Interview with Annie Othen. 29th May 2007
My guest today, if you tune into BBC Coventry and Warwickshire between 10 and 1, this lady certainly makes your morning feel good. I am delighted to say that Annie Othen is with us. Annie, great to see you.
Well, that's certainly a very nice introduction. Thank you very much indeed.
How did you get started within the radio industry?
It's a question I get asked quite often and it's actually quite a long time ago. The very simple answer is I was asked. I was very, very fortunate to be asked to join a radio station, but prior to that I had done some work on hospital radio. Not a huge amount, but I'd done some. I'd gone round the wards and I'd asked for requests and gone back to the studio and pulled the records out and tried to make something of a programme. I was working in press and PR anyway, and I offered my services to a radio station for free, which is pretty unusual to do anything for free these days. But I thought, if you do it for free they might help out and they did. I went along to help on OBs, on outside broadcasts and it was the archetypal one day someone didn't turn up and I got the microphone thrust into my hand and I did a piece on air. Within a week I had a phone call from the station manager saying did I want a job.
Would you say it's a lot about persistence?
Yes, there's all sorts of things. There has to be persistence, there has to be determination, there has to be a degree of self-belief that you can do it, and I teach some students about radio and I say to them: If you want to do it, then go for it and do it. If you don't do it, somebody else will go and do it, and you'll sit back and think: Hang on a minute, I could have done that. So, yes, there has to be a lot of hard work. In those days, and that makes me sound like an old crusty, I suppose, there were very few women in radio as well. I can clearly remember going into the first radio station, and I was the only female presenter and one of the blokes turning around and saying: I suppose I'd better not swear now. My reply to him was something I can't broadcast now. There was that determination to do it not as well but even better, to work not hard but even harder, to prove the point.
I noticed from reading your profile on bbc.co.uk/coventry
Crikey, thanks for the plug!
it said that you worked on Radio 2. What did you do there?
I did either late nights or early mornings. So I either did midnight till three
Which now Janice Long does
Which now Janice Long does, or I did a slot for Alex Lester. So when Alex Lester used to go off to do stuff in the day time
For Sarah Kennedy or Ken Bruce
I would sit in for him as well, and I thoroughly enjoyed it and I did it for a year or two and I had a great time and I did it out of the Radio Two studios in Pebble Mill.
Which is better, out of national or local. Which do you prefer doing?
To me, radio is radio, you know. I love radio with a passion. When I was a child I used to take my Grandma's portable radio underneath the bedclothes. There weren't duvets in those days, and you twiddled the knobs, so to speak. There's a thought that springs to mind, twiddling the knobs under the bedclothes, but anyway, I used to do that, and I used to love this idea of going round the world and listening to all these different languages and stations coming through. I just love radio per se, broadcasting to one person on air and it's that personal communication. Whether I'm doing it on national radio or on local radio, the basic premise of radio is just the same. Obviously there's a very nice connection with it being local radio. I know my patch inside out and back to front. I know a lot of my listeners so there's a real personal connection.
You started out at BBC WM before you moved on to Coventry and Warwickshire.
I've been all over the place, Ed. There isn't a station I haven't worked on.
You did the Breakfast Show on Radio WM, and that was mainly speech-based. Do you like doing speech-based, or do you like doing speech and music?
I like doing speech; I'm a nosy animal. I find this difficult; it should be the other way round. It should be me asking the questions and probing around rather than answering them, but I like speech, but I love music as well. My first job was in commercial radio in the days but that was in the days when there was a very good balance between speech and music. I've done all- music stations, I've done all speech stations; I think the idea is that you get some good meaty material, you get some great guests, and I've been fortunate to interview some of the great and the good, and some of the not-so-good, over my time. You know, I've really met some fantastic people over the years.
Who has been the most memorable person that you have interviewed?
