Our writer’s profile for this week features a graduate of the journalism program who, shortly after receiving her degree, landed a job working at a local radio station. This posting will be the first of two describing this subject’s writing and what may be most fascinating about this one is her invention of a form of writing meant to keep her safe while she navigated the first several months communicating in a mode with which she had no prior experience.
The subject describes herself as an “on-air radio personality,” as she is one of two “hosts” for a morning program on a radio station located in a small city of around 14,000, the seat of a county with approximately 182,000 people. She indicated that she does write on concerns and issues as a citizen “because I write to the newspaper sometimes” and produced a letter written about 11 months earlier as an example. The subject also checked “no” for the question about spending a significant amount of time writing on the job. During the interview her responses suggest she may have been in error with that response. Although she claimed she usually just “winged” advertisements while broadcasting, she later stated that “the people who advertise with us want commercials made so we make them up. We can either send them to a licensed agency to write them or we can write them ourselves. … Sometimes I write my own stuff, and sometimes not.”
In addition, she has been assigned to report on city council meetings and on spot news, which can result in what she called “blurbs,” essentially three or four-sentence paragraphs that function much like the lead paragraph in a newspaper story and that is read on the air and placed on the station’s web site. The subject has been placed in charge of that web site as well, which entails editing, the placement of news and contest items, and the creation of other material, such as staff listings, the top songs in the station’s music rotation, and the links to other sites. The subject also described writing done by other staff members that she could end up doing eventually, if she stayed in the business. These include e-mails written by the program director in the process of obtaining music from recording companies (The subject also writes e-mails in response to correspondence from listeners.), music logs kept by the same program director (for payment of royalties), and logs of when commercials were aired kept by the “traffic director.”
As the interview progressed the subject revealed that she wrote “more than anybody else in the entire building.” She had never worked in radio before receiving the job about a year ago, not even at the campus radio station, and to overcome her fear of saying the wrong thing or of stumbling, she got in the habit of writing out, while the music was playing, what she was going to say next. “Whenever I talk between songs, I write everything out that I’m going to say … Nobody else does that. They make fun of me for that, but I will get nervous and I will slip up. That’s just the way I want to do it.” Another purpose was to eventually transform what she wrote to sound like the “spoken word” because “it can’t sound like it’s written.” She includes the pauses in these brief scripts written on the fly and “even the ums and ahs.” Although the subject believes she could do without the scripts now, given her experience, she keeps creating them because of the confidence they give her. “Sometimes I don’t use it all, but … I need it there; I want it there.” These scripts are written in a “weird,” idiosyncratic way, and they are shredded the same day they are written. “Right to the trash.”
As her comment about the “spoken word” suggests, the subject is very aware of her audience and uses her scripts to meet the stylistic requirements of her communication to “our demographic … women working desk jobs, ages 25 to 40ish.” Unlike the notorious “shock jocks” of morning radio, she and her co-host must take care not to say anything that would be offensive to either the sponsors or the listeners. “There are lots of kids that listen with their parents on their way to school so we can’t talk about anything that wouldn’t be appropriate for some children who are listening. We got to watch pretty much everything we say.” The subject was also very conscious of style when writing her letters to the editor. In her diction she seeks not to repeat words and “to use words that readers understand, but at the same time” make her “seem educated.” The sample letter was written after a hit-and-run driver caused thousands of dollars to her parked car one night in February. When the culprit didn’t come forward and the police failed to discover who had done it, “I was furious. … My intent was for other people to relate with me, maybe find out other people who’ve had the same situation, possibly the person who did it to see it. … Just to get some kind of outcome. I was really mad and hurt about my car and it made me feel a little bit better to share that with people.” A sharing of experiences does seem to be a function of her persona on the radio as well, where she will invite communal responses from listeners. “Today I was like, ‘I’m going on a ski trip this weekend. If anybody has any advice for a beginning skier, send me an e-mail.’”