BBC Radio 4

    Book at Bedtime? I wish!


    The real book at bedtime for the Radio 4 announcer is our Book of the Week at half past midnight. By this time we are entering the last quarter hour of our late shift and the part that is arguably the busiest for us.

    If you're familiar with the end of our day's transmission we close every night with the same format... the midnight news, a story, Sailing By, the shipping forecast and a sign off.

    Sailing By is a bit like Marmite - you either love it or hate it. The theme tune was written by Ronald Binge and heralds the start of the shipping forecast. I think it is quite a melancholy tune, but there are plenty of listeners and colleagues who love it.

    Two of us work the late shift up until midnight. During that time we provide cover and most importantly support for each other, because now that we are self operating we put the programmes to air on our own. If for any reason something were to go wrong, one of us would be telling you - whilst the other announcer would be fielding phone calls or sourcing a different piece of audio to play - should a programme have to be abandoned for technical reasons. By midnight though, we call time on one announcer, and the other is left to manage the network alone until one o'clock.

    The late shift has a completely different feel from a day shift. After the hustle and bustle of the day the office gradually empties and you're left on your own, with your colleague tucked away in the studio until you take over. When I first started at Radio 4 it reminded me of being left to babysit your brother and sister when your parents went out for the night. The shift begins at half past 4 in the afternoon - with a meeting in the Presentation office. This is to ensure that you are across any changes to, or sensitivities surrounding the rest of the day's transmission. After that, one announcer goes into the FM continuity studio, the other prepares for their evening ahead and collates and times the shipping forecast due for broadcast on long wave just before six.

    The problem with this job is that you talk to yourself and often out loud. As Chris said in his blog - timing is crucial if you're going to deliver a polished performance and for me it's like crossing the finishing line if you get to the pips on time after a very long read.

    The shipping bulletin is made up of three parts - the general synopsis, the coastal reports and the inshore waters. It can take anything from 10 to 11 and a half minutes to read. Once the microphone is live there's a sense of no going back. The danger of doing such a long read is that it is easy to go adrift - losing or gaining a minute - or becoming caught up in the poetry of the piece that you almost "sing" its delivery. At this point my mind is in danger of wandering from its purpose and a conversation begins in my head that runs something like this: "Have I just read that bit twice?".

    "Gale force 9 - I'm glad I'm not out there."

    "I'll just nudge the volume on the National Anthem - give it a good rounding off before the pips" I glance up at the clock, my concentration harnessed and my hand poised on the fader to play the Queen as I bid you goodnight. "Are you asleep now?" It would be so tempting to ask you out loud and then I'm minded of the nurse, the taxi driver, hotel porter, fire-fighter, houseman, new parent, light sleeper... I'm in good company. The reality is that as I hand over the network, switch off the computers, gather up my papers and turn out the light... Someone, somewhere is also working for a living. "Good night!"

    • The illustration is from the 1928 BBC Handbook
    • Diana's profile from the Radio 4 web site

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