How Some Basic Radio Training Saved My Life
One of the very first things I learned when I went to radio school as a teenager helped save my life some 50 years later. It was learning how to ad lib … or as I say now… to ‘wing it’. I remember the lecturer at the time saying to the class, “You have to learn to think on your feet, if you want to be a broadcaster”. He would go around the class pointing people out, saying, “Okay, I want you to talk about your favourite holiday in 30 seconds … your time starts now”, and then point to someone else, saying, “You have 30 seconds to tell me about why you love living here”.
I don’t recommend that jocks wing it and ad lib in this way. I think you need to have bullet points written down and always have a beginning and an end. Live TV talk hosts don’t wing it – they read cards – but sure, they are fast on their feet as most broadcasters are and need to be.
Recently I had a brain tumour removed. The doctor told me I had to be awake during the operation – this was beyond scary for me. It was downright terrifying. I needed to be awake so that they could ask me questions during the op and gauge my responses. The risks were many: I could be paralysed or I could end up with a different personality (some would say that’d be a good thing, I know). This was serious stuff. I was surrounded by my family and was pleased I told them that I loved them.
As I was being wheeled into the operating theatre, I remember my anaesthetist telling me that my surgeon was one of the best and most skilled at ‘awake craniotomies’. I believed this, and I liked her. During my consult with Dr Kate prior to surgery we chatted about Brain Eno, who is one of my favourite artists. I was impressed with her direct style at our first meeting (and the fact she knew Eno’s music). In the operating theatre I had complete trust in everyone in the room.
After being sedated for eight minutes while the surgical team flipped open my skull, I fully felt that the next part of the surgery was up to me. I was fit and healthy and knew that I could go the distance. I remained calmed and focused on my breathing, while my surgeon navigated her way around my brain, careful to avoid healthy tissue (or what the medical community call the ‘eloquent brain’).
Someone once told me that if you can control your breathing you can do anything, and I knew this to be true. See, the core of breathing is connecting with our core. This doesn’t require religious belief; it’s something all of us can do. Our breath doesn’t originate in our lungs or in our chests, but from deep within. This kind of breathing, into and from our core, can take years of practice. It produces the energy force that in Chinese martial arts is often called ‘chi’. I knew my chi was strong.
My surgeon was removing a tumour that was dangerously close to my motor functions, so the time came when Dr Kate wanted me to keep talking – for about 30 minutes. Thirty minutes?! And then my radio training kicked in. I had prepped for the op, but I also had to think quickly on my feet at any given moment and this was it. So I said, “Okay, let’s go around the room and tell me what’s the first album you ever bought”. Dr Kate said hers was Destiny’ Child. I got this – R+B and female 90s pop. Then she asked me mine.
“Well I’m really going to show you my age now,” I replied.
“You are on our table, Brad, we know how old you are!”
I told the room my first album was the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, and one of the nurses said: “I hear that’s a classic … why is that Brad?” Well this was my cue and off I went, telling them all about Brian Wilson and how he was only 22 when he wrote God Only Knows and Wouldn’t It Be Nice and that he’s considered a genius. It was my longest ever talk break, and they were happy with the result.
Five hours later (I was put to sleep towards the end for my head to be stapled back together), I came out in tact, with no neurological deficits – except those I went in with! I was happy too.
Post-op, I had an overwhelming feeling of gratitude for everything in my life. I even started to think about work and how fortunate I was to be working for a great radio station with people who cared. The ratings were due to come out. My bosses would be horrified to hear this because they told me to forget about work and just get well, but I went through all the possible ratings scenarios in my head, trying to work out the numbers and why the stations in the market might fall this way or that. It’s what radio guys do – all the time.