Back in January 1998, I did my first ever ‘voice track’ show. I had recently arrived from Paisley’s Qfm and was the new Programme Director of Scot FM where one of my jobs was to take on the Late Night Love shift on Saturday and Sundays.
I had no particular wish to be in Leith seven days a week so decided to use the technology Scot had used on and off and enter the world of ‘tracking’.
For the uninitiated, a voice tracked show should sound just like a live show. But rather than record a three hour show in three hours, you can do it in just 30 minutes. The computer plays you the end of the song you’re coming out of, you do your link and then play in the next song exactly as you would. The computer takes care of playing the songs so you don’t need to hear – you just progress to the next link and so on.
I can report that despite me not sitting in the studio pressing buttons, the audience shot up and we actually started getting letters. Lots of them.
The process put me in mind of the way we made many programmes at BBC Radio Scotland in the mid 80s, with presenters sitting at a table and folk like me doing the techy stuff.
Both experiences taught me a lesson. Presentation and pressing buttons are two separate things. It’s possible to be the slickest operator in the world and be a terrible presenter. Similarly it’s possible to be great on the microphone and terrible with the fiddly bits. There are many who can do both really well.
But radio training at many levels has a habit of concentrating on the technology, not the skills required to bring a programme home and engage with the listener. The net result is that a lot of people are incredibly proficient operators but lack the skills to talk directly to their audience, one at a time.
Voice tracking has forced presenters to concentrate on what their chosen job title suggests – present. Since the pandemic I think we’re hearing much better programming on any number of small stations. One-to-one communication and fewer technical mistakes.
Getting back to basics, albeit using modern technology, has raised the medium’s game.