Week two at LBC and it was our final preparation – a chance to practise “pilot” programmes before going on air.
It’s hard to describe how simultaneously useful and useless this process is. It’s like comparing antenatal classes to actual birth. I’m not qualified to talk about either but hope you get the well-intentioned gist.
Pilots, like antenatal classes, allow you to get in the right position (facing the microphone on a chair), understand which drugs will be used (caffeine) and get to grips with the technology that will surround you (in LBC’s case a space-age studio that makes the Starship Enterprise look like a Blue Peter sticky-back plastic effort).
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At first, the technology is the most troubling thing. There are two computer screens at the presenter desk, just like at PM, but they function in an alien fashion. The right one is taken up with Phone Box, the system that alerts me to callers, tweets and emails and can be used to zap Klingons. The left screen (where I’m used to staring at the running order and writing makeshift scripts) is “read only”. There is no running order. It feels like my left hand has been removed.
I log out of the studio computer – de rigueur at the Beeb – only to be told this is a no-no. Keith, the patient engineer, spends ten minutes correcting my mistake, but 24 hours later I do it again. How he doesn’t punch me, I do not know.
At 2pm each day we start our pretend programmes. A few real people kindly oblige with contributions: Peter Lilley discusses some Brexit-related story. Theo Usherwood, LBC’s political editor, takes time from his busy day to pretend with us. Gentleman that he is, when I refer to him on air as Theo Underwood, he doesn’t mention it. I would have decked me.
I learn a lot of important things. The nearest loo always seems to be occupied. I suspect Smooth Radio presenters but have no proof. The contents of my usual fizzy-drink can will have to be decanted into a Global Radio mug: the brand would show up on the studio cameras.
Producers act as callers. Recorded news acts as real bulletins. It’s reality without the reality. A lot of pushing but no baby to show for it.
I’ll try not to torture the antenatal/birth analogy further – otherwise the UN might have to intervene. But next week it’s the birth. It will not be perfect. And it will be messy. There will be some feminine screaming. From me. And then the fun begins as we try, over time, to nurture this newborn into a child we can be proud of.
Eddie Mair is now on LBC, weekdays from 4pm to 6pm