What is it like to call NPR?
February 24, 2013 8:35 PM   Subscribe

What happens when you call a radio show like NPR's "Talk of the Nation?" What does the screener ask you? Do you give a summary of your statement? What if they don't like it - do they reject you? What do they say? Do you have to wait a long time? Is it hard to get through? How do they pick who gets on the show?
posted by roaring beast to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
For Talk Of the Nation specifically....you call in, talk to a screener (there are no set questions; it depends on whatever topic is being discussed) and if they choose to put you on the air you'll be asked to hold on the line. If not, they'll say that they can't use whatever you said but thanks for calling.

No idea about wait times or difficulty getting through.
posted by Diskeater at 8:52 PM on February 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Not sure about NPR, specifically, but when I worked as a screener the protocol was to ask you your opinion on the topic at hand, chat with you a bit, then either say, "Ok, I'm going to put you on hold to talk with X" or gently say, "Someone's already phoned in with a very similar opinion, so I'm going to let you go this time." Usually used the "someone else has that opinion" line with the crazies, as well. And ohoho, are there crazies in talk radio.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 8:53 PM on February 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

Also, wait time depends on what you have to say. Your point will be logged into a computer program...the host can see a summary of what you want to say and choose you or not choose you depending on where they want the convo to go. Sometimes, even if you get into the queue, you won't make it onto the show. Then the producer will come back on and apologize and let you go.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 8:54 PM on February 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

If it's ok for me to add: why do people say "I'll take my answer off the air"? Are they nervous about having to follow up?
posted by mockpuppet at 10:16 PM on February 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think that last thing is done so there's no confusion on the part of the host about whether or not the caller is still on the line and capable of response. I think it also just reassures the listeners that they're not going to be one of those callers that hangs on the line as long as possible, answering any question the host asks as if they themselves were the invited guest.

Man call in shows are rough on a person with low cringe-tolerance.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 3:10 AM on February 25, 2013 [9 favorites]

I got on Talk of the Nation a few months ago. They were doing a show on state ballot measures around the country that were coming up in the 2012 elections, and I had just happened to finish researching what was on the ballot here (Alabama) and wanted to share.

When I called, a screener picked up immediately, which caught me off guard. He asked what I wanted to say, so I briefly outlined two or three of the stranger propositions on our ballot and how they're reflective of our very weird state constitution.

He sounded interested and asked a few clarifying questions, then said they were about to have an NPR correspondent on from Birmingham who was going to talk about one of these same ballot measures, a bill to remove outmoded segregationist language from the constitution.

They put me on hold and piped in audio of the show through my phone. Neal Conan started the segment, took a call from someone out in California, then introduced the guest. After a minute he introduced me and my mic turned on. I basically repeated what I'd told the screener -- attention is being focused on the segregation thing, but the lower-profile measures show how dysfunctional our constitution is, where every little local issue has to go to a statewide vote, resulting in a unwieldy document with hundreds of amendments, most of them outdated.

Conan broke to ask the reporter for his thoughts; he agreed and elaborated on the problem. When he paused I added one more observation (the irony of a "yay local control" state having such inefficiently centralized government). Neal posed another question, and the reporter wrapped it up from there.

So I guess you just have to be lucky that what you have to say has an interesting connection to what the host or guest wants to talk about (in my case, mentioning some of the same ballot measures the local reporter was on to explain).

Looking at the transcript, if I could do anything differently I'd try cutting down on the constant filler words ("you know") which I clearly lean on too much when nervous. And definitely try to plan what you're going to say -- talking to the screener helped, but I was still a little scattered in my answer. And the "take my answer off air" trick is good to remember; I'm lucky my one addition wasn't too awkward, and I still feel like a heel for not properly thanking Neal at the end (I wasn't expecting them to mention me again). But it was still a good experience, and kind of fun.
posted by Rhaomi at 4:15 AM on February 25, 2013 [10 favorites]

Coming from the radio production side (WBCN in Boston), it was standard practice to turn off a caller's mike after they commented because we didn't want them to keep talking.

It used to drive us crazy when callers would say on air, "I'll take my answer off the air," because they already were off the air.
posted by kinetic at 4:49 AM on February 25, 2013

For a local NPR station, I once called in, I spoke to a screener. The screener asked me what it is I wanted to say about the issue that was being discussed, then she told me to make sure the radio near me was turned down and that she'd put me on in the next 45 seconds - 120 seconds.

I was a dunce let a few seconds of dead air while I sorted out my statements.

I will say I was cut off a bit more quickly than I would have liked, but it was a really packed show. And I did manage to make a bit of a local stir.

So, anyway, that was my experience.
posted by zizzle at 7:28 AM on February 25, 2013

When CarTalk was still airing new shows (currently it's still on as edited collections from old episodes) you could leave the show a message and if they liked your question they would call you back when the show was actually being recorded.
posted by Wretch729 at 7:46 AM on February 25, 2013

Very interesting, it never occurred to me that the host would be able to pick from all the different callers and that people would just be waiting that whole time.

I always wondered about Car Talk too because it sounds like people who are called back just listen to the whole show before the get to talk. I guess they are actually just waiting.

I guess I am underestimating the amount of time that people are willing to wait before being able to share their comment, with the risk of possibly not getting on.
posted by roaring beast at 1:16 PM on February 25, 2013

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