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Word For Word

amclellan, 28th October 2015
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Following the passing of an inspirational mentor, Dean Beck was thrown from freshman broadcaster status into the deeper end, presenting for the Community Radio Network.
Word For Word CRN

Produced and presented at JOY 94.9, Word For Word elicits the stories of many performers, sportspeople, religious/political authorities, academics and others that work around our communities. With a LGBTI perspective that is not afraid to ask some of the tougher and more personal questions, the program favours natural, off-the-cuff style conversation for a moving and intimate portrait of its guest. Creating something insightful and engaging for listeners stems from a true fascination of who takes the interviewee's seat each week, and is grounded on good research.

For over five years now, Dean has presented Word For Word on the Community Radio Network. We caught up with him to find out about his start at JOY, and what he has learnt from his broadcast career thus far:

How long have you been doing Word For Word and what inspired you to start the program?

I joined JOY 94.9 in 2009 and was fortunate enough to have been trained by former CBAA Board Member Addam Stobbs. For 15 years, Addam and his co-host Peter Forte presented the CBAA award-winning interview program Allegro non Troppo on JOY and the Community Radio Network. We really connected and in the six months prior to Addam’s sudden passing away in June 2010, he asked me to fill in for him on numerous occasions. His passion for community radio, his ability to teach and mentor, combined with a unique acerbic wit on air continues to inspire me to this day.

The station approached me to continue where Addam left off and so Word For Word was born. Losing Addam shocked the station and catapulted me – a relative newby – onto the Community Radio Network’s airwaves. Fortunately for me, Addam’s producer Robert Brierley agreed to help me through the transition and I am pleased to say he remains my producer today.

Do you feel that the independence of community radio gives you more freedom in your program than you would in mainstream media?

Ok – now you have touched a sore point. I find it very difficult to understand why our national broadcaster has policies and content directives to ensure they incorporate people with disabilities, people from Indigenous backgrounds and even women yet absolutely nothing regarding LGBTI content across any of its platforms. In the last five years, BBC has conducted two audits of LGBTI content and visibility. Your ABC has nothing.

So thank God for the CBAA, CRN and JOY 94.9. Word For Word is JOY’s link to the wider world through the Community Radio Network. While I take that responsibility very seriously it is fair to say I do push the boundaries from time to time. 

Our stories are often challenging and they need to be told in a way that connects. Only then can they inform and entertain. It can sometimes mean walking a delicate line but the support and guidance from Martin and Dan who look after the CRN at CBAA has been outstanding – those guys are amazing and I cannot thank them enough.

Your interviews seem very freeform and follow the path of the conversation – how hard do you try to stick to prepared questions, or do you prefer to go with the flow of the responses?

I do a lot of research about the people I interview and listen to other interviews the talent might have done looking for the questions that weren’t asked. For me the best interview is conversational - the talent’s answer flows naturally into the next question and so on. 

I’m a huge fan of GOOD podcasts, talk radio and well-crafted storytelling but disconnected question and answer interviews drive me insane.

It’s important to have a strong idea of what needs to be covered and where you want to go with an interview but for me, a list of questions or dot points is not the way to go. It took me a long while to realise I didn’t have to be the expert on every subject, that’s the talent’s job – that’s why they are sitting opposite me in a studio.

Can you recall some particularly interesting interviews that didn’t go the way you expected them to?

Two instantly spring to mind. Both with extraordinarily talented women. Firstly Moira Finucane, the internationally-renowned burlesque artiste and co-founder of Finucane and Smith. I had only seen her performances on YouTube and had been told to tread carefully as she can be as prickly in person as her performances are confronting. Nothing could be further from the truth. We really hit it off. Her demeanour was warm and welcoming and her responses to my impertinent questions, both generous and tender. 

The other was an interview I recently did with Greta Bradman. She is, without a doubt, one of the world’s best sopranos and just happens to be the granddaughter of Sir Donald Bradman. My interview with her came immediately after ABC TV’s Australian Story aired a two-part feature profiling her. She had spent her whole life living in the shadow of The Don so I wasn’t going there but I really wanted to explore in depth, her psychology studies and her PhD. The idea was to infuse tracks from her latest album while discussing the other side of her life. After an hour in the studio, all we managed to cover was a conversation about three tracks from her album. I guess it indicates how passionate she is about her music.

What are your highlights?

I’m a great believer that everyone has a story worth telling and that it’s my job to make that interesting. Working at Australia’s only LGBTI radio station means I have an obligation to ensure our stories are centre front or that the stories we tell have an impact on us. 

Presenting Word For Word on the Community Radio Network means I have the honour of being able to share our stories with the rest of Australia. Over the years the show has introduced the listener to Jason Ball, the first Aussie Rules Footballer player to come out, Bishop Gene Robinson the first gay Episcopalian Bishop to be consecrated and interview the Nobel Laureate Professor Françoise Barré-Sinoussi who discovered HIV over 30 years ago.

For me, however, the thing I am most proud of is the CBAA Award nominated series Inside Ex-gay: the naked truth.  Produced by ex-gay survivor Nathan Despott, the series shone a light on the life-long damage caused by ex-gay ideology. 

Inside Ex-gay featured some of Australia’s most respected Theological leaders and ex-gay survivors. The series has been shared globally by thousands of people struggling to come to terms with their sexuality and faith. It is such a privilege to be entrusted with revealing the darkest moments of someone’s life and the resilience it takes to get through those moments. I know those shows have and will continue to save lives – it doesn’t get any better than that.

Do you ever find yourself in a situation on air when a line of questioning has put the interviewee offside? If so, how do you deal with this?

I have a strict policy of not providing questions to talent before an interview. If they don’t like that then there is no interview. That said, I am quite happy to say what I want to cover and where I want to go with an interview and reassure the talent that a legitimate answer to any question is “I don’t wish to answer that.”

On the odd occasion where I have felt I have pushed the guest too far, I try to infuse a little self-deprecating humour into the situation. Where possible I always finish with “thank you for putting up with my impertinence and being so generous with your responses.”

Do you search out the interviewees yourself or do you get submissions from people who want to be interviewed or recommend others for interviews?

A lot of guests I find myself or they are suggested by my producer Robert Brierley. He will shoot me some info on someone and I will simply respond with “let’s do it” or “nope”. More often I send Robert a link or a name and phone number and say “make this happen” and he does. He is amazing like that. 

We welcome suggestions from the listener and quite often people will email the program to wanting promote something but unless there is a personal story to tell, an hour of promotion is bloody boring regardless of what is being promoted.

For CRN subscribers:

  • Word For Word is broadcast/distributed by CRN Thursdays from 19:04 to 20:00 EST/EDT, and is available for DDN capture
  • Follow Dean on Twitter @deanbeckonair #WordForWord
  • For more information contact CRN staff on 02 9310 2999 or email crn@cbaa.org.au

Not a CRN subscriber, but want to find out more about getting content like this for your station? Read more here.

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