I was lost for words the other day. Hard to believe, I know.
I stuttered and just dried up. I knew what I wanted to say – it just wouldn’t come out.
It probably had something to do with the large radio microphone four inches from my face.
I was in the studio at BBC Radio Stoke, you see, being coached ahead of my first radio shows.
That’s right, the powers-that-be are letting me loose next month with a couple of three-hour slots over the Bank Holiday weekend.
Now I’ve done a bit of radio and TV before but this is different.
It’s one thing to hold a mic and ask questions – or to be asked the questions yourself by a TV reporter or radio presenter.
As I learned the other day is that it’s another thing entirely to fill time ‘on air’.
I was, quite literally, dreadful. Unspeakably bad: Flatter than the proverbial pancake and talking too fast before running out of things to say and collapsing in a verbal heap.
I kept thinking of my former colleague – the late, great John Abberley – who, of course, mastered both the written word and broadcasting during his long and distinguished career.
I couldn’t understand why I was making such a hash of it.
It was less ‘Smashie and Nicey’ – more Nervy and Cringeworthy.
A very nice and extremely helpful woman called Sarah was sat next to me, smiling politely and presumably wondering what this halfwit was doing in her studio.
Meanwhile, one of Sarah’s colleagues – Lee – was sat opposite, pushing buttons and twiddling nobs and playing Tina Turner and Bruce Springsteen when I ran out of words.
I had been given a list of dos and don’ts. I’d been told what I could and couldn’t say.
There was, for example, to be no shameless promotion of Port Vale (other football teams are, apparently, available).
I am allowed to talk about myself and my family – it’s actually encouraged – but I’m not to give specifics, such as names, places etc.
That is a huge blow to my dog Starbuck who will doubtless be THE dog from ‘three men and a dog’ who are actually listening when I go live.
To be fair to me, I’d had about 15 minutes to scribble down a few notes on things I’d like to talk about before we sat down and I experienced the audio equivalent of a car crash.
Given that I’ve made a fool of myself in panto and done quite a bit of public speaking it took me a while to figure out what had paralysed me.
It was the knowledge that out there – in homes, cars and workplaces – there are literally thousands of people waiting for you to say something vaguely articulate.
It’s not that they’re hanging on your every word. It’s just that they’re there.
The pressure of that knowledge was completely debilitating for me – even though this was just a practice in front of a studio audience of two very sympathetic listeners.
I already had a healthy respect for my broadcast colleagues. I can tell you that this has increased enormously.
At this point I should say that my lesson wasn’t a complete write-off.
I asked for half an hour, sat down at a PC, and wrote. Lots of words.
“Good morning. You’re listening to BBC Radio Stoke for your Bank Holiday Weekend. It’s me, Martin Tideswell. Yes, that fella from The Sentinel…”
Granted, it won’t win me a Sony Radio Award but it’s a start.
I felt so much better with, for want of a better phrase, a ‘script’ in front of me.
I also felt a bit of a fraud but was assured that many radio presenters do similar and that plenty of planning and preparation goes into every show.
In the coming weeks I have a book about radio presenting to read, several more practice sessions and plenty of lurking around in the studio listening to people who actually know what they’re doing to look forward to.
I’m really excited. It’s a fantastic opportunity and maybe, just maybe, by April 7 I’ll be passable. If not, go easy on me, won’t you?
Read my Personally Speaking columns in The Sentinel every Tuesday