I discovered my love of radio broadcasting back in 1973. My parents had taken me to a couple of radio stations so I could get the tour. As they say, “the radio bug bit.” I knew at that point what I wanted to do, and what plans God had for my life, and I have been involved in radio in one form or another ever since.
I was fifteen years old at the time and eager to get into radio. I had no formal training, was too young to attend college, and got just enough training at my first job in radio to run the station on the weekend when the full-time staff was home enjoying their time off.
My first paid experience in radio broadcasting was more than 48 years ago. Since that time, I have worked at A.M. stations, F.M. stations, low power stations, commercial stations, noncommercial stations, and some very powerful stations, and have lived all over the country gaining valuable experience. I attended college and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in communications and a minor in business administration. I have had lots of experience as an announcer, have been a chief engineer, a director of engineering, an operations manager, a station manager, and a general manager. So, you can understand that I have done almost everything in radio, including conducting a lot of interviews.
I am not trying to impress you with my background, but I think it’s important for you to know that I think my experience qualifies me to speak to this topic.
It seems to me that most of the interviews I have heard could have been much better if the person conducting the interview had taken a different approach.
Throughout the years, I have heard a lot of radio and TV interviews. I have conducted many myself. I have learned that many of the interviewers, in my opinion, seemed to have no idea what they were doing. Even today, I am still unimpressed by interviewers from all areas of broadcasting. Whether we are talking about network TV interviewers or someone on the local radio station, most of the people I have heard are clueless when it comes to doing really great interviews.
Why do I think that? Because most of the interviewers I have heard talk too much. They haven’t learned or understood that an interview is all about the person being interviewed, not about the person conducting the interview. Most interview questions I have heard are wordy and unfocused.
Please don’t get the wrong impression; I am not saying my way is the best or only way, but I do believe it is better than most of what I have heard.
Here are some guidelines I think should be used to conduct interesting interviews.
- Keep your interview questions short. Give a brief summary introduction of your guest’s background, and then start with a question that comes from the journalist’s tool kit: Who, what, when, where, how, and why.
If you ask a yes or no question, you run the risk of getting a yes or no response. If your question is more than a few words, it is too long. Never ask a paragraph-long interview question, as you will have your listeners asking: “What was the question?” I have actually had someone make a comment similar to that about an interview he heard on my radio station by one of my staff members.
Begin with a question that informs the listener of the guest’s background. Perhaps a question like: “How did you get started in Christian radio?” This is a much better beginning question than, “Have you been in Christian radio a long time?” I can’t emphasize enough the importance of short interview questions. I find long interview questions annoying, and it tells me the interviewer just doesn’t know what to ask. Succinct is better.
- Keep quiet during the interview! The only time listeners should hear your voice is when you ask a question. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard an interviewer in the background making unnecessary sounds like “uh huh,” “yeah,” “yup,” “mmm,” or something else. These kinds of sounds only serve as a distraction for your audience and make it more difficult to edit the interview later.
- Remember that the interview is about your guest, not you. Don’t dominate the interview by talking about your life’s story when you should be giving the time to your guest.
- Build your follow-up questions on the response of your guest. Perhaps the guest says: “I got my start in Christian radio when my dad took me to a radio station where he worked.” Then you could say: “What was it about his job that got you interested in broadcasting?” Notice I didn’t ask: “So did you find it interesting?” As I mentioned before, you run the risk of getting a yes or no response. Most people will just ramble on after a yes or no question, but you want to steer the guest toward a directed answer, one in which he or she cannot respond yes or no. I actually heard this happen during an interview from one of my staff at another station where I was the manager. This woman asked a yes or no question, and she got a yes answer. That response made her flustered and she lost her train of thought.
- Pay attention to what your guest is saying. Your best questions will come from his or her answers. Have a list of questions ready from which to draw. These would be based on what you know about your guest. Again, form your questions from the journalist’s tool kit (see point number 1 above). They don’t necessarily have to be used but can help when you run out of questions. Take notes while your guest is talking; he or she may say something interesting that you wish to touch on.
- Don’t interrupt. There is nothing ruder than interrupting a guest during an interview. If you are recording the interview, you can always edit it down to the length you need. If you are conducting a live interview, however, it may be necessary to interrupt if you are running out of time; that should be one of the few times when interrupting your guest would be justified.
- Edit out “vocalizers.” I find it annoying when a guest says, “ah.” I take the time to edit vocalizers out of an interview. When a guest makes sounds like “ah,” “and uh,” or anything like that, I cut them out. You lose nothing by removing those sounds, and in my opinion, it makes your interview sound much better.
- If at all possible, record in a sound-treated studio, or at least a quiet room. With a lot of noise in the background, your listener has to work harder to hear the interview.
Conducting a great interview only takes a little extra effort, and I believe my suggestions in this article will help.
Steve Tuzeneu is the general manager and chief engineer of WIHS F.M. in Middletown, Connecticut. He is a radio broadcasting engineer licensed by the FCC, and a member of the Society of Broadcast Engineers with the CBT certification. He is a licensed amateur radio extra class operator and began his radio career in 1973. Steve can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org