Katherine Boyle

10 – Just a Girl by Katherine Boyle

By | How To Do Radio, Katherine Boyle, News | One Comment

Iain and I went to talk to students at the St Albans Girls school this week, and because they’re…ahm…girls, we thought it might be an idea if I let them have the inside track on what it’s like being a woman working in media.

These young women listened to our guff

I was a bit uncomfortable about that, if I’m honest. Who am I to speak for the experience of a whole gender? Sure, I’ve had a bit of a bumpy ride over the years, but I’m not sure how much of that’s related to being the proud owner of a cracking set of ovaries. Maybe I’m just a div*.

That said, it turns out I have been the recipient of a fair bit of bullshit over the years, stuff my male colleagues won’t have encountered. I’m not just talking about hiding in the stationery cupboard to avoid a particularly ‘enthusiastic’ co-worker – although I have been there, done that and sadly, there was no t-shirt for my trouble.

No, the bovine excretia to which I’m mostly referring came in the form of well-meaning ‘pearls of wisdom’ such as these…


“What you need to understand is, statistically**, women don’t like listening to other women.”

“The trouble is, Kath, clever women can sound a bit…stuck up.”

“It’s women’s voices, you see, they can so easily become shrill when pressing a point.”

And my personal favourite…

“What you need to remember is that the average listener has trouble distinguishing one woman’s voice from another.”



Of course this is all utter balls. But this was the stuff I was getting from various sources during the late 90s and well into the 00s from people (not just men) who thought they were doing a newbie a favour. And if my experience is anything like that of other women trying to make it in radio, where surely your voice and the contents of your head are more important than your genitalia, no wonder there’s been a big push to get more women on-air – they’ve been benevolently talked into support roles for years!

Actual picture sent to me by a listener who thought I needed to know my place.

Sad to say, I swallowed the guidance offered so breezily and spent far too long struggling to be acceptable despite the terribly off-putting matter of my womanhood until I got some really great advice from two broadcasters I really rate, and get this…they were (and still are) both men!***

They convinced me that the hang-up I’d been labouring under wasn’t mine, or even the listener’s. Your audience responds to authenticity, regardless of whether it comes in a package with a packet or a hoo-ha.


Which is why I now know that rather than nodding, smiling and trying to overcome a barrier that wasn’t there, I should have responded to the helpful hints offered back then with the following ten little words…

Jane Garvey

Fi Glover

Jenni Murray

Victoria Derbyshire

Shelagh Fogarty




*Undeniable, I’m afraid

**I was never shown these statistics.

*** One was the fantastically free and creative Ronnie Barbour, the other was the bloke who owns this website…although I’ve totally forgotten his name. Ewan? Owen? Anyway THAT guy.


8 – What’s Your Poison? by Katherine Boyle

By | How To Do Radio, Katherine Boyle, News | 2 Comments

I think of our regulars the same way a pub landlord thinks of his.

It’s good to see them a couple of times a week, but if they’re popping up every day it becomes a worry.

For some people, a quick chat with a presenter they consider a friend or an adversary is enough. We love hearing from them just as much as they enjoy taking part in the show. They may call every other day, but they don’t expect to get a call back and certainly don’t feel personally slighted if they don’t get on-air every time. In our broadcasting boozer, these are the punters who are happy you remember their name and what they ordered last time, but don’t leave a tankard behind the bar.

Who's this then?

Who’s this then?

As well as putting off passing trade, a rather unattractive sense of entitlement develops in callers who are used too often. It starts out as familiarity but it can get annoying, rude and quite nasty if left unchecked. Therefore I would suggest a caller who does any of the following things should set off alarm bells:

  • They recognise the producer/ assistant’s voice, and assume you recognise theirs.


  • They tell you a long and involved story before saying they don’t want to go on-air – total waste of time, you’ll watch caller after caller give up while you’re listening to their monologue.


  • They ask what you’re talking about today – they’re not listening, they just want to get on-air.


  • They end the conversation by asking whether and when you’re going to call them back – they’ll then call you several times to ask why you haven’t done so and may suggest there’s some sort of conspiracy against them.


I am not for one second suggesting the production team responds to any of the above with rudeness, but you may need to be quite firm – especially in the case of scenario number 4. The good news is that most of this unpleasantness can be averted if you make things clear from the outset.

Oh for Heaven's sake! Just tell him you've got his number and MIGHT call him back.

Oh for Heaven’s sake! Just tell him you’ve got his number and MIGHT call him back.

Now, it’s totally up to you whether you take this advice, but it’s taken me several years and a stalker to hone this technique and I think it’s pretty failsafe…

  • Always check the caller’s name, even if you think you know who it is. You’ll avoid scenario number 1.


  • Your second question should be “What do you want to say to (presenter’s name) today?” It makes it clear that you’re not there for a private chat – you don’t want to be anyone’s favourite, trust me. Point 2, sorted.


  • Don’t get involved in situation 3. It takes too much time and they’ll add nothing to the show.


