Possibly the biggest challenge undertaken in their history, LSR’s coverage of the American election ran throughout the night of November 6th to the early hours of November 7th when Obama was announced president. But just how did they pull it off? Chez Specter speaks to LSR to find out…
Tell me a little bit about your initial plans to cover all nine hours of the US election. How did it begin?
It all started at our first committee meeting in Freshers, before we were broadcasting. It was pioneered by Amos Schonfield. We got together a small group of people, Amos, James Hansen (Heads of Speech in control of pol shows), and Jessica and Helen who are heads of news. The process has been a series of meetings and throwing ideas at each other. We had weekly meetings trying to confirm our solid team, planned the structure of how we wanted the show to be and did as much as we could before we went live on air.
So we ultimately decided on the nine hour broadcast, running throughout the night alongside the US elections. In addition to our station and live Twitter feed, we also had a tumblr (http://lsrfmpresentstheuselection.tumblr.com) which was updated with around 90 posts throughout the election.
One of our biggest endeavours was to go the whole nine hours without playing a single song, which was a massive undertaking because changing over personnel and keeping it fresh you need to have some sort of stop gap, and the easiest way to do this is always music, to let people collect their thoughts and pause.
What we did instead was to prerecord, we interviewed Dr. Liam Fox, the ex-Defence Secretary, and Hilary Ben the local Leeds MP. There was also the Deputy Leader for the Labour Party. We just wanted to get together a series of ideas for how this could work: what we ended up with was a minute by minute account of how the show would work. We tried to get together a variety of angles from which we could come at the election. Literally to the second, we had ideas of hwo we would put it together. From then, we had a team of 20 or so people acting as pundits and newsreaders for the show, to help fill out the time and make us sound intelligent. To put this into context, when a similar undertaking is done on a national news radio programme, there will typically be 20 people per hour working on it.
The actual process itself, obviously it’s very different when you have to put such a huge endeavour into practice?
Half an hour beforehand, we realised we had no communication between the people inside and outside of the studio. Therefore, we set up a ‘Skype chat’ programme in order to do this. Typically, in a professional radio show, the newsreader have mikes set up whilst they do the programme, but of course as an amateur team we did not have this facility. The first 10 minutes were a learning curve, but we soon got into the swing of it. I think it’s crazy, looking back, on how smoothly it really went- all the forward planning paid off!
On that note, how did you all get through it? What helped you persevere throughout the long night?
A variety of strategies. A lot of pizza deliveries. Coffee. Red Bull…we were buzzing! We also did a series of shifts, some people went home for tactical power naps. It was a team effort, and we were buzzing off each other- people were running about, it was hectic, and this kept the energy up- we were running on adrenaline.
In terms of bias, was there an obvious feeling towards a particular candidate in the office, and do you think this influenced your broadcasting at all? Any tension in the office?
Well there was a variety of views… (cough, Obama)…okay, admittedly we were mostly Democrat supporters. But a couple of people in the office were rooting for Romney, and that was great- it meant that we could get some alternative opinions. There was no tension, it was just useful to feed off. It did mean that we all appreciated the acceptance speech a lot more- if it was the other way around, I feel everyone would have been a bit shell-shocked! However, I don’t think this bias came across particularly, we tried very hard to be neutral.
For a team of undergraduates, some of whom were presenting for the first time, it was a remarkable achievements, especially as you were competing with professional radio stations such as BBC, CNN and Fox. What would you say were the particular benefits of reporting as a student radio station.
I suppose there were not as many restrictions, for instance for the BBC it would have been difficult to report without having to censure. Also, the live Twitter feed allowed our coverage to be very interactive. Saying this, we were also receiving live information from LSR alumni who work in the professional radio sphere, who were commending us for the quality of our broadcasting. One of the things we could get as students is that we could get linked up with students in America. All in all, it was great to get a diversity of passionate young people speaking about the elections. For many people, university is when people start to really evaluate their position politically, and this was reflected in the general enthusiasm that our presenters and the interacting listeners brought to the coverage.