I have been working with Classic Hits for 11 months, and one of my responsibilities has been providing technical support during outside broadcasts.
All this week Classic Hits has been broadcasting its flagship drivetime show live from Barbados, as part of a sponsorship which saw one of our listeners winning a luxury holiday to the South Beach Hotel. This presented a number of technical and logistical challenges – but perhaps not the ones you’d expect. Here’s how it worked.
What we did
We were given access to a hotel bedroom which was being used by a number of radio stations that week. This meant every day our two-man team in Barbados had to quickly build their studio, which had a computer that allowed our presenter to see what was going on. What Damian Farrelly didn’t have was any control.
The engine room stayed in Dublin, where almost everything was running as normal. Here the show was put together, tracks were played and faded and our team provided the news and weather updates. The only difference was rather than putting our microphone live, we were going live to a satellite phone to the other side of the world!
This video explained how that worked:
What I learned: things will go wrong
I was expecting the phone line to provide us with technical difficulties. It was excellent – 99% of the time! Unfortunately at some of the most crucial points during the show, the line went down and we had nothing – but that’s the thrill of live radio. Always be ready for the unexpected.
We had huge problems with one segment of the show which needed to be recorded in advance. The challenge of finding enough time in the studio, recording it, editing it, sending it to Dublin, uploading it to the system, and having it programmed so that it fits naturally with the show was much harder than we had anticipated. It only worked out because we had a great team who weren’t even supposed to be on this project but mucked in to get it done.
It’s a job for the psychic
Communication is key to getting this job done. You need to share everything you’re thinking, no matter how obvious it may be, to make sure you’re all on the same page. I would keep asking Damian “are you ready for the news?” even though he had been ready every hour for the last five days.
No matter how careful you try to be, things will catch you by surprise. Sometimes Damian would start talking about something, and I would suddenly realise he’s going to need a sound effect. Ideally I should have got this ready before the song finished, but there’s so much going on it’s easy to miss it.
This is especially important when dealing with ramps and intros. If you have a ten second intro, you need to press play when the presenter is ten seconds away from finishing what they are saying. This requires an unbelievable amount of coordination as you don’t want to cut them off early but you also don’t want to force them to keep talking when they’ve got nothing more to say.
The connection was amazing
It’s quite unbelievable how good the satellite phone was. There was no delay at all.
At one point during the show our Damian in Barbados had to speak to a listener in Galway. Remarkably, the listener in Galway had a much bigger time delay than Damian!
Knowing the music helps
I know the Classic Hits playlist really well, but normally I’m either listening to it in the office or playing five songs in a row. For this show we needed Damian to talk after every song, and only at that point do you realise you don’t know half the songs at all!
We always warn out presenters 30 seconds before the microphones go live, which acts like a final check that everybody is ready. To do this you’ve got to try to guess when the song is 30 seconds away from fading to a point he can start talking. This is quite a challenge for even the biggest music guru because a lot of songs fade very quickly!
Professionals will get you through it
The best technical support is provided when the listener doesn’t know you’re there. Listeners aren’t interested in the admin, they don’t need to know who’s pressing which button.
With a job this intense that won’t quite work out, because things will go wrong. A good presenter will be able to talk his way out of it. Damian was brilliant.
My awkward moment came when I was meant to be play a sound effect when I heard the cue. I heard the cue, impulse took over, and I hit the adverts. We let the advert play and our bemused Damian promptly apologised to the nation for “being so trigger happy”!
I don’t wish I was in Barbados
I thought I wasn’t going to enjoy this week. Not because I wasn’t going to love the work, but because how do you motivate yourself when you’re phoning your colleagues in Barbados from a cold Dublin?
Turns out I honestly didn’t mind. I’m not saying I wouldn’t say no to the opportunity – and the time will come – but there was so much to focus on here I didn’t have time to worry about the geography. Although they did their best to make me jealous with their frequent ‘office window’ status updates!