It’s about time

If you possibly can, get some work in radio. What you learn – it doesn’t teach you this yet you inescapably accrue the knowledge and the experience and the feeling – will change how you approach time.

I recently spent time at a BBC radio station and all this came back to me. One of my uttermost favourite things in the world is how radio splits time in your head. Part of you is seeing the minutes of a show roar by so fast yet part of you is also crunched up in panic over how you will fill the next twenty seconds.

You cannot have dead air. I’m not sure if this is still the case but at one point if you were silent for long enough on a radio station, the transmitters switched off. And it takes a long time to get them back on.

Whatever the technical issues, though, you cannot have dead air. Think of all the times television tries to cover up a swearword by dipping the sound. Usually the bleep, sometimes they dip the sound to silent for a second. And when they do, the entire room notices and reacts.

The driving need to keep the show going and to fill the gaps that are coming up ahead of you like Gromit adding train tracks as he goes, it is beyond overwhelming, it is inside you. It is you. I’m sure it’s the same in television and actually it was in my first TV job that I learnt the average speaking rate is three words per second. (In those days video machines needed time to get up to speed so you’d make a mark on the script so many words, therefore so many seconds, before the vision mixer needed to cut to it.)

But I got it from radio so radio is special to me. And alongside that parallel track of slow and fast time, you also get the shape of time.

I do this now in workshops. I think of things like the top and bottom of the hour. I know this is a hard item – hard as in inflexible, it’s a certain length like a video package – and that I need a couple of soft items – live interviews or discussions that you can just end when you need.

What’s more, seeing time this way helps you with everything: you look for the thing you can do now rather than have dead air. You look for the shape of the hour and of the day. Time runs away from us, time catches up with us, but it is our chief resource and we benefit from using it more.

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