How to survive a media interview – down the line, radio

Hopefully you have – or will – read the earlier articles in this series, i.e. why to do media interviews in the first place, how to familiarize yourself with the genre, and how to handle yourself in a live studio interview.

How to survive a media interview - down the line, etc

If you’re interviewed “down the line” you do not have to get dressed up, avoid wearing jangly bracelets or watches, or worry about looking over at the presenter who is asking you questions.

Happily for many of us asked to be interviewed for radio programs (and even for the occasional TV program as well) a lot of stations are now encouraging the use of interviews “down the line,” as they used to be called in the grand old days of BBC local steam radio – in which I and many friends once worked. This is nothing fancier than simply being an interview conducted over the telephone.

An easy-peasy version of the media interview?

Well, er, yes, in practical terms, but not necessarily in terms of the interview content. However let’s look at the practical elements first.

To start with, the obvious. You do not have to schlep to a radio station miles away, often starting your car up in the dark early hours or evening dusk and driving to an address even your SatNav device has never heard of, to be asked to wait in a chilly reception area with no more than a lukewarm cup of coffee to comfort you until you are ushered into the scruffy, stuffy studio to chat with the presenter. You can sit comfortably in your own office or home and take the call as casually as you would a call from your mother on a Sunday afternoon. Well, almost.

You do not have to get dressed up, avoid wearing jangly bracelets or watches, or worry about looking over at the presenter who is asking you questions.

Is it really that easy?

No. With interviews down the line you really are on your own: no producers to talk you through the essentials of the show unless you’re very lucky, and no detailed introduction to the show and the questions you’re likely to be asked, although you should get some information emailed to you to give you a background. Particularly with major broadcast stations’ programs, there may well be a hidden agenda that of course they won’t tell you about.

And no hints about what other interviewees might talk about … and what agendas they may have, either. No hints (unless you know where to look for them) about the back story of the interview in question…what the producer and presenter might really  have in mind…

Beware the adversary fiends

Want an example of a “down the line” challenge? Here’s one of mine.

Back in 2011 ago I wrote an article about what I thought was an appalling example of cruelty to horses during England’s popular horse race, the Grand National, in 2011, in which there was a lot of equine carnage. This article got picked up by a national (BBC) radio show in the UK and I was asked to have a discussion live on air just before the 2012 race with a man who was famous in the UK as a very traditional, very loud-mouthed and very misogynistic horse racing expert.

I could have done the discussion from my own home phone but as I was due to record something else at my local BBC radio station, I was able to do this national discussion down the line from there.

The researchers from the BBC contacted me a number of times to warn me that this man was very intimidating and fierce, so I should be prepared to have him tear down my criticisms of the safety rules as apply to this famous horse race. “Please don’t let him upset you too much,” said one nice young girl who called me a couple of times. “We know he can be very nasty, but we’re sure you can cope, just about. Good luck!”

Of course, me being the suspicious and cynical old goat that I am, I figured out exactly what this radio show was hoping for … very eloquent and knowledgeable horse racing expert dumbing down the emotional, fact-ignorant ravings of a well-meaning but rather hysterical female horse lover. Great radio! Lovely crushing of some dim-witted idiot female!

What the BBC didn’t realize was…

…that I have had, ridden and competed horses for many years and not only know one end of a horse from the other, but also know about how to make jumps safer, and the technical challenges involved, within the horse racing world.

Result? When the lovely Jeremy V, the show’s presenter, introduced the racing expert and me, the conversation was technical, cordial, and amicable. I had done my homework and presented some plausible ideas for improvements to the safety of the jumps on the Grand National course at Aintree which the horse racing expert agreed were potentially useful. He and I had an excellent discussion. On live national radio.

And as this discussion progressed I could visualize the researchers, production team and the fragrant Jeremy V clutching the brows in frustration that this erstwhile misogynistic dragon had not hung, drawn and quartered me and reduce me to tears on air.

What’s the take-out point?

I don’t suppose I will ever be asked to be interviewed on that BBC program again, because I won’t lie down and be a victim. And that’s a lesson for you to learn too.

Especially if you are asked out of the blue to be interviewed down the line – or otherwise – on a topic you’re not too sure about, be warned. Radio and TV journalists get paid not for being nice; they get paid for sharing hard news and stories that make good viewing/listening.

Although most media journalists are decent human beings, never forget what their jobs are – and don’t fall for their bullsh*t when they are hard-up for a story.

What experience do you have of journalistic interviews “down the line?” Please share!

Check out all the articles in this series about how to handle media interviews…

How to survive a media interview – watch out for over-confidence

How to survive a media interview – down the line, radio

How to survive a media interview – how to handle yourself

How to survive a media interview – familiarize yourself

How to survive a media interview – why do it in the first place?

How to survive a media interview – down the line, TV






  1. […] isn’t possible (in which case probably it will only be your voice which is recorded, as in radio “down the line”) you’re likely to go to a relatively local TV studio. There, you’ll be interviewed on […]