"In the last analysis, what we are communicates far more eloquently than anything we say or do." -- Stephen R. Covey

Life It’s not often that I get nervous about giving an opinion. Sometimes I’ll even hear myself giving an opinion, not be able to stop myself and then regret it almost straight away. Not because of what I’ve said, just that I wish I could be more discrete. You should never lie about something you care passionately about or bare false witness to your ideological point of view, but sometimes not being quite so much of a blabbermouth would be a real help. On Monday night though, I was in a position of being asked my opinion about something and actually having the blood rush around my body and not knowing what to say.

It happened at a Travel Inn, a place I’ve been twice before I think – once when I was very young for an all you can eat buffet (and I did) and more recently (well in the last ten years) for a friend’s birthday. I arrived horrendously early as usual, and a crowd was already gathering. It was, I imagined, exactly what it must be like for those people you see before The Weakest Link begins. I sat drinking coffee and chatting to a nice woman, who worked in a school and it turned out was about the same age as me. Our names were taken and we were split into two groups, boys and girls and that was that then.

In a room we sat, all eight of us. We were told that the microphone was to save the person asking our opinion having to take too many notes. We were asked our names and occupations. We were handed cards and asked us to write the first words which came into our head when we thought of the subject. It’s then that the nervousness began. The feeling was roughly the same as when I arrived in France and realised that three years of school French ten years before could not prepare me for even buying a train ticket. I realised that I wasn’t prepared to give an opinion on this particular subject and that in fact it would become apparent pretty quickly.

I was being asked about what I thought of our local commercial radio station (what did you think it was going to be?). I’d received an email last week sometime inviting me along to this focus group and since there was a financial inducement I’d agreed. It’s ages since I’ve made a point of listening to the station but along with Radio Merseyside, the city seems to throb with it and I’m forever hearing it in barber shops and charity shops, in chip shops and in taxis. It was only when I was asked to list some words capturing my opinion of the station that I realised that despite listening to the station around the city in barber shops and charity shops, in chip shops and in taxis, I didn’t know it well enough to even answer that question.

Problem. I looked around the rest of the group and they were all scribbling away, so I was also having an A-Level English Literature exam flashback too. But I had managed to buy the ticket at the Paris railway station by gesturing and using words like ‘Je Voudrais’ and from somewhere here I managed to find words like ‘commercial’ and ‘young’. I also thought about why I didn’t listen to the station on purpose and I thought about all of the pop music some of which I liked but also the dance music and the DJs which I mostly didn’t and decided to go with ‘often boring’ and ‘noisy’ which I also thought was fair. Yet I still didn’t feel comfortable. Wasn’t I simply offering my preconceptions rather than experience?

What kind of music do we like listening to. I’ve always thought that was a loaded question. Like film, I’m not the kind of person who can simply pick one type of music as a favourite – it’s easier in fact for me to say something like ‘don’t like country’ but I like Shelby Lynne and Alison Krauss and Jewel’s about to go there so I’m not sure that’s quite true. But there are people who’ll say anything but they generally don’t mean classical. Most of the answers here were in that area apart from the two students who both said indie, which is fine. I said ‘Err, um, classical, jazz, pop, well anything really’ which is true to a degree. I’m the kind of person who likes the kind of thing I like. Yeah. Like.

Next question. When do we listen to the radio? Around the room, various answers listing morning, afternoon, evening. No one would say that listened at work which was odd. I tend to do all of my passive radio listening bunched around meal time. So Today with the morning, You & Yours or World At One for lunch, PM then the 6 O’Clock news at teatime. Saturday Live on one weekend morning, Loose Ends that evening, with CD Review if I remember and have time before work somewhere in there. So I said ‘Around mealtimes’ and left it at that. Well and after remembering Mark Kermode on a Friday and ‘Podcasts. I listen to podcasts.’ Anyone else listen to podcasts? She asked. No one else did.

And now the big question. What was our favourite radio station? Variously the answer was either Radio One or said local commercial radio station. Incredibly I don’t think I’ve ever been asked this question before and at some time in the past the answer would have been station under consideration. But post puberty it changed so at some point I went over to the BBC, definitely to get away from adverts so I was with Radio One during the upheavals and Chris Evans, I think I was even with Virgin Radio for a while, then shifted to Radio 5 and then somewhere in the last couple of years went to Radio Four and now I tend to shuttle between that and Radio Three. It was really a case of saying which I listened to the most. I listen to Radio Four the most and so that’s what I said.

