Your First Radio Interview - Hey, You Have to Start Somewhere

By Geo A. Ropert, APR

“I put a bunch of words together and hope, in the end, they make sense.”
               -Anonymous

I’ve had the opportunity to be on both sides of radio. As a host, I’ve guided the conversations and asked the questions. As the guest, I’ve had the opportunity to answer the questions and make an impression.

Some of what I learned, I’ve learned from the best in the business. Other lessons have come the hard way, through missteps and mistakes. Either way, I’m still here to write about them and share some insights with you. As with any experience, there has to be a first time and I hope yours will be one of many.

Show Prep
Show preparation is as critical for the interviewer - and for larger shows, the producer - as it is for you, and oftentimes they have limited time to do research on you, your business or field of expertise. The less they have to prepare on their own, the happier they will be and it’ll show in their treatment of you.

Send info about you and the topic you want to discuss in advance, and share your contact info in the event the interviewer wants to conduct pre-show preparation. Include important data, statistics, quotes, etc. Additionally, send the interviewer questions that you would like to answer, and include some points of that answer.

The Interview
You have limited, sometimes very limited time to conduct the interview. If it’s live, you only get one chance to make a good impression and say the right things. If it’s pre-recorded, there’s a good chance that some of the conversation may be edited or eliminated in the interest of time or relevance. On the upside, you also may get a chance for a “take two” and have questions and your answers rerecorded. It’s up to you, though, to stay on point as best you can.

Learn to speak in sound bites; short, concise sentences. Think of watching the news on TV. Many times, only one or two sentences from the person being interviewed are ever shown. Know the key message or messages you want to deliver and do your best to ensure those are the ones covered.

Be respectful and professional, regardless of the personality of the interviewer. This is especially true if you’re discussing a controversial topic or are being interviewed by someone known to be brash or outlandish, or who has an attack-question style. Always maintain your composure.

The Conversation
Whenever you can, smile as you talk. Even a radio audience can “hear” you smiling. What’s more, don’t rush your words. While nerves and inexperience can lead to speaking too quickly and wanting to get in as much as you can, this will make your words sound jumbled and as if they’re running together.

One word: enunciate! Don’t drop consonants at the end of words like startin’ or havin’, and avoid using “ta” when you mean to say “to.” Saying a word correctly will also make you speak slower and clearer. Practice interviews ahead of time. Find a friend or colleague who will act as the interviewer and record a few rehearsals with your smartphone’s voice recorder, then listen for obvious mistakes you can correct.

It’s as much about where you speak as how. Studio microphones are uni-directional, meaning they pick up sound from one direction and pick up best from the top or front end of the microphone. All good hosts or producers will run a “mic check” prior to the interview to ensure your voice is being picked up at the volume they want. Listen to their suggestions and adjust accordingly.

Position the mic close to your mouth, just above your lips and speak about an inch below it. This will ensure you’re clearly heard but that your “Ps” don’t pop. It will also keep your head up and throat open and clear, as both the host and mic are going to be at eye level. Speak with volume but don’t yell. If you have to address more than one interviewer, rotate yourself around the microphone so that you’re always speaking into it. Don’t turn your head - and with it your mouth - away from the mic.

During most interviews, you’re going to be wearing headphones or ear buds. Adjust your volume so that you’re listening at a comfortable, conversational level. Sometimes, the host or supporting cast are a few feet away or even in another room and you won’t be able to hear them without the “cans” (that’s an old-time term for headphones).

These may seem like a lot of little things to which you must pay attention, but little things done right make for a great interview. Good luck. I hope it’s the first of many in your career!