Wednesday, June 20, 2012

My BBC World Service experience

Real life is full of bizarre incidents.

They don't happen unless you make them happen. It's like what Doctor Who might tell you: you don't just cross paths with the bizarre unless you take a chance or two.

For a moment, consider the BBC World Service, probably the best that international journalism has to offer. Of all the paths I thought I might cross, I never thought I'd cross paths with them in my professional career. They are the cream of the crop, the best of the best.

So what happened when I did? The short answer: something bizarre.

All this week had been pretty much the same thing over and over. I'd been waking up in the morning, driving to my parents' place out in the country to feed their animals, taking a nap in my old bedroom, and spending the afternoon watching Netflix, before feeding the animals again and driving back to town.

So today at about 9 AM, I came across a story from the BBC's World: Have Your Say on Facebook. I'd heard the story the night before: there was a fellow from Shiner who was not charged with the murder of his kid daughter's abuser, who he beat up after catching the bastard in the act. Very grisly, and the majority of the link's comments sided with the father (as do I).

Anyway, one girl posted that she wanted to chime in, and a WHYS reporter named Chloe left a message and email address, asking the girl (or anyone else) for a phone number.

I thought about it for a second, and decided to take a chance. I tapped out a quick message on my iPad, included my phone number and the fact that I could offer a Texan perspective, and sent it on its way.

Not thirty seconds later my phone went off. The caller ID said "Unknown."

Astonishingly, there WAS a distinctively English voice on the other end--it was Chloe in London! She asked me a few basic questions about the case. When I told her where I live, she asked how far San Angelo was from Shiner. I think I said three hours, but I was thinking four (and Google Maps said five).

She also told me that the show (at noon, local time) would prefer me to use Skype. I gave her my alias, and that was it.

Except the internet connection out at my parents' house is spotty at best, and a test call on my iPad's Skype confirmed my theory.

So I decided to forgo my nap, and raced back to San Angelo and my house, where I booted up Windows and ran Skype. Sho' 'nuff, it ran perfectly.

Like a good journalist, and to prepare for WHYS, I reread the story, which is truly a horrible one, and read up on Texas self-defense laws.

And I geared up my radio voice, because dammit, I was going to be a correspondent for the first time since my degree! Since it was for WHYS, I wanted to show off my new BA cred.

Anyhow, the show started at noon. Two aliases with "WS" in the name added me on Skype. The World Service!

To keep up with things, I kept my iPad nearby with the BBC World Service streaming. The first half hour was some bit about Julian Assange seeking asylum in Ecuador.

About three minutes before the segment ended, Skype rang. I connected, put on my headphones, grabbed my microphone, and sat at attention.

"Is this Bryce?" asked a man on the other end.

"Yes sir," I said.

"This is the BBC World Service," the mysterious voice said. (I grinned.) "In a moment you will hear the radio. I need to verify that you can hear it."

I heard the end of the segment in my headphones. "Yes, I hear it," I said.

The voice cut back in. "Wonderful, in a moment we will connect you with the editor. He'll ask you a couple of questions very shortly."

"That's fine, and thank you very much," I said.

The show faded back in, and I heard the distinctive sounds of the BBC World Service promos.

And I got nervous. My heart started pounding into a fever pitch.

You see, at that moment I remembered that I absolutely HATE talking on the phone. I just don't think I have a good phone voice. Combine that with the fact that the voice of an eager twenty-five year old writer with a brand spanking new Mass Media BA--my shrill voice--was going to be broadcast on the damned BBC World Service around the Internet, the shortwave bands, a few public radio stations, everywhere!

Oh. My. God.

I had to force myself to focus when I heard Ros Atkins' voice begin the segment. He started off interviewing a couple of other fellows from Texas who could give a background, and a chap from Europe who had an opinion. One of the Americans talked about how a Guns & Ammo forum online had over seven hundred "likes" for the story, and there was a lot of support for the father.

"Well, let's talk about that with Bryce," Ros said. At that moment I felt my blood pressure rise.

"And Bryce, you live in San Angelo, which is just down the road from Shiner where this terrible incident took place."

(In my nervous stupor, I still sort of took note of that comment. Shiner, like I said, is five hours away from San Angelo. But it's all relative; everything is larger in Texas, and five hours is practically "down the road.")

"Quite a few people online are saying this is a moment for Texas to feel proud," Ros continued. "Do you agree with that?"

I panicked and stumbled. ""

And then I heard myself going into this ramble about John Wayne frontier justice or something, said something about a proud moment for humanity, not just a Texas thing. I think I defended the father's actions, I really don't remember.

Ros Atkins pressed on, and asked me something about the father's actions seeing light of day in the court. I think I responded with "yes and no" or something like that, showed my support for the Texas Rangers' investigation.

It was honestly like I was dreaming the whole thing.

One thing I do remember, though, was that there was a one or two second pause after I stopped talking, before Ros started again. Long enough for me to realize what a tool I must have sounded like.

Ros continued with a few questions for a female blogger from Texas who actually HAD been on the show before, and she handled it with much more grace and eloquence. And the segment ended after a few minutes.

When WHYS cut to a pre-recorded piece about a 2012 Olympics torch bearer, the mysterious voice came back on Skype and thanked me. I responded with a thank you and hung up.

A few hours later, the podcast was put on iTunes. I downloaded it, and I couldn't bear to listen to the whole thing. It sounded like I'd dubbed in my own voice with Audacity. It was horrid.

So that is my international broadcasting debut. Half tired, rambling, shrill, via Skype, on the BBC World Service.

But WHOA, it was something!

1 comment:

  1. That's hilarious. Good for you for taking a risk, and I'm sure it wasn't as bad as you think!