Tonight marked my debut as an evening news anchor on KBOO FM, Portland’s community radio station.
I’ve been volunteering in the PM News Department for a few months now, dipping my toes into the choppy, untried waters of radio journalism, learning to write and record and edit for radio and just seeing what I think.
I spend each Thursday afternoon at the station cranking out little stories, and when the reg’lar anchor called in sick today, I volunteered to pinch hit for her, rather meekly and unceremoniously, and out of desperation and the strange conviction that I “have a voice for radio,” the producer and news director agreed to let me give it a go.
Several times during the past few years, I’ve run across different iterations of the same bit of advice, often from career-minded women who’ve had to scramble to see their aspirations through, and it is this: walk through every door that opens. Or this: say yes now, panic later.
Despite appearances, I am not an impulsive sort. I move slow, as a rule, and I take a good measure of time to decide what I think about most things. The plodding and stubbornly systematic tortoise, to be sure, dressed up in the fuzzy finery of a rabbit who flits from place to place with hardly a second thought. It only looks that way. My impulses are, to a one, carefully orchestrated.
All the same, I had a good case of the mental jingly-janglies when I sat down in the studio and put on my headphones. The news department was running late, as per usual, and my “orientation” consisted of having a script handed to me – still warm from the printer – along with about a minute’s worth of frantic descriptions and explanations, barely half of which I’d absorbed before the engineer patched me and my co-anchor On Air.
And we were off. The first thirty seconds were sort of surreal and terrifying, heart in gullet and all, but then it was lots of fun. Would it make me look like too terribly much of a Media Nerd if I called it a “rush”?
Reading out shorts of the day’s various happenings for 45 minutes might not sound like everybody’s idea of a happenin’ Thursday evening, but I freaking loved it.
Anyone who knows me well knows that I am minorly obsessed with Ira Glass of This American Life fame. (If you haven’t listened to this amazing radio program, DO!) And during the past few years, as print journalism stumbles and crumples, I’ve been trying to take a longer view of the kinds of stories I want to tell.
I’ve been a writer since I was old enough to string together five words (true: my first story, written in grade one, was titled, “The Clown Who Couldn’t Smile,” but that’s another essay entirely), but I want to explore storytelling that goes beyond the mere humble written word. Which is how I ended up volunteering at KBOO. Radio journalism is a different beast entirely, and has been a bit of a transition from the newspaper and magazine journalism to which I’ve grown accustomed.
For example, nobody cares about your clever headline. In fact, radio stories don’t even have headlines, which is rather mindblowing for an ex-newspaper editor.
Also, radio people hardly appreciate a bold alliterative license when it comes to the guts of the story itself. “The latest papal precept is packing a punch among members of the priesthood” would be a terribly fun line to include in a print story of any sort, and would please editors and readers alike for its prosy pith.
Such a line, fired off the tongue of a radio anchor like so many little gilded bullets, would merely sound idiotic.
So I am learning, and though the whole thing is a bit of a caper, it’s one of the enormously interesting sort.