As soon as I said that I felt myself relax and here’s why. My opinion didn’t really count any more. I was the man in the room who clearly didn’t listen to their flavour music radio a whole lot, and local radio even less and so anything I had to state wasn’t relevant to what the market researcher wanted to find out about. I wasn’t in their demographic. And since my opinion didn’t count I relaxed and felt like I could give it. I’m not sure what that says about me. Perhaps it was because I felt like I was being judged. I felt like I’d become one of those people and in a way nothing like anyone else in the room. I suspect I have a fear of having the same opinion as someone else; lately I’ve found review writing spectacularly difficult because I always feel like I’m just going to be regurgitating something you’ve already read, which is silly because there really isn’t an infinite number of things you can articulate about one thing. But in this case I somehow knew that nothing I would be saying would match anything I was hearing and that seemed to give me to confidence to let rip.

Questions came and went and I had an answer for all of them. Why did I like Radio Four? Because whenever I turn it on I hear something about something or something that I’d never thought of before, that I was always learning. When asked what kind of music I’d like to listen to on the radio, I mentioned Late Junction and floated my age old idea of a genre-less music station which happily played classical next to rock next to jazz which was met with widespread disapproval because people don’t want to listen to classical music in the morning do they? They want to be woken up to something loud and exciting? I didn’t disagree, I didn’t argue the case though. Mostly because at the top of the discussion we’d been asked not to and I was eyeing the financial inducement. I talked about how I wished I could listen to more local radio but that there wasn’t anything which really catered for my needs, which isn’t, and this is a terrible word to use so I didn’t, and the interviewer used it to sum up what I was saying anyway, so superficial.

What I wanted to say but didn’t have time was that my perfect local radio station would be something like the Chris in the Morning show which would introduce almost every episode of Northern Exposure. A heady mix of great music regardless of commerciality, what’s on guide, discussion, comedy and poetry. Basically a college radio station for a wider audience in much the same way that Facebook has opened its doors to anyone with a web connection. But, and this important, not afraid to be serious when it needed to be, take risks and be surprising, and expect its audience to share its interest in everything and anything. That between playing Martin Carthy, The Chemical Brothers, Gabriel Fauré and Kate Nash would be just as happy talking about those Liverpool history public seminars at the cathedral or a KT Tunstall gig, a new play at the Everyman, web news or film reviews, or breaking local news as reading some Dylan Thomas. I know there are local and national stations that have elements of all of those, but this would be all of that all at once and frankly I wouldn’t have it ever turned off.

As the discussion continued though, I found some common ground with my colleagues. They or we all agreed that there was too much repetition of music (one of my turn offs), that there was only so many occasions you could listen to the same tracks over and over and it would be good to play the b-side or an album track once in a while. That the station would benefit from a wider selection of music, although they said that shouldn’t include classical. We also settled on the idea that there should be more championing of local bands on air not waiting for them to get national recognition before playing their music. I couldn’t say though what I thought of the DJs except that they seemed pretty generic from what I’d heard but that was probably unfair since I didn’t spend enough time with the station to notice their individual personalities. They decided that was probably the case and then disagreed with each other about who they thought was the most annoying.

On the basis of this experience I’ve come to the conclusion that sometimes it’s best not to over analyse things, which is also exactly what I’ve managed to do in this past eighteen-hundred or so words. Perhaps its important not to think about what your likes and dislikes actually are because you then inevitably begin to consider what that means, the pop psychology begins and depending upon your personality you end up either self loathing or really happy with what you’ve become. I’m probably somewhere in between. What I do know is that the bit of the evening I most enjoyed were the moments before when I was sitting on that couch just chatting to someone, making each other laugh, talking about what had led us there. I’ve done market research before but usually it’s been about something I’ve just seen, but this seemed to cut further into who I am and that’s not necessarily a good thing, I mean what does it matter, so I’m not sure I would do it again.

Unless there was another financial inducement.

No comments:

Post a comment