Breath of Fresh Air

By Sarah Chamberlain

“Goo-goo-good mo-mor-morning. My name is C-Cary, and you are listening to Fr-Fr-Fr…”

I pressed “Pause” on the recorder, rested my head on the mixing desk, and let out an exhaled expletive. I couldn’t understand how it was possible for me to be this nervous. I had spoken fluent English for almost two decades, but when I sat behind this microphone, I turned into a stuttering idiot.

It's a bit scary behind the mic

It's a bit scary behind the mic

But how did I end up here, stammering foolishly in front of a mic? Well, one of my great passions was (and still is) music, and I wanted a way to share my enthusiasm with other people. And what better way to do that than through radio? So I went to the first meeting of Edinburgh’s student radio station, freshair.org.uk. I was a little shy at first, but I quickly realized that the Fresh Airites were as passionate about music as I was. Although their tastes varied significantly, from Craig’s penchant for heavy metal to the Vicar’s enjoyment of world music to Nate’s omnivorous love for a good melody (genre be damned), they all cared deeply about music and wanted to share it. This was incredibly inspiring to me (to say the least!), and despite having essentially no experience with broadcasting, I decided to apply for my own show. To apply, I needed to make a demo recording.

And so I was here, paralyzed with frustration, with my forehead still pressed into the desk. But staying in this position wasn’t going to get the demo recorded, so after a few more seconds I sat up and took a long, deep breath. I whispered, “It’s OK. You can do it. You only have to talk about music you love. How hard can that be?”

I pressed “Play” and tried again. I still stuttered, but not as badly. Luckily for me, I did well enough that the powers-that-be decided to give me my own show, at 12:30 on Tuesdays.

The studio was only a five-minute walk from my flat, so after sleeping late and doing homework, I wander ed up the hill with my CDs and a notebook with my playlist and notes for links (the spoken bits between songs). I set up shop behind the mixing desk and put on big black headphones that made me feel both nerdy and professional at the same time.  Checking the sound levels on my my voice, I declaimed “Testing, 1, 2, I ate cereal for breakfast this morning” and tried out my first link. The seconds ticked away, and the last notes of the previous show faded out. One long breath, and I pushed up the volume on my microphone. I was on air.

“Good morning, it’s 12:30 in the afternoon here in Edinburgh, and you are listening to Fresh Air. I’m Cary, and this is Sugar in Your Coffee, a highly-caffeinated blend of indie, rock, and punk with a bit of country and blues thrown in when I feel like it. It’s a beautiful day in the capital, and I have some lovely music for you today…”

Of course, I wasn’t that smooth at first. I had my fair share of embarrassing moments. There were times when I forgot my mic was on and ended up talking all over the beginning of a song, and other times where I forgot it was off and left listeners with nothing but dead air. But my biggest struggle was with swearing. As you might have guessed from the opening sentences, I swear a bit too much for my own good. But swearing on air was verboten, so I had to work to control my excitement and frustration.

At the end of the year, I had my stuttering more or less under control, and I could speak fluidly on air. It was a great learning experience, and public speaking no longer holds any terrors for me; I can speak for minutes at a time, even if I don’t have a physical audience! But my radio work gave me more than just better speaking skills; I am much more confident in social situations because of it, and also more outgoing than before I left. In a way, studying abroad gave me a new voice, one that I don’t think I could have found staying at home.

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Gulliver helps students Study Abroad. Our blog covers: current issues in Study Abroad; featured posts by Study Abroad students; and Gulliver updates, news, and behind-the-scenes peaks. Thanks for reading!

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