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Community radio can do riveting interviews.

I had an opportunity not so long ago to sit in on a conference in which public radio luminaries Ira Glass and Terri Gross talked about the art of interviewing. Their recommendations give community radio producers insight on doing great interviews.

Conducting a good interview means a community radio programmer must be a good listener. The beauty of two people interacting is part of an interview.

Ira Glass suggests conducting plot-driven interviews. The form of the interview is that the producer has a broad sense of the story she or he is interested in telling. However, the thoughts have to be surprising, and to make it surprising takes time. The structure is simple: what is this about? Where are we going? What do we want to get out of it?

Terri Gross told those in attendance to look at interviews as collaborating with your source to tell the best story possible. In political interview, though, programmers cannot be collaborators. Instead the goal is to get politicians off their talking points.

At the same time, with all interviewees, be compassionate. Remember radio stories and interviews are generally just radio stories, not someone’s life, and stories will come and go.

Getting people to open up is an art. If interviewees are being evasive or coming off as boring, go back and summarize what people are saying to you. Sometimes there is an idea that is floating out there that someone needs to grab on to and say. If the answer is dull or confusing, do not be shy about saying “wait, wait” and getting your interviewee to explain it again.

On the other hand, community radio programmers can create a moment where an interview gets amazing through empathy and care. Sometimes talking about misconceptions, and simply chatting as people with an interviewee creates a breakthrough. Community radio programmers should aim for people to be emotional, honest and three dimensional.

Terri Gross cited her interview Sam Phillips as one such moment. They connected around the love of marching bands. It wasn’t hard to do some research and utilize that knowledge to connect, she said.

The secret to great radio interviews is about being curious and honest. Often what community radio programmers do is about recollection, helping people describe an incident and share memories. Authenticity is key. So is conflict. But, above all, great radio interviews are about satisfying listeners.

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