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Phoning it in

The medium of radio hasn’t been a good place for my messages

Phoning it in

(Illustration by Krieg Barrie)

Being on the radio is not what you think. I always thought it would be cool to be on the radio. When I was a child and Johnny Mathis and Mel Torme were singing in our living room on my mother’s transistor radio, I thought those guys were all in a big auditorium together, sitting on folding chairs and waiting their turns at the microphone.

That was a child’s misimpression. As an adult I had adult misimpressions. One was that a radio interview is where you get to say what you want to say and that the interviewer is really interested to hear your views.

I have had four or five radio interviews in my life. The first one felt like being violated and then dumped on the side of the road at 60 miles an hour. The second time, years later, I went into it expecting that the person on the other end of the wire had not a particle of interest in what I had to say, but that what he did have was an agenda and a large clock over his desk, and that he had tried to get Charles Krauthammer but the man wasn’t available.

I don’t like it when they throw you a question they’re sure you’ll have the right answer to, and then your role is just to co-sign their editorial position: “So Andrée Seu Peterson, how do you feel about the fact that the president ran on the platform of defunding Planned Parenthood and now here we are months into his administration and Planned Parenthood is still on the government dole?” Well, I don’t feel good about it. … Um. …

It would take me a good four seconds to compose my thoughts before sending them down to my throat, and radio doesn’t have four seconds.

That’s my problem, I’m not good at amplification. It would take me a good four seconds to compose my thoughts before sending them down to my throat, and radio doesn’t have four seconds. May as well run a test of the Emergency Alert System in the dead air. My husband says introverts think before they speak whereas extroverts think as they’re speaking. Let them bother an extrovert then! Besides, how does this all square with the Scriptures: “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak” (James 1:19); “The more words, the more vanity” (Ecclesiastes 6:11); “When words are many, transgression is not lacking” (Proverbs 10:19)?

In 1958, on the first day of second grade, the teacher told us in the schoolyard that we were all going to be on television. We were excited. When we arrived in the classroom, there was one of those mammoth console TV sets set in wooden cabinets such as they had in those days, with the vacuum tubes gutted out. We had to line up on the side of the room near the blackboard and take our turns walking up to the cyclopean cadaver, and kneel down inside it with our humiliated faces looking out through the glass, and introduce ourselves. A total breach of contract, I have always felt.

Today’s radio interview was from Taunton, Mass. Don’t be jealous if you think that’s glamorous. First off, I had to move my prepared notes on “the state of writing in America today” to the other room because my husband suddenly needed to make a sandwich in the kitchen. I phoned the station at 9:40 sharp, as agreed, and the interviewer (who was also the engineer) picked up and did a convincing imitation of a cross between Bozo the Clown and a firehose. On gossamer wings flew my solemn cogitations. I think I said hello and he said the rest.

Then we went to break, and while the host plugged a steak and ale pub and did four local obituaries, I happened to look down and noticed that the baseboards needed cleaning, so I squatted and used a finger to dust them. After a few minutes of this I suddenly heard that worrisome sound you hear while on hold with a utility company just before you get cut off.

It was almost 10 at that point, and the end of the show, but I redialed the station anyway and received back this text from Bozo: “Sorry about that, but I knew going in it was a busy show, quickest hour I’ve seen in months!”

Just throw me out of the car.


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  •  Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Fri, 08/11/2017 06:57 pm

    Even the best hosts perforce limit answers to their questions.  That is the nature of live media, with its necessarily draconian time-keeping.  They also risk entrapping themselves in opinions publicly expressed.  Who wants to change an opinion that one has expressed to millions of people over many years?  But we are free to listen to whoever, whenever we wish.  It is up to us not to worship the host, but to listen and filter the information according to Godly wisdom.

  • Steve Shive
    Posted: Sat, 08/12/2017 08:15 am

    Sounds like our assumptions about many things in life. Good to remember.