An earpiece of the action

My website brings all the boys to the yard… see what we mean here

Now for those of you who have been regular readers and posters on here, you’ll know what this blog is all about. If you’re new, let me explain.

I noticed someone last week asking on here why didn’t I write about the latest political goings-on. Well my take on that question is that there are a million websites, many of them excellent, where you can read up on that stuff and other people do it on the BBC F1 site; whereas this is the only place that, I hope, gives you unique access to what doing my job is like.

Which is why we’ve included an exclusive little sample below…

Mark Webber, German Grand Prix 2009

Ever since I was lucky enough to get this job people have told me how fortunate I am and how much they’d love to do the same, so I decided my blog and my Twitter site would be all about making you feel like you are doing this job. I was keen to be the most accessible F1 presenter possible, and my idea for this week’s post is hopefully another step towards that.

I thought you’d like to hear what is being fed down my ears when live on BBC One presenting the F1 coverage.

While a diver is reliant on his oxygen supply, I am completely dependent on my earpiece. It’s my umbilical cord to the entire production and without it I’m flying solo.

I often describe this job as quite a lonely experience and that tends to perplex people, so let me explain. I may have Eddie and DC to my right, a pitlane full of people and the crew around to save me from any onrushing Toyota’s, but it is still a lonely experience to me.

I am the only person there charged with welcoming the viewers when the red light comes on or I hear the words “cue Jake”, to deal with breaking news, ask EJ and DC the right things at the right time and keep the show moving, all without the use of an autocue. Part of this feeling comes from knowing that as you open your mouth there are five million people (that’s 55 packed Wembleys) listening to what you’re saying. It’s a quite personal, nervous feeling that I can’t really compare to anything else ever felt. I don’t like the nerves much and I’ve mentioned before on here that I’m often unable to eat before a programme.

The one thing that keeps me feeling secure and connected to the rest of the production team and therefore our output is the ‘talkback’.

I use what’s known as ‘open talkback’ where I hear everything. EJ and DC use ‘switch(ed) talkback’ where Mark the producer presses a button to talk to them. I learned ‘open’ at CBBC and it is an absolutely vital tool. As an example, we had a moment where a VT wasn’t ready during our Silverstone race build up. Thankfully I heard Sunil in VT tell the gallery it wasn’t ready, and although they instantly relayed it to me, that vital couple of seconds were really helpful. It can all help you feel right across what’s going on.

I hear the director Richard calling cameras, the production co-ordinator Katherine dealing with the timings, Mark the editor making the editorial calls and anyone else who chips in such as Lee or Ted from the pitlane.

On here is a totally unedited version of my talkback. This is exactly what I hear…

The one tricky thing about F1 is that because it’s so loud the earpieces are also ear defenders so I have David’s and Eddie’s voices fed directly down the earpiece too. So getting the balance of various volumes is crucial.

A gallery can be a busy place, especially when there are any technical problems. Ask any presenter and they’ll tell you the calmer the gallery the better.

Things often crop up, though. For example, we had a slight problem on Saturday when everything reset itself moments before we were live. That meant that two minutes before I was due to welcome you to qualifying build-up in the pits, we were rushing to an area we call the ‘bolt hole’ to use mics that we knew would be OK. Hopefully you wouldn’t have noticed a few seconds later when we went live; it’s our job to make sure those things don’t affect the quality of the output.

Anyway, on Sunday I asked the sound supervisor, Chris, if he could record the last part of the show’s talkback from the champagne spraying to the ‘goodbye’ on BBC One that we have to hit to the second. The exact talkback that I heard when we were live is what you can hear in the video above.

Thankfully it was all pretty straightforward and I’ll be really interested to know your thoughts.

Strangely, when I listened back to it I found it a really nerve-wracking listen. I find it hard to explain why, but guess when I’m in the middle of it with the adrenaline and the ‘live’ buzz I just accept what’s going on in my ear as part of the job. Only afterwards when I’m relaxed I can’t quite believe how involved it is.

Anyway, have a listen and let me know what you think.

Oh, and before I sign off I just wanted to say how pleased I am for Mark Webber. He’s been nothing but a thoroughly nice guy since I’ve been involved this past season and after 130 races he’s shown he’s got what it takes and that he is a winner. And doesn’t it add another exciting dimension to a title race that’s really shaping up nicely?!

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