A couple of weeks ago, toward the tail end of digging-out-from-under-a-million-peaches season, I offered a little bag of peaches to my old high-school friend Kevin. Well, more accurately, I sneaked over to the radio station where he works and tried to leave the bag with someone at the front desk and tiptoe away. (Did I mention that we’re really peached out for the moment?) However, she insisted on calling Kevin, who apparently loves peaches because he invited the fruit and me back to the studio for a visit.While we chatted, I admired the computer monitor that showed each song, commercial and sound bite already cued up and waiting to play as soon as the previous item finished. There were even animated stopwatches showing when it was time for the DJ to speak “live” to the listeners. Kevin explained how important it is to tighten the recorded bits between songs to create a series of smooth transitions, right from one thing to the next.
He recalled his early years in radio, when stations used a pair of turntables to play the songs. DJs had to be pretty quick on the draw. They had to note when one song was ending; speak to the audience or play a taped commercial while removing the record; and start the next song playing on the other turntable. Then they had a few minutes to set up the first turntable again, and so forth.
If you weren’t right on top of things, there could be silence between a song or commercial and the next item. This silence, called “dead air,” is a huge no-no in radio. Even a one-second silence disrupts the listening experience. It grabs the audience’s attention, and not in a good way.
So, the goal is to fill up all the time with programming and no gaps of silence.
One way to do that would be to start each item before the previous one is finished. In fact, a DJ could avoid “dead air” altogether by overlapping songs and commercials, or talking over them. But this practice, an even bigger no-no, would ruin the radio experience, too. How is the listener going to sing along with their favorite pop tune if it’s competing with a carpet-cleaning jingle or a weather update?
Chaos would ensue.
I got to thinking about this challenge and applying it to my writing life, which tends to be a little (ahem!) unstructured.
Sometimes I focus on one task until it's finished, then look around blankly, wondering what to do next. Dead air. I lose momentum.
Then, with my unerring knack for overcorrection, I decide to "multi-task" in an effort to be efficient. Popular as multi-tasking is, it's really just a buzzword meaning "take on lots of tasks at once but don't do any of them well." Sure enough, I leave a trail of half-finished projects and clutter.
That, and car keys in the refrigerator or a draft of Chapter 4 on top of the dryer. Not that I ever do that… necessarily…
I think Kevin unwittingly demonstrated a method I can use to accomplish more: planning. What if I prioritized and “cued up” my tasks ahead of time? Like a to-do list. Each evening I could make sure I have the materials I need for the next day’s projects. Then when I’m in the moment and complete one task, the next will be ready for me. No dead air. No loss of momentum. And yet, not trying to do everything at once.
I hear you organized people saying, “Well, duhhh…” but I’ll forgive you. Meanwhile, I’ll try the “planning” thing this week and let you know how it turns out. As it happens, I’m under the gun anyway — I promised my critique group a draft of my next chapter for our meeting Tuesday, so they expect me to perform.
Now, to find the folder with my character notes and outline. Ummmmm…. maybe I left it under the coffeemaker……..
Thanks for reading,
PS: This week, after a longish absence, I’m linking up with Jen and the sweet ladies over at The Soli Deo Gloria gathering.