by Celia Livesey
‘Write a Pitch on any Subject for a Radio Programme – 200 words’
Our Special Guest and Competition Adjudicator for the evening was Sasha Twining. Sasha’s career started in local radio, and currently she regularly presents a Saturday Breakfast show on BBC Radio Solent. She has also worked on television as a news anchor and correspondent on international and national news channels for the last six years as well as being an announcer on the BBC for a number of years before moving on to ITV. Sasha has also presented a number of high profile daytime shows, including Sunrise with Eamonn Holmes and Sky News Today with Dermot Murnaghan.
Unfortunately the BBC changed her work schedule at short notice and so she was unable to be with us last night. Copies of the competition entries were, however, forwarded to her last Wednesday, so she was able to judge these and send in her adjudication.
Thank you very much for all your entries, they were all really interesting, and I especially liked that everyone had written about something that meant something special to them. Radio is a very, very personal medium. It relies on emotion and connection, and any radio show HAS to have both to stand any chance of gaining an audience in today’s market. I judged the entries on the following criteria.
- Could I imagine listening to this programme.
- Could I place the programme in a particular time of day/type of radio station/audience.
- Was there enough information in the proposal to interest a prospective programme maker.
- Did the entry include any information about HOW the programme would be made (length, time of day, cost implications, legal considerations, audience profile etc.)
While most people touched on the first three criteria, I’m afraid hardly any mentioned the logistics of a programme. Most programme producers want to be given a rough idea of HOW a strand will be made in a programme pitch.
Having said that, I enjoyed reading the pitches – and there are a couple that I could easily imagine being slightly re-worked to become useable on radio.
1st Prize: Alternative Realities – Olivia Stephenson
I like this idea, and could imagine it working in the 6.30pm comedy slot on Radio 4. In essence it is a slightly changed version of Room 101 (the television show) but nicely re-worked for radio. I thought Olivia had picked a great example of a starting topic, which would easily spark the interest of a producer. However, like many of the entries it lacked the logistical information. Time, audience profile, length of show, suggested panellists etc. Having said that, I feel this entry overall had the best idea for a prospective show.
The main premise for the radio programme is the idea of removing something seemingly insignificant from our world, thus creating an alternative reality where the object, creature, mineral, etc. does not exist. Each half hour programme would be hosted by the same presenter, joined by a panel of three guests, each with a varying degree of knowledge concerning the removed item. For example, the host could introduce the alternative reality of life without cherry pie. This would lead to a discussion of how the world would differ if cherry pie did not exist, with varying opinions from the seemingly futile consideration of what it could mean for the popular nineties TV series, Twin Peaks, to how radically different our reality could be, and even to a voice which argues that we could do without it. The programme would then conclude with the host asking each guest whether they would choose to live in the alternative reality or to remain as we are. The purpose of the programme, besides the light-hearted notion we all often play, that of “what if such and such didn’t exist?”, would be to challenge the way we experience the world whilst gaining a deeper understanding of the hypothetically removed object through the program’s guests.
2nd Prize: Endless Story – Gill Hollands
I picked this idea as I could imagine it being used as part of a BBC local radio late show. I particularly liked that Gill had included the website in her pitch. Radio these days has to be multi-platform, and involve other types of communication, particularly the web. I liked the idea of a strand that would run over a week – and could imagine this building a real following. I personally would open it out to anyone sitting at home (not just writers’ groups) as the BBC Local Radio late night audience would love to listen and get involved.
This is a programme for writers and listeners, a two-way entertainment. Each week we join a different writing group who start the story. For example:
‘In the chill silence, all she could hear was dripping. The smell of mould had invaded her sinus. Her numb hands dangled from the rusted shackles. She licked long-dried tears off her cracked lips, taking a deep breath. Agony seared her shoulders as she yanked the anchors from the rotting wood. Her arms wrenched forward, dragging her down. The damp flags were hard to her stiff knees. Her dry sobs echoed off the dim walls…’
The public then ring in with the next sentence and the writing group would then follow in turn with the next, which gradually builds into a whole new story. Prompts can be sound effects which are used in the background.
The aim would be to recap at the beginning of each day, offering pointers along the way, with a view to finishing it on the Friday. The finished story could then be published to the radio website for everyone to enjoy. The aim would be to give exposure to creative writing and local writers’ groups.
3rd Prize: Talking to Myself – Sarah Sims
I have given this entry third place because I think there’s a real gem of an idea in there. I feel with a bit of work, this could be a nice idea for a ten minute ‘pause for thought’ type piece. I imagine it more along the lines of writing letters, and each participant starts the segment with a brief explanation of who they have written to (that they no longer speak to) and then reads a letter that they have written to the person. I could imagine this as a short feature series in Woman’s Hour in Radio 4. What we call a ‘stand alone’ feature. Well done – I liked it, and I think with a good producer, and some excellent choices of participant, this could make an excellent piece of radio.
This documentary is about talking to someone who isn’t there. All of us have people in our lives to whom we can no longer talk, in the real, face-to-face sense. Someone we love dies, or moves away, and the thread of conversation that interwove our daily existence is snapped.
That is painful enough. What’s equally – some would argue, even more painful – are those people we cannot talk to because they will not talk to us. Perhaps there’s been a sudden rift, following a blazing row. Or perhaps the rift was more gradual, a slow attrition, the relationship worn away by accreted misunderstandings. Either way, these people may be physically gone, but very often, we still talk to them. We might fantasize about winning that last argument. Or, in our more gentle moments, we may appeal to them for clues about what went wrong. We may even discuss everyday things with them, so that, without their volition, they remain enmeshed in the fabric of our lives. Six people let us into these one-sided conversations, revealing enduring sadness, anger, and hope.
Highly Commended: Pardon Them for Living – Andrea Stone
I’m giving this a Highly Commended because the subject choice is superb. BBC radio stations are increasingly aware of the need to produce programmes to challenge preconceptions about the elderly, and indeed about their care. However, I didn’t award this entry a place in the competition because I felt it was not sufficiently well-formed to be a proposal. It lacked all logistical information, and didn’t explain what sort of programme the idea would form. Having said that, Andrea used some wonderful phrases, and it was very evocative.
Highly Commended: Sound Bite – Celia Livesey (pseudonym Susan Shaw)
I awarded this a Highly Commended because this entry came the closest to looking like a proper proposal. It explained the format of the panel quiz, and gave a few examples. I could imagine this idea forming part of a Radio 4 comedy quiz show. It narrowly missed out on being placed – so many congratulations.
On behalf of the HWS I’d like to give our thanks to Sasha for such a wonderful job of adjudication, which was very much appreciated by the winners. Many of our contestants said they found writing a pitch for a radio programme quite challenging, but 16 entries were still received, so it was a tremendous response.
Finally, Sasha has agreed to come back as a main speaker and bring her recording team for a workshop – definitely an evening not to be missed.