Saturday, 1 November 2008

Interview with Sarah Blunt, Natural History Radio Producer

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Sarah Blunt

Listen to the full interview here (MP3 21mb)

The following text is an abbreviated transcript

I'm a Senior Radio Producer at the Natural History Unit in Bristol. No two days are ever the same, which is the great thing about this job.

I can be doing anything from editing material that's just come in, running a production meeting, researching a programme idea - which might mean talking to people on the phone, talking to scientists or conservationists, doing web searches, reading through scientific articles and journals - or I could be out on location recording.

That could be anywhere from a reed bed to a sea bed or up a tree, in the middle of a moor - the range of things I get up to is quite incredible.

Is that one of the things you enjoy about the work?

Absolutely, no two days are the same. That variety of work, both in terms of recording and editing the sort of programmes I make, is incredibly stimulating.

Is it something you've always wanted to do?

Yes and no. I came into it by quite a strange route. I was very interested in both sciences and arts at university, and did a degree in agricultural botany. I went on to do a PhD and then a post doc and became very specialised on plant diseases and plant genetics. But I became very removed from natural history, which was really why I'd followed a career in agricultural botany in the first place.

I decided to change career and I had always loved the Natural History Programme on Radio 4. I applied to the BBC's production trainee scheme and was incredibly lucky and was accepted. Towards the end of the two year scheme, an attachment came up in the Natural History Unit, and again I was lucky enough to get the job.

What is it that you like about making radio programmes?

For me it's very much about sounds. I've always been interested in sound, and I actually used to think I was a bit odd because I was so interested in the sounds around me.

Most of the time, most of us simply don't listen. In today's society we tend to block out sounds. We're very visual people - we watch TV, we read newspapers and magazines.

But all the time, all this sound is going on all around us and most of the time, we block it out. Fridges, cars, phones, printers, someone typing - most of the time we ignore sound.

The sad thing that happens is that you stop listening to natural sounds, the wild sounds, water, wind, bird song.

I've always been interested in those sounds, and thought I was a bit odd until I met other people who were interested in those sounds, like sound recordist Chris Watson and discovered an organisation called Soundscape and the whole idea of soundscape ecology - a lot of which began in the USA - where people have become very concerned about the sounds in their environment and acoustic pollution, man made sounds that block the natural sounds.

It's very exciting when you combine a medium that's all about sound with the natural world, which is bursting with sound. For me as a producer, it's like being an artist - instead of using colours to paint pictures, I'm using sounds to make programmes.

The other thing I love about radio is that as a producer, you can come up with an idea, research it, work with the contributors, maybe with a sound recordist and engineers in the studio, but you see that idea through from the very beginning to the end and you're involved in every single aspect of the process. That's a wonderful experience.

I also like the fact that programmes are done fairly quickly - we don't tend to spend more than a few weeks on a production - in some cases it might be a day or so. So it's very creative and you don't get stuck in a rut.

Are you interested in new media as a platform for your ideas?

We've just started a blog for a series we're making called Planet Earth Under Threat due out at the end of 2006. As we make the series, the producers and presenters involved are posting to the blog and anyone can add their comments, thoughts, ideas, criticisms, whatever, so it's very interactive.

For every programme we make, we have a web page as well, where people can hear the programme again, find out some extra material, browse related links for more information. The lovely thing about the web site or a blog is that the audience can interact with us. They can tell us their ideas and feed into programmes.

What do you think are the essential qualities of a good programme maker?

Passion. You have to be passionate about what you're making to make it well. I find it incredibly difficult to create programmes that I don't believe in, and I have done that, everyone has.

If you as the producer making the programme aren't excited and enthused by the programme, how on earth is your audience going to be excited by it?

The other really important thing is to be a story teller. You have to engage the audience, take them on a journey and deliver them at the end.


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