I’ve been doing commentaries for KQED FM for two years now, and it’s been a huge kick: the transition from being ‘just a listener’ to being part of making radio has been fascinating, informative, and above all, a lot of fun. The engineers and other staffers are all fabulous, helping put newbies like me at ease, the editor often has helpful suggestions, and the attendant at the garage always smiles warmly for me when I pull up to the gate. But I do have one small peeve about the process, as you’ll see below.
It’s a game we play, the editor and I. For each Perspectives piece you hear on the radio, its author writes a brief introduction to set the scene. Then there’s the ‘back-announce,’ radio lingo for what the announcer says to put a tidy cap on what just aired. This is short, usually just one sentence, and its purpose is to place the writer in context for the audience. So far, so good.
The problem arises when a contributor, like me, wears several very different hats—and writes pieces wearing one or another with no bearing on the others. Since my essays describe very different aspects of my life, I feel each identity should get its props.
For each commentary, I write a back-announce that feels right for the topic at hand but may differ from the ones I’ve used before. Then I record the piece, turn in my manuscript and notes, and wait for it to air. It’s not till then that I know who has won: will my new back-announce make it, or will the old standby triumph yet again? Since the editor has the final word, it’s hardly a fair fight.
For a piece on medicine, for example, I’d certainly include that I’m a radiologist—basic cred for playing a doctor on the radio. But for essays on gardening, or photography, or food, that just isn’t pertinent. My job is what I do, not who I am, after all. So I might omit the doctor bit, describing myself instead as ‘an avid cook’, ‘an organic gardener,’ or even an ‘expert cat-herder.’ These, alas, most often die behind the scenes, and never make it on air.
I’ll keep trying, though. It’s part of the fun, and I can’t turn down a challenge. Wonder what he’ll go with for the next one—I can hardly wait to hear it and find out!