On Air: How To Survive a Live Radio Interview


Yesterday afternoon here in Ireland, Joe Duffy used his Liveline show on RTÉ1 as a platform for Irish self-publishers to come on and talk about their books. I kind of bristled when I first heard about it, because I feared it would be a parade of… well, books about unicorns and fairies and half-unicorn, half-fairies—but it wasn’t at all. Nearly all the books sounded like something I’d want to read, and from what I could tell, no one had used Cover Creator or put Comic Sans anywhere in their books. If anything, by the end of it I was impressed with the quality and selection of books being self-published in Ireland today. Who knew? You can listen to the show here or download the entire show as a podcast from iTunes—just search for “Liveline” and you’ll see “Self-Published books…” at the top of the list. I was called in towards the end to talk about how to self-publish; I’m on around the 47 minute mark.

I’ve noticed even just over the last few weeks that self-publishing and e-books are being featured more and more in the mainstream media, so if you’re a self-publisher, you might get called up any day now to do your self-promotional duty live on air. I find radio interviews extremely nerve-wracking, so here are my tips on how to survive them.

Radio interviews usually go one of two ways: either you’ll be in the studio with the host, looking at them from across a desk (preferable; this way you can pretend you’re only talking to them) or, more likely, you’ll be at home on a telephone call to the studio.

What Will Happen

They always prefer that you use a landline, as mobiles are noisier and less reliable. Normally you’ll get a call from a producer before the show airs, maybe even a few days before, and the purpose of this telephone call is to see if you’ve anything to say for yourself, and whether or not you’re going to be a good guest. If you tell the producer an amusing anecdote about, say, paperclips, you’re practically guaranteed that during the on air interview, the host will say, ‘And I hear you’ve a great story about paperclips…’

On the day of the interview, find a very quiet, comfortable spot and get yourself a glass of water. If there’s anything in particular you’ve to talk about that involves detailed information, you might want some notes to hand too. I wouldn’t prepare anything though; you’ll do best when you just have a conversation with the host. Remember that this isn’t a test. You’re only going to be asked about you, your book and your experiences, i.e. things you know plenty about. (Hopefully!)

The producer will call you, check you’re good to go and then put you on hold. While you’re on hold, you’ll be listening to the radio station so you’ll know when to come in, i.e. you’ll hear the host when they say, “And now we have Uber-Selling Self-Published Author [insert your name] on the line. Hello [insert your name].” This is your cue to speak.

While you’re on hold, you’ll hear them but they won’t hear you. When you’re on air, every little noise wherever you are will go out over the air waves, so beware of doorbells, other telephones ringing, interference from cell phones, chair scraping, etc. This background noise danger doesn’t go away in a studio setting either—during my first ever radio interview, which was in a studio, I kept hitting the table with my hands as I spoke. The host was too nice to say on air, “Um, could you please stop that?!” so the first half of the interview is punctuated with a slamming noise. Lovely.

What To Say

I’m always very nervous at the beginning of the interview, but usually okay by the end. I think the key is to (i) accept that you’ll be at least a little bit nervous and (ii) remember that although you might be able to tell from your voice that you’re nervous, it’s unlikely anybody else will. Try to concentrate on the host’s voice and convince yourself that it’s just you and him/her. Once you get past the first question or two, you’ll be absolutely fine, I promise. And once you do an interview or two, you’ll see that you’re always asked the same things anyway.

My questions usually are:

  • What’s the book about?
  • Why did you go to Orlando?
  • Why did you self-publish?
  • Did you try to get published first?
  • How did you self-publish/how does it work?
  • Give us 2/3 tips for successful self-publishing
  • Were you one of those people who dressed up as Minnie Mouse?

It’s a given that your name and potentially your book’s name will be mispronounced or read out wrong. I don’t know why this happens, but taking yesterday as an example, the host called me “Catherine Howard” (Google that and see why we’ve a problem) and my book “How To Self-Publish Books”. But he had about thirty different authors and their books on during his hour and a half long show, so I’m neither surprised nor annoyed. It’s just what happens. You can totally understand why. Instead of correcting him (bit rude), when I had a chance, I got in the actual name of the book in (Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing) and the address of this blog, which has my full name in it.

Plugging (Shamelessly!)

