ON BEING ON 'THE PANEL'
On Monday, for just the second time, I was on the Panel on Jim Mora’s afternoon radio show. And as before, I found it an oddly unsettling experience.I’m okay before the programme and I’m reasonably comfortable – at least, most of the time – while we’re on air. Then after it’s over, I get an attack of post-broadcast nerves.
Holy sheepshit, I think to myself, what did I say? I didn’t really say that, did I? Me and my big mouth! What will people think? I drive home a gibbering wreck, mentally flagellating myself all the way to Masterton, where I pour a stiff drink to regain my composure.My problem is that despite having been live on air many times over the years, it still feels like teetering on a high wire.
It’s not that I’m bothered by having to express an opinion; I’ve been doing that in newspaper columns for more than 40 years. The difference is that in writing a column, you exert complete control over the finished product. If you’re not happy with the way you’ve said something, you can go back and do it again, tweaking and rehashing until you’re happy that the words used are the appropriate ones and that you’ve qualified your statements where necessary so as not to leave yourself wide open to attack (or at least have taken a vaguely defensible position).But live on air, the words tumble out and you can’t suck them back, no matter how fervently you sometimes might wish to. I remember being told decades ago by a broadcaster that what radio hates more than anything is silence – “dead air”, as they call it in the trade. So no matter how much I might want to, I can’t say in response to a question from Jim: “Er, can I have some time to think about that?” No, you’ve got to formulate a reply and just hope you don’t make a complete dick of yourself. Being able to think on your feet is a great help, but it’s not one of my attributes. I’m a master of what the Frenchman Denis Diderot called l’esprit de l’escalier – the ability to think of a clever riposte about two minutes too late.
I’m also aware that the Panel has a discerning and critical audience that’s likely to pounce on any weakness in one’s arguments. For that reason I make a point of not listening to Jim’s programme the next day, when any critical emails are likely to be read out.And it’s not exactly as if I’ve been tested under hostile fire, since by sheer good luck my fellow panellists on both occasions, Stephen Franks and Joanne Black, have been people I know well and whose opinions are generally not too far removed from mine (although Joanne rightly pulled me up on Monday when I made a statement about solo mothers that was far too sweeping, forgetting for the moment that she had been one herself).
All in all, the experience of being on the Panel sharpens my admiration for those who, like Jim, earn their living in this most risky business, when mortifying embarrassment or worse (dismissal, a defamation action, a complaint to the BSA) is never more than an injudicious slip of the tongue away.