  • Never tell anyone you’re going to call them back unless you want them to put their phone down so you can call them straight away. So much can happen during a phone-in show – a change of tack or a complete change of subject – that you just can’t commit to it. Welching on the deal just isn’t fair to the poor person psyching themselves up, waiting for the phone to ring. It can also leave you trapped in a never ending and increasingly sweary spiral of the madness that is number 4 FOR THE REST OF YOUR NATURAL LIFE.*


No! Be firm.

No! Be firm.

So, back to the nice regulars in our metaphorical pub – they’ll still be standing patiently in your sonic snug with no tenner waving or finger drumming – treat them right and they’ll keep your talkshow tills ringing**until closing time.***

You get to know them, they get to know you, and you can play wonderful radio games together, like this one. Time gentlemen please**** for one of my favourite bits from this week. I give you Dave Luton, Dennis in Dunstable and Hey Matty Bum Bum.





*OK, maybe a little dramatic, but you catch my drift.


**I know, this is getting silly now, I’ll stop.


***I didn’t stop. I will now.


****I promise that’s the last one.

7 – Drop The Damn Donkey by Katherine Boyle

By | How To Do Radio, Katherine Boyle, News | No Comments

People can be very sniffy about local news.

Rightly so, sometimes.

About a year after I qualified as a journalist I got a gig on local telly. I was so excited I bought a new suit. My first job was to wear it while standing in the middle of a field, doing my best concerned face while a donkey called Sadie mooched about in the background. It had been rather windy in the Fens that week and a pylon had fallen over, leaving her stranded her in her paddock.

That was ‘the news’…seriously…not even a dead donkey, just one that looked vaguely brassed off – as did I.

Fast-forward 15 years and I’ve just about got over the excitement and am now producing a show with a strong seam of local news running through it, but which people say doesn’t ‘sound local.’ My initial reaction is to take that as a compliment, and that’s a shame, because what I think they’re getting at is that they expect local radio to sound parochial.

They shouldn’t.

Guess what? Not everything that’s local is news, and some news is too local for our show…now there’s a comment that could get me in trouble. What I mean is that we’re proud to be picky.

We only have three topics set up in advance. They’re always local, but we make sure they’re also universal.

We go for things that mean something to most people, regardless of whether they know the place or person involved. We apply the same principle as the national news outlets; choosing only the most important, interesting or funny material from our patch, so that someone who lives nowhere near the action will feel almost as connected to the subject matter as someone in the next street.

This means we also reserve the right to ditch the drab. So a man’s hat could blow off in Eaton Bray and you’d never hear about it on our show.

Unless it blew off with dynamite…

..then we’d consider it.

What I’m trying to say, and I’ve said this before, is that just because it’s happening in our patch doesn’t mean it gets into the show.

There are certain things we all care about, because it is happening or could easily happen to us or someone we know. Stories about health, education, crime and punishment generally push people’s buttons. Others need an extra ingredient to raise them from the realms of the parish newsletter.

Planning rows are one example. We could do a planning row every other day, but they’re seldom interesting to anyone other than people within a mile radius. We look out for the exceptions…like the stink kicked up when a wannabe Stringfellow opened a strip club slap bang in the middle of the otherwise quaint and traditional town of Ampthill. Probably the biggest scandal there since 1533.*

The listeners loved that one, because it’s the sort of tale that tickles the snob/ schoolboy** in all of us.

The same snot-nosed kid also loves to see the mighty fall – or at least make a wally of themselves – so a good grilling of anyone official will also float his boat. The listener may switch on half way through, they may not know what the hoo-ha’s about, but when they smell bullshine they all like to point and laugh at the perpetrator.

By the way officials, here’s a tip for taking the wind out of our sails:

Instead of trying to fudge your way out of a situation where you’ve clearly been caught out, just admit it and offer a solution. Honestly, the number of uncomfortable interviews that could have been avoided if the speaker had just said they’d ballsed up and they’d do X to make sure it didn’t happen again…

…actually I’ve just ballsed up by saying that, haven’t I? Ok guys, carry on fudging, it’s much more fun for us!

Anyway, back to Sadie the donkey, looking glum in her field. I guess the idea behind that is that the audience likes a furry, fun or ‘wacky’ story. I just think stuff like that’s a bit too knowing.

Would we do one? Possibly…but I can’t really think of recent example, so probably not…the closest we’ve got to a hilarious animal story was the time Fire and Rescue were called to save a dove from some netting at a supermarket, but that was less about the hapless bird and more about whether it was a waste of time and resources.

Admittedly, once that question had been put to the Area Commander we had some fun with it…

I guess what I’m trying to express is that local news doesn’t have to sound small. If you wouldn’t/ hear see it on the national news, maybe you should ask yourself whether it’s got a place where you are. How many people does it affect directly? How many more will it touch? And if you’re not bothered about it, be brave enough to admit it and give it a miss.



*The year Henry the Eighth sent his first wife Katherine of Aragon to be detained there while he shacked up with Ann Boleyn. You get the idea. It’s been a while.


**Yes I know I’m a woman, but I also have an inner schoolboy. His name’s Steve. I try to ignore him. He’s mostly an idiot.

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