with Charles Atthill

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On Becoming a Broadcaster, Part 1

Charles Atthill's picture

I never planned to become a broadcaster. I never planned much of anything. My career was planned retrospectively. Looking back, each move made sense, but I had no idea when I started where I would end up. Certainly not in Grass Valley, or even living in the USA. Performing? Oh yes. After all I had been a High School Teacher, a University Professor, a corporate trainer. I had sung in choruses, even played the piano and violin (though few heard my performances). I had volunteered at the Empire Mine, been a character in Living History (it was 1905), became the man who built the covered bridge at Bridgeport. And I wrote music reviews, under my own name. But writing is an anonymous trade, performed in isolation. No-one sees you at work.

Radio is different. Private perhaps: no one can see what you are wearing (the early newscasters and announcers at the BBC were required to wear tuxedos, stiff shirts, and black ties). But there’s no feedback, no nodders or head shakers, no gigglers or derisive snorters, nothing to tell you what the reaction is to what you say or what you play. Just a microphone. And an engineer to push the buttons, at least when you are a guest broadcaster. Until the phone rings. There actually is someone somewhere listening. A live being, who has something to say, maybe appreciative, maybe not. Now it’s real, it’s not talking into the void. Which is sobering. What did I say, thinking no one was listening? I chose the theme and the music. What if they didn’t like it, and what if they tell me so? But then what if they did like it, but didn’t tell me? Perhaps it’s like the weather in Melbourne Australia: if you don’t like it, wait 15 minutes because it’s going to change.

It was a classical music show, sitting in for someone else. And the phone rang. And it was fun. But I wasn’t asked back. At least not for several years. And then I was. I was a “guest broadcaster”. My family thought “DJ” sounded cooler. And I had to reflect on my reasons for doing it: self-indulgence - yes, it’s fun for me. Is that enough reason? Entertainment – I choose the theme and the music; do they entertain listeners? Education - it’s not a college class but not all classical music is self-explanatory. There is context and history that can add to a listener’s enjoyment, but how much is enough, how much too much? And it’s Community Radio, KVMR the Voice of the Community. What does that mean?

I didn’t take much persuading when it was suggested that I should do the Certification Training Program, become a real broadcaster, be my own engineer, run my own shows, become part of the KVMR family. Why not? It sounded like more fun. And then I started the training. Standby for Part Two, The Reality.