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This article was published in March 2014. The information may be out of date. Please check our epilepsy information or our site A-Z.

Behind the scenes at BBC Radio

3 Mar 2014

Sharon Batty, Epilepsy Action’s trust fundraising officer, gives you a sneak peek behind the scenes of recording a fundraising appeal for BBC Radio 4 – which recently aired across the UK

Finally, on Sunday 2 March (both at 7:55am and 9:26pm) we will get to hear the BBC Radio 4 Appeal that we recorded last October! But it didn’t start there. All told, it will be 14 months since I submitted an application to apply for one of these prestigious appeal slots. You need to have quite a lot of patience to be a trust fundraiser – and a thick skin for all the rejections!

On 9 April 2013, an email arrived with the thrilling news that my application had been successful! First, we attended a briefing at Broadcasting House, London last June. All the charities that had successfully applied for an appeal slot were there. A couple of people from St Mungo’s (a charity for homeless people) spoke about their appeal the previous year. That got our minds racing with ideas for marketing and promotion – and got us excited about the potential income!

Now work on the appeal could really begin and we started the search for a suitable presenter. Louise Cousins – Epilepsy Action’s acting PR manager – mentioned Alex Thomson, a Channel 4 News reporter. Alex had worked with us in the past and was keen to do so again. What more could we ask for? He is an experienced broadcaster with the perfect mix of authority and warmth. Most importantly, he has firsthand experience of epilepsy and our services.

We had to work quickly. We were given only two months before the first draft of the script needed to be with the Radio 4 appeal producer. Less than a month after that, it needed to be recorded and finished. Happily, Alex said yes! Now, to draft the script…

Plenty to write about

Alex ThomsonMy day job involves writing letters to apply for grants, so I am used to explaining who we are and what we do. However, I haven’t written for broadcast before and the appeal only lasts two minutes and 20 seconds. That’s only 420 words! I researched Alex’s own experiences and also looked at some of our existing case studies. It was tricky to get it short enough and yet still have the emotional impact we needed. It took about six drafts before the BBC producer and I had something we could agree on – but now we had a script!

Then, what turned out to be just as tricky was getting an international news correspondent booked into the BBC recording schedule. We were booked to record on 18 September but the terrible events in Syria began to unfold – and Alex went out there for Channel 4 News. We rearranged for 2 October, but the terrible shooting in a Kenyan mall happened. Alex thought he might be asked to go and report on what followed. He didn’t – but then the BBC needed to postpone for a week!

What if some other international crisis happened in the meantime? What would we do if he was whisked away at the last minute? This was really our last chance to record the appeal before we would miss out on the next set of air dates.

The big day

The day of the recording arrived and thankfully Alex was still in the country. We met at Broadcasting House in London and were taken up to the recording studio by the producer. There is a lot of glass in the newer part of the building and we ended up looking down on the BBC Newsroom where they were broadcasting live on BBC News 24. Alex commented on how different it all was from how he remembered it when he had done his journalism training there.

Epilepsy Action’s fundraising manager, Di Flatt, came with me on the day. Only two people from the charity are allowed to go. It’s no wonder – the studio is tiny! However, it was an absolute pleasure to meet Alex and an honour to watch such a professional in action. Di and I were in the sound booth while Alex recorded behind the glass screen.

Alex in the BBC studio recording the appealWe were delighted with how he read the appeal. The producer and engineer were amazed that he just read the whole thing straight through first time. He chuckled and said, “Well, usually I have to do this live from a warzone, I don’t normally get to take my time and try it again!”

The producer asked if we were happy with the recording, which we were. The producer didn’t seem as happy, saying: “I think it sounds like he is reporting on someone else, shall we ask him to try and be a bit more emotional?” We didn’t know what to say to that. How could we tell a professional, high-profile news reporter to do it again? But off went the producer, into the recording studio. Thankfully, Alex wasn’t fazed at all, saying: “I’ll read it as many times as you like.”

He also recorded something called an Audioboo – a little audio snippet that can be uploaded to the Audioboo website and shared on social media sites. Alex recorded a snippet about why he was supporting Epilepsy Action, which you can hear on the BBC Radio 4 appeal webpage.  It was quite spine-tingling stuff watching him talk so passionately about our charity. The Audioboo is completely unscripted, we didn’t give him any notes or information to work with – he just improvised.

A different world

After Alex left, the producer took me and Di back out a different way. We were able to see into some of the floors of various radio channels. We watched high-flyer execs having meetings on brightly coloured sofas overlooking the central glass quadrant. As we walked though one office, I thought I spotted JP Devlin from Radio 4’s Saturday Live and I asked the producer if I was right. He promptly about turned, saying: “Follow me.”

The producer took us over and introduced us to JP Devlin as his fans from Twitter! I think we were both suitably embarrassed (but still more than a little pleased). As we wandered back off on our way we could hear the ladies JP was sitting with cooing over him having ‘fans’. I’d love to say that we didn’t behave like giggling schoolgirls, but I’m not sure that’s true.

The whole process of planning and recording the Radio 4 appeal was a really uplifting experience. I am so happy that you will all now get to hear Alex present the appeal itself. Let’s hope the audience are as moved as we were. Then we’ll see a fantastic response in donations and a wonderful way to raise awareness of the condition. Please be sure to get all your friends and family to listen. If you missed it live on the radio it is now available for you to listen to.

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