, her challenges. Others were more focused on her photography.

By the time the book comes out, it's been awhile since you wrote it. Can you still answer detailed questions about the book, or about writing it? Reread your book before you do the interviews so it's fresh in your mind. I like to have it next to me on the desk while I'm talking. I'm lousy at remembering dates, so I made a crib sheet of important dates in Dorothea's life. I keep it tucked into the front of the book, and put it on top when I am being interviewed.

Turn off your cell phone. All the way off. You don't want it doing a crazy buzz dance in your pocket as someone tries to get hold of you. Don't wear anything that makes lots of shurring noises while you talk.

Have a glass of water with you. It's nerve-wracking to try to suppress a coughing fit during a live interview.

At the end of the interview, they'll say thank you, you say thanks for having me, and they hang up. It seems abrupt, but they have another job ahead of them, editing the material. You're done till the next one.

Have a good time, and give every interview your best shot. Some interviewers will do a fantastic write-up in a blog post, and many of the interviews will be podcasted. Your words of wisdom are going to be around for a long time.


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