Mastering the art of the vox pop

My experience of vox pops has been… how can I put this… varied. They can either liven up a broadcast, or if done badly, they can let it down, especially when padding out a story, in which the word on the street is irrelevant. But in some of our best moments of distinctive sports output on Radio 1, they’ve given us target, opinionated voices and even comedy value as well. You can’t always tell by looking at someone if they’re going to give you a good vox, but a bunch of England cricket fans turning up at Edgbaston dressed as whoopee cushions is a fairly good indication that they’ll be entertaining if nothing else. How they look is your first clue. That said, you can’t ever be 100 per cent sure they’ll give you a good clip (drinking sometimes helps, sometimes doesn’t), so it’s always worth warming them up and explaining what you need. Let’s face it – if all goes well and you get on, you might get a beer out of it.

And then there’s the golden rule of voxpops – always ask open questions. It applies to interviews too. Once, I made the schoolboy error of asking ‘do you think”-type questions in the first vaguely high-profile interview I’d ever done and predictably, got one-word answers:

Me: So, David, are you happy at Spurs?

David Ginola (in a typically French way): Bah…er…yes.

Brilliant. Clip duration: one second, inwords: Bah, outwords: yes. The follow-up question was even better:

Me: Really?

David Ginola: Yes. (Smiles)

I didn’t tell my editor. We all have tight deadlines… but when it comes to voxes, I’ve found a little patience often gives you a lot more and every once in a while, just pausing a moment before pulling the mic away and asking my next question has given me that killer clip. Either that or rephrasing the question – I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve got a better answer second time round.

But then, I’ve also lost count of the times I’ve been sat at a sports venue long after everyone else has left, so late that they’ve switched off all the lights and are patrolling the place with rottweilers (don’t laugh, it has happened), all because I’m trying to wade through 28-and-a-half minutes’ audio on Cool Edit. It’s better to get more voices than fewer, but if all you’re looking for is a 12-second clip on how rubbish England were, three interviews should suffice.

Keeping a mental note of the best clips as you go is a massive time-saver – failing that, the track mark button on a Sony MiniDisc is an absolute godsend – and that way, you can go back to your fancy-dress fans and have that beer.

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