Andrew David at Siren FM has very kindly put together a ‘how to’ guide for an ‘Any Questions’ type programme. A huge amount of planning went into the programme however the opportunity of having as many candidates together for a debate and question time with the community is gold dust. It’s also very achievable; here’s how:
You can be assured that all the normal radio outlets will be covering elections in the normal, standard way making sure that they adhere to the “The Representation of the People Act 1983” with particular to reference to the rules about the Election Period which some older radio types may remember as the Pending Period. In a nutshell it means take care to make sure you balance, or at the very least, give all the candidates in your area a fair hearing. This does, I’m afraid, cover some of the “alternative” parties. One thing to bear in mind at all times is our target audience and how the candidates may react to your listener and their concerns. SIREN FM has a remit to broadcast for and with the 9 – 24 year olds, a wide congregation and therefore I can very reasonably (good legal type word) exercise huge caution.
SIX WEEKS AND COUNTING: (This refers to the maximum length of an Election Period and we therefore counted weeks back from the expected date and added one for good luck). So, SIREN FM decided to preview the 2010 Election by arranging a radio OB in a popular local venue. It had a similar format to the popular BBC Radio 4 show, Any Questions and this is the way it happened:
- 8 weeks out from the recording we brought together a core team of 4 to arrange all the technical details, audience invitations and guest invites. We started with the sitting MPs but soon found that, unless the event was to be held on a Friday, business at Westminster took precedence. So we then decided to invite the local Prospective Parliamentary Candidates. This made for a much more open and “enthusiastic” panel as they realised the real potential of connecting with the grass roots voters. Also could build very good links for the future, especially if they were lucky to be elected.
- We chose a local venue, away from the studios for several reasons. An OB makes the radio output feel centred in the community and it makes the issue of Health and Safety so much easier to control if the venue’s staff can handle that side of things. It also looked good as well as sounding real.
- We invited people to apply for free tickets and pre-submit the questions. This allowed us to ensure the audience was balanced and that the questions represented a good cross section of the potential views of the audience both in the venue and, more importantly, on air. We asked that the audience bring the invite and some photo id. Again, a good indicator to all that this is serious business and not some light weight attempt to sound like the Big players in the radio landscape.
- We visited the venue and checked the technical details with the venue’s crew, we arranged for an area for the candidates to gather but not see the questions.
- And I engaged an “independent voice” on the panel to provide a contrast to the political voices. In out case I was able to draw upon one of the best thinkers in the UK, Professor Brian Winston, who was witty, urbane and able to talk with humour and focus off the cuff. This also shows to the audience and listener that your attempt at balance is more than just lip service.
- The questioners were given a briefing – they had their questions printed on card, so that they did not have to remember what they’d submitted or made a noise on mic with rustling paper.
- All the staff, volunteers, crew and panellists were given some sort of badge or T Shirt to make sure they were fully identifiable to everyone. Also helps in the H&S way of things.
- We had a staff briefing, 30 minutes before the venue’s doors were open.
- It’s a good idea to over record – particularly as there are the inevitable edit, etc. But do not short change the questioners, unless you make it clear that there questions will be answered by the panel but could be edited out for LEGAL reasons. This is where you need to ensure that you have some legal backup. You need to engage, on a pro bono basis, someone who has a practicing understanding of broadcast law and the Ofcom guidelines. I am fortunate at the university to have several practitioner academics who are fully conversant with this area. You could use this as an opportunity to develop links with local HE and FE facilities and explore other profitable links.
- We decided to defer broadcast by 30 minutes so that any legal and hiccup tidying up could be accommodated. We finished recording by 8.30pm and it was scheduled to go out t 9.00pm with 2 other repeats, one at a lunchtime and the other at the weekend, maximising the opportunities for it to be accessed by the widest possible audience.
- The presenter needs to make sure the intro and outro are fully scripted this makes the whole production sound anchored, mature and well produced. We encouraged the audience to applaud but to keep the programme flowing we did not offer a roving mic.
- Each of the panellist was given a chance to answer the question with the chair interjecting with follow ups, but making sure each candidate had the same number, of course. Then, at the end of each question, we gave the questioner a chance to reflect on what they’d heard.
These are just guidelines, they are not comprehensive and do not address the next big issue which is what do you do during the Election Period itself. This will follow as we move through these interesting and vaguely uncharted waters!