When it comes to plugging, I think there’s only one way to do it: shamelessly. Yesterday I was a girl with a mission: to mention the self-publishing workshop I’m doing in Dublin in March. A national radio show about the very subject was just too good an opportunity to miss, so instead of trying to work in it casually, I went for the shameless plug.

I was rambling on about how self-publishing meant that writers today found themselves with choices when I realized that I’d been on for a few minutes and the interview was likely coming to an end, so I grabbed my chance. Once I’d answered the question I said, “And if I can just get in a plug, Joe [the host], we have a workshop in Dublin in March—details are on my website catherineryanhoward.com—a one-day self-publishing course which would be a great start for anybody who is interested in doing it.” I made a joke of it, as in, please excuse my totally shameless plug.

Now, technically, details of the workshop are on Writing.ie, under the “Events” tab—just search for March 3rd. But that’s a lot for a radio listener to remember, so instead, I just pointed to my blog. Then, if you went to my blog yesterday, the top post was about the workshop (because I made sure it was). Simples!

If you’re asked a difficult question, take a breath. It’s okay to say, “Well…” while your brain whirrs into action to find an answer and if you’re confused by a question, it’s okay to ask, “Do you mean…?” In the biggest radio interview I ever did — 400,000 people were listening! — the host opened the interview with the question, “So, Catherine. Tell us about your life.”



For a second I was totally thrown, but then I made a joke of it and said, “Well, how far back do you want me to go?” and the host laughed and said let’s start with Walt Disney World.

And finally, DON’T:

  • Learn anything off by rote or practice answers. If you forget your “lines”, you’ll be even more flustered. Preparing answers is a recipe for radio interview disaster, in my opinion.
  • Have the radio on in the background. Let’s skip over the idiocy of thinking that you’ll be able to hear yourself on the radio over hearing yourself speak, and concentrate instead on the trouble it’ll cause: listeners will be able to hear you, plus the show on a delay in the background, like an echo or bad feedback. These days everything can be replayed online or downloaded, so I’m sure you’ll get a chance to hear what you sounded like later. Just don’t attempt it during the interview! If there’s other people in your house listening to it while you’re on air, make sure they’re in a room as far away from you as they can be.
  • Swear.
  • Get stuck on a word. I once used “absolutely” approximately 918 times in an hour-long interview, even though I don’t use it very much at all in everyday life.
  • Assume that everyone is listening to the radio with a pen in one hand and a notebook in the other. If you are giving out detailed information about events or products, make it short, snappy and memorable. The listener will likely go to Google a few hours from now to find it. For example, let’s say I have a webinar about how to self-publish that costs €100 and is on February 10th and will last for two hours and has a dedicated website called http://www.februaryselfpublishwebinar.com and is limited to 10 places and will teach you everything you need to know about POD books, e-books and selling your book with social media. Well, no listener is going to grasp all that when they’re probably listening in their car or at work, and it’s doubtful the host would let you get all that out anyway. Instead I’d just say, “I’m actually doing a self-publishing webinar in February. All the details are on my blog, catherineryanhoward.com.” I get my name and my blog in, and listeners can find the info if they want it.
  • Tip: everyone knows about “www.” Don’t ever bother saying it.
  • Think about all the people who are listening to you. At least wait until afterwards!
  • Worry too much. Listening to yesterday’s interview, 30% of my on air time makes me cringe. I think about what I should’ve said, how I wish I used that question to get in this, etc. etc. But it’s all pointless. I didn’t swear, I got my name, website and book title across and, hey, I was on the radio!

You can listen to Liveline from anywhere in the world (I think!) on the RTE 1 website.

3 thoughts on “On Air: How To Survive a Live Radio Interview

  1. Janice says:

    Thanks for your confidence giving tips, Catherine. I went on the radio (twice) a couple of years ago talking about my book and (when I heard the recordings) vowed I’d never do it again. It was awful. It was embarrassing. I made the (big) mistake of having a ‘script’ and even the presenter (I was actually in the studio) looked shocked when the ‘on air’ came up and for some strange reason I started talking like the Queen (having never done so before). It was hell. If (IF) I ever do it again – I will be armed with your tips….

    Happy Christmas!

    Love, Janice xx

  2. Laura Reese says:

    Great tips. Best to keep a big glass of water nearby. I recently did a 30 minute show and nearly lost my voice 20 minutes into it. Best to just go with it and have fun 🙂

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