Tips: planning a radio OB

Peter Griffiths, live events editor at BBC Audio & Music, gives us advice on planning outside broadcasts.

Plan every detail
Working on a live event is a challenging experience because you are outside your normal place of work and often outside your comfort zone too. Unlike in the studio, where all your equipment is ready to go at the flick of a switch, on an OB everything that enables you to broadcast has to be brought to site, tested and checked before you can go live.

A key skill of the OB organiser is the ability to anticipate all the needs you may have on location and all the things that could go wrong. It’s crucial to have proper contracts and agreements in place with all your suppliers and a clear chain of responsibility.

Be honest
Inevitably, when working with lots of different groups and organisations, you won’t be able to keep everyone happy all the time. All parties will have to make compromises. Peter advises being honest from the start about what is likely to happen and counsels against promising too much.

"You can think about budgets or publicity but in the end, is it safe?" – Peter Griffiths

Health and safety
Regardless of the many other aspects of planning an OB, safety is your most important concern. For most OBs, it isn’t just the broadcaster’s health and safety rules that you’ll need to satisfy. For the Edinburgh Festival and Proms in the Park, Peter has to deal with the police, local councils and emergency services. They all have to be satisfied that appropriate safety planning is in place before they’ll allow the OB to go ahead.

Health and safety planning is about predicting risk. One of the main concerns Peter deals with on his OBs is to do with how the audience is handled. Pinch points could occur due to overcrowding or people behaving badly. There need to be systems in place to deal with this.

It’s the character of events that not everything goes entirely to plan. You should always have contingency plans. Not just a plan B but also a plan C and D. It’s also worth checking that your crew is made up of people with the appropriate experience and temperament to improvise intelligently when things do go wrong.

Write yourself out of the plan
The planner should write themselves out of the plan. Tempting though it is as organiser to hold every last detail in your head, the event will have to go ahead whether you are there or not. Illness, injury and all kinds of unforeseen circumstances could mean that you can’t be there. And in that case it’s vital that someone else can pick up your role. Make sure that all your plans and documents are accessible and comprehensible to others.