Oh crikey, there's a million-dollar question. As I said, I've been very lucky, meeting Paul McCartney, interviewing him extensively on one of his albums. He and I sat in his dressing room backstage at the
NEC and had a long chat and I always remember while I was doing the interview the team was there. We had a very good long chat and he was very generous with his time. I remember there was a guy obviously drumming in the background, practising, and you'll have to bleep this bit but suddenly a voice came from the back saying: 'Shut the **** up!' Paul just looked at me, and went: 'Ah, that'll be Linda'. Great memories. Please bleep that bit.
As I was saying to you, I've interviewed Paul Gambaccini, I've interviewed Liz Kershaw, I've interviewed Alex Lester, got other interviews in the pipeline with Aled Jones, and it takes a lot of persistence. Did you have to persist?
Yes, some of them. I mean, I've got a great production team here now, who work very hard in getting a lot of top guests together. In the past I didn't have that privilege, you had to do it yourself. I clearly remember, I'd do a programme, I'd finish at midday and I'd have a taxi waiting sprint to the station to get an interview, come back. You know, it might be an interview with Phil Collins, or Tom Jones, Gloria Estefan or whoever it happened to be, get the tape, get it back to Birmingham, sit down after a long day, edit it and get in on air in the morning. So, you know, you've got to be persistent and determined, I think, sometimes.
Do you prefer producing yourself, as you put it, or do you like having a producer?
I think nowadays, you have to remember in that instance I was quoting there weren't so many radio stations around. There was something like 64 radio stations; now you can stick a couple of noughts on the end, and, you know, include all the on-line stations. There's a lot of competition out there, so as I say, I think it's great to have a team. It's good having a production team and as I say, I have got a very good one: Suzie and Claire and Marion and Andrew and so on, who work very hard on the programme to produce some really top material. Then it's up to me on air to make the best of it and not mess it up for them.
I've interviewed you; you've interviewed me should I say, on several occasions. I have to say, whenever I've been interviewed by you, you've always know your stuff, you're always very professional. Do you think that's the key to your success?
Oh God. Er I don't know what my key is to any success I might have had. I'm a worker, I'm a grafter, you know. I've got an interview coming up later on this week actually. I'll just lean over here, it's a big book, Johnny Walker's autobiography. I'll be interviewing him in the week and I think it would be most rude and most discourteous if I said to him: So Johnny, tell me about your book, so I think it's up to me to go away and read as much of it as I can, research it, and that way you get a better interview out of it, you know. If you have somebody who comes in for interview and they've slaved all year producing an album or a book and then you just say: So tell me about your book, then, or tell me about your album. A) It's insulting to the listener B) It's a pretty boring interview and C) It's insulting to the poor so-and-so who's spent all year working on their book and album. So I feel a bit of research is really important.
What would you say to anyone listening to this or reading this, who wants a career in radio?
Don't! No, go for it if that's what you want to do, then go for it. If you've got the talent and you've got the personality and the determination, and you're prepared to work hard, then you'll make it. It really is having that focus. It will not fall in your lap. It will not just happen. You might get some breaks early on, but you have to follow it through with that work, if you like.
When you're not working, what do you do to relax?
I think I've probably gone through a bit of a mid-life crisis actually. Over the last eighteen months I've taken up tennis; I'm having professional tennis lessons and I've taken up skiing. I've had skiing lessons. I've taken up running and I'm running the Two Castles Run on June 10th, which if you'd said to me a year ago I'd been doing, I would have said: 'Don't be ridiculous, I'm not built to run' but I'm now running 10 kilometres. I run about 15 miles a week now, so I think I'm probably going through a bit of a crisis. So those are the sort of things I do. I've discovered skiing, I wish I'd learned to ski earlier in my life. I've got a family, I've got a little boy and you know he keeps me well occupied.
A taxi service
A taxi service, a laundry service, a restaurant service, schooling service, any service you could think of really, bless him. But he's great. So yeah, I'm just a really cup-half-full sort of person. I kind of like to go for something and have fun, really. You only get one stab at it, don't you, really?
Annie, thank you very, very much indeed.
Ed, it's been a real pleasure. But I do find it very weird having to answer the questions instead of asking them.
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