‘Making mistakes is the only way to learn’

In the latest edition of My Spanish Career, The Local speaks to Madrid-based journalist Ann Bateson about how she ended up producing her own radio show in Spain, the importance of professional risks, and why she once interviewed a flamenco star in a toilet.

'Making mistakes is the only way to learn'
It's getting out there that counts, says Madrid Live producer and presenter Ann Bateson.

How did you end up working in Madrid?

I did a degree in Spanish and I spent a year abroad in Seville. I had also done a year teaching near Barcelona in and I wanted to go back there — this was in the 1980s — but then I was offered a job in Madrid.

At first, I didn’t really want to be here. But then I found it’s actually it’s a pretty good place to be.

You can take Madrid in the palm of your hand and do with it what you want.  You can do anything here.

How did you end up doing a radio show here?

I taught English for a while and I had a boyfriend who was a correspondent with BBC , which is the UK’s national broadcaster. And I thought: "I can do that".

I was also working at the British Council organizing arts events and enabling other people to make their art but I always wanted to make my own.

There was an opening at Radio Exterior — that’s Spain’s international radio service — and I took a job there. It was mainly translating the news but it was a great taste of the microphone.

That came to an end and then I realized I needed to keep doing this. So I proposed a story package to the BBC and for stories about Spain.

I also made my own programmes, which were about nightlife at the Seville Expo '92.

Then I was told by the then-director of Madrid’s Círculo de Bellas Artes (Fine Arts Centre) that he was setting up a radio station, and would I like to do a show in English? That was in 2000.

And that's how Madrid Live came about.

Who are you paid by?

I need sponsorship and advertising for my show, which I sometimes achieve.

I've had money from a driving school, the Madrid town hall, the British Council, and the Spanish National Theatre.

And who are your listeners?

The listeners are English speakers living in Spain and Spanish people who want to listen to 'good' English.

But it’s not a pedagogical programme; it’s a cultural programme about what’s on in Madrid.

What have you been your most memorable interviews or guests?

Probably the most intense experience was the world’s greatest war photographer Donald McCullin, who never gives interviews.

His work was being exhibited here and I went up to him and just asked if he was prepared to be interviewed. He came back the next day and I let him lead me.

You can prepare as much as you like but at the end of the day you don’t know what’s someone is going to say on radio.

He told me, or instance, about having to pretend to be dead in a truck full of bodies to try and get across a border.

And have you had any disastrous interviews?

I have had some unusual situations. I remember having to interview a flamenco singer about ‘new flamenco’ in a toilet to get a sound bite.

On another occasion I had to interview someone who just didn't want to be there. But in the end, we get through that and he gave me a hug.

Everybody has got something to say, and it’s going with that person and having a rapport — that can take an interview to wherever you want.

Have you always done the radio show alone?

I've always do it myself because I know exactly how I want it. I've had people doing the sound desk for me, but the show is my baby.

I know what direction I want to take it in and I want to make it accessible.

I worked at the British Council and it was a lovely job, but there was a lot of ‘high art’ speak. And I think it’s quite important to bring art down to the grass roots level.

Never assume anybody knows anything.

And you don’t want to shut people out, because the thing about radio is people can just switch off.

How many hours a week do you spend on the show?

It takes me about 20 hours.  The show isn't live, so what I do is do the interviews and then tighten them up. Then I write and script, which takes ages.

I have to prepare the interview, travel, do the interview and edit it, times two. On top of that, I spend a lot of time choosing the music.

Then I rehearse and present the show as if it were live. So it all takes time.

Did you have any formal training in radio?

No. I think the best way to learn is on the job.

The very first person I interviewed was the top Spanish writer Manuel Vázquez Montalbán.

I was doing an internship at Spain’s Radio Nacional, I had only just arrived and I thought, “I can’t do that.” But you just do it.

You make mistakes but that’s the way to learn. In the end, it’s getting out there that counts.

You can listen to the latest edition of Ann's radio show here.

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