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Top of the Vox Pops

Definition: VOX POP (Vox Populi) –“Voice of the people”

A vox pop is an interview with members of the public; their answers about a particular topic are usually edited to give snippets in succession. I’ve learnt lots by doing this over the years, so thought I would share what works best for me…

  • Ask open questions!!

If you only remember one thing from this post then let it be this: Asking open questions is the most important thing you more do when you vox pop. Here’s an example:

CLOSED QUESTION: Do you agree with XXX?

OPEN QUESTION: What’s your opinions on XXX?

Open questions elicit expansive answers from people. There’s nothing more boring to listen to than a series of yes and no answers – we’re not playing Take Your Pick!

  • Use station branding wherever possible.

This is almost like a form of ID and people will be comfortable speaking to you if they are familiar with the station you are doing the vox pops for.

  • Approach people within the station’s demographic or target audience.

…But make sure the selection of people you speak to are diverse enough to give a  true wide reflection of society’s opinions on a given topic.

  • Target areas with a high amount of footfall.

You will get your work done quicker if you does this; more people around means you’re more likely to get a response. However, avoid places where there is a lot of flyering because people will have become used to saying no in these areas.

  • Keep off private property.

Some areas, like shopping centres and train stations, are privately owned and you will need permission to vox pop here.

  • When speaking to members of the public, who may be in a rush, walk alongside them. 

This way they won’t have to stop and take time out of their day to talk to you, so you’re more likely to get a response.

  • If someone says no then leave them.

Do not harass or beg someone to speak to you – someone else will come along who will. The same applies if someone ignores you; they’re doing this on purpose.

  • Press record BEFORE you ask the question. 

That way their response will be genuine. People are naturally curious and will often ask what you are going to ask them before they agree to speak to you. Avoid doing this as it ruins spontaneity, if they are not happy with anything then you don’t have to broadcast it and can always delete it.

  • Always wear earphones (or headphones) to monitor the sound.

You will pick up noises or interference through earphones that your ears would not.  Earphones are usually better when vox popping, as they are more portable.

  • Keep an eye on the level monitor.

That’s  a better indication of volume than what you can hear.

  • Always use a pop screen or windshield on the microphone.

Do this even when indoors as a force of habit. Plosive consonants – particularly P, T and K – can produce irritating popping sounds, so a foam layer on the microphone reduces that risk. On windy days even a windshield won’t save you. In this case you’ll have to be creative with scarfs, coats, gloves – anything that will deaden the sound of wind hitting the mic.

  • Keep safe!

Last but certainly not least! When you are immersed in your work it can be easy to take your eye off the ball. The equipment you’re carrying automatically makes you a target of unwanted attention in public places, so keep alert and an awareness of your surroundings at all times.

The night I became a Radio Head…

DEC poster

Quite fitting really as Jamiroquai had been one of my favourite bands for a while. I have collected a lot of their memorabilla over the years. (Surely every fan must have a  Jami’ hat? Maybe that’s just me then…) Throughout all the bands’ various line-ups I have loved their funky acid-jazz vibes. This is not a totally fresh sound though, you just have to listen to Dexter Wensell or Skyy to hear where lead-singer Jay Kay has got his inspiration from, but it does make Jamiroquai veer outside of the mainstream. As a result, they don’t get as much radio airplay as they probably deserve. This is one of the reasons why I like to include their music in my radio shows.

I had been involved with the University of Manchester’s student radio station Fuse FM for about a year before that fateful night when the bug bit. Initially as part of the marketing and production teams before having my arm twisted (literally, if I remember rightly??) to get involved with on-air presentation. It was a big step for me; up until that point I had always been the shy type that liked music that no one seemed to know about. I wasn’t enjoying the banal nature my course at university and needed a creative outlet. The only problem being that I was so nervous; even during training while the station was off-air I couldn’t speak into the microphone was the red ‘mic live’ light lit up. I know you wont believe me if you listen to me now but, honestly, I would open my mouth and no sounds would come out! This did not bode well for live shows at all but the Fuse FM committee assured me I’d be fine. They were right and, show by show, I gained in confidence and being involved in radio was exactly what I needed to bring me out of my shell.

During the first broadcast period of our RSL I probably spent most time on the floor re-booting computers and plugging cables into sockets than I did on the micn but because my confidence had increased during my time with Fuse I was ready for new a challenge. This came in the form of an opportunity to present an overnight broadcast for from 2am to 8am before the station went off-air for that year. Up to that point the most radio I had done had been in 2 hour slots. Would I be able to find enough content to fill 6 hours straight? Then it occurred to me that Jamiroquai had, at that time, released 6 studio albums. All under an hour in length which meant that I could play one album per hour leaving enough time to do some speech links in between the songs – bingo! It would be a marathon Jamiroquai broadcast, the first of it’s kind and something that has never been done since.

“Just don’t expect anyone to listen” said my station manager. Fuse would promote this insomniac show the best they could but, with the FM transmitter only reaching to the outskirts of the university campus, it seemed realistic to expect the only people listening would be drunken students coming back from a wild night out. We did have an online stream of the station output so I had nothing to loose in contacting Jamiroquai fansites and forums to let them know what was happening; maybe someone would listen off the back of that? How wrong I was…

What followed that night was an amazing experience,  during the show I received what seemed like a never ending stream of messages from all corners of the earth, from places like Argentina, Canada and Venezuela to name a few. I can even remember one particular message saying something like: “Hi Katy, just listening to your show on the beach here in Australia  while we enjoy a barbie!” Wow, almost as hot as I was in our tiny little studio / sauna that was situated next to the Students’ Union’s broken boiler… radio isn’t as glamorous as you might think!

I thought all this contact must have been a wind-up, Fuse FM committees are notorious for those. (Just search on YouTube for some pranks we did during my year on the committee for proof of that!) This definitely wasn’t a prank though and for the first time I was now not just broadcasting to my friends or course mates, I was connecting with people who I didn’t know and they were interacting with me.  I still keep in touch with some of the people that listened that night and they continue to support my radio work now. I had experienced the intimate beauty of what radio as a medium is all about, albeit on an extremely grand scale in student radio terms.

To this day my body clock hasn’t quite recovered, I’m still a creature of the night. I always jump at the chance to be involved in overnight programmes and continued to present and produce them for every Fuse FM broadcast until I left the station. I’ve also taken part in overnight election broadcasts for the station that I’m with now: North Manchester FM. I’ve never gone quite as global as I did the night of that Jamiroquai all-nighter, but that doesn’t matter. With radio being such a personal method of communication even if just one person listens and enjoys the show, that makes it all worthwhile.

Hopefully that gives you some idea of why radio is so important to me. It all came full circle this year in April when I was able to experience my first time seeing Jamiroquai perform live. This was a great spectacle and brought back lovely memories of the night when I got bitten by the radio bug – long may it continue! For that reason, Jamiroquai as a band will always have a special place in my heart and I love playing their music on my shows, the sentimental radio anorak that I am!

DEC jam