Winging It: LIVE on the Radio

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by Barbara Florio Graham

When I was asked to do a two-hour interview on a popular news/talk radio show, I was delighted.

My publisher had hooked the host with a press release connecting the death of award-winning actor, Peter Falk, with my story about working with him well before he created the character of Columbo. The story is one of 34 first-person pieces in Prose to Go: Tales from a Private List.

Securing a spot on this show was a coup. It’s two hours in prime time on a Sunday evening, and is often broken into two separate segments. But I’d been asked to be available for the full two hours. Plenty of time to promote this book, for which I served as managing editor.

As I confirmed the invitation via email, I requested that we do the interview by phone, and immediately asked my publisher, Bridgeross, to send a review copy to the station.

When I didn’t hear back from the host, I phoned the station, only to be told that he usually arrives there about ten minutes before the program begins. Prose to Go had arrived, but sat, waiting for him to retrieve it.

That meant I had better prepare to be interviewed by someone who hadn’t read the book!

The station said they’d contact the host on his cell phone, and he called me within the hour, confirming that we could, indeed, do the interview by phone, but that he wouldn’t have a chance to see the book until he arrived at the station, a few minutes before airtime.

“We’ll just have to wing it,” he said calmly. Although I’m a former broadcaster, I was decidedly not calm!

I had already listened to the show the previous week, lined pad in my lap, marking down the minute-by-minute breakdown of the full two hours. Some segments were very short, and I made pencil notes beside those indicating brief comments I could make, if his questions allowed.

I also noted the longer segments at the end of the show, listing the things I wanted to make sure to reinforce in listeners’ minds, such as the full title of the book, where it was available, and the name and website of the publisher.

I was glad I’d be able to do this from home, where I could have many sheets of paper spread out in front of me. If you’re scheduled to do a phone interview, make sure you set yourself up where there’s a clear land line (no cell phones and not a removable handset). If you can, use a shoulder rest so you have both hands free (but don’t put the phone on speaker, as that creates an echo).

Confine pets to another room to eliminate bird sounds, meows, or barking in the background. Ensure you have a glass of water (room temperature, not iced) within reach, but not so close that it might spill!

If necessary, print out key information in a large font, and place sticky notes in the book so you can find certain pages quickly. I printed out the full table of contents, so I could quickly refer to specific stories and contributors.

The host gave me no hint of how he had decided the show should run. I should have asked! I assumed he’d begin with the Peter Falk story, then go on to ask me the logical questions about how the book was put together, and my role, not only as managing editor, but as the creator of the private list mentioned in the title.

But that’s not what happened. The station didn’t phone me until 9:07, just as the news was ending and the host introduced himself. He then spent the first two minutes talking about the current news (!) before he introduced me.

He began by asking me about myself, and it was obvious he’d read the bio on my website. It’s a good thing I had a print-out of that in front of me, as well as descriptions of my three books, because he asked specific questions about those.

I realized he’d probably gotten his hands on the book minutes before, and planned to skim it during the commercial breaks, because every time I mentioned Prose to Go (which I slipped in at every opportunity), he said we’d get to that later in the program.

He filled the first hour with questions about my career, my books, awards I’ve received, questions about writing, and about cats! All the while, I grew increasingly anxious to get to Prose to Go.

I spent every commercial break rearranging my notes and making a list of things I absolutely had to get into that second hour: the book’s sections, the diversity of stories, locations of contributors, the glowing advance reviews, and repeated mentions of my website and Bridgeross.

The second hour started with Peter Falk, and he wanted to talk about Falk’s career, if I’d had contact with him afterwards, etc. He asked me to tell the story, and seemed disappointed when I refused to reveal the ending. I laughed and said listeners would have to read the book to find out what happened.

Finally, he asked me about my Private List, and how the book came about.

Throughout the second hour, very aware of how little time was left, I kept checking off things I’d already mentioned so I wouldn’t repeat them, and kept my eye on the clock, which I had placed right in front of me. One advantage of doing an interview from home is that you can see the clock. In a studio, the guest is often seated with his or her back to the clock, as it has to be visible to the host.

I tried to get as many different stories and names into the conversation as I could. I wanted to be sure listeners would realize how diverse the stories are, so I repeated the titles of the five sections several times. I also wanted to stress the age range of contributors (43 to 78), and the 14 Canadian locations they come from.

I’d forgotten how stressful it can be to watch the clock when you’re LIVE on air, even worse because I wasn’t in control.

As we approached the final segment, the host threw me a curve by asking me to read a specific story from the book.

I was taken aback, but reacted quickly, saying I’d rather read my own work, and during the last commercial I scrambled to select one of my humor pieces. I decided on “Crickets,” because I wanted to end with something amusing, that I knew would sound good on radio, and it happens to be structured in a way that makes it easy to cut seamlessly if the clock ran out.

So I spent the last segment reading with one eye on the page and the other on the clock, and came in with a minute to spare, just enough time for him to thank me, mention the book, and sign off!

Take-away Tips

  • Listen to the show and take notes about the timing.
  • Ask the host or producer about the format of the show.
  • Select a location with a clear landline phone that has a shoulder rest.
  • Confine any pets.
  • Have room-temperature water close by.
  • Put a clock right in front of you.
  • Print out key information.
  • Select something to read that works well on radio.
  • Print this, with possible cuts marked.
  • Use news and commercial breaks to keep revising your plan.
  • Stay focused; don’t be tempted by digressions.
  • Watch the clock and make sure you get key information into the last segment.

Don’t be afraid to refuse the host’s requests, such as to reveal the ending of a story, or to read a selection other than the one you’ve prepared.


The author of three books, Barbara Florio Graham‘s popular website, www.SimonTeakettle.com, contains lots of free information on publishing, promotion, and publicity. Prose to Go: Tales from a Private List is now available as an e-book on Barbara’s website.

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One thought on “Winging It: LIVE on the Radio

  1. Leann Garms

    Great article about the realities of working g with the media! Another thing that we do for Authors is create a robust online press kit that any journalist can access…key piece in that is Interview Q&A. You control the interview and the host looks good too by asking relevant questions! I’ve had them read every question verbatim…our job is to make y heirs easy.
    Thanks for sharing!

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