Radio needs creative and natural storytellers, says German radio journalist, reporter and presenter Sandra Müller. “This stupid format radio has just wiped out everything.”

If radio needs an ambassador, I vote for Sandra Müller. Her presentation at the Tutzinger Radiotage was full of enthusiasm and showed a great passion for radio. That’s what this blog is all about! So I’ve asked her for an interview. Bürokratendeutsch and repressing formats are not her cup of tea, but she loves reality reporting and soundscapes.


Ears for radio & music

Sandra started early: she already played radio with her school friends. “I was the presenter and we played songs. We even had commercials that we acted live.” She always has been very auditory: “I can read things a thousand times and don’t remember them, but I learn extremely fast when someone explains things verbally. I’m also into voices. When people don’t have a pleasant voice, we have a problem getting along, hahaha. But I have thick glasses and I don’t see well. Maybe that’s why nature blessed me with good ears and a passion for radio and music?” | Sandra Müller thinks that radio features should include many real life sounds and interview quotes (photo: Thomas Giger)

Radio journalist Sandra Müller: “I like to jump with my microphone right into the situation” (photo: Thomas Giger)



Real life sound bites

“I produce features with a lot of atmosphere. I rather use sound bites directly from life, instead of recording desk-quotes where you sit down with people in their office. I like to jump with my microphone right into the situation and eavesdrop on life. It’s funny that just listening to people and situations carries more emotion than seeing images.” However, a combination of audio and visual does work for radio, especially online. Sandra experiments with audio slideshows to make radio features visually attractive on the Internet. | Radio presenters in the on-air studio of German public news, information and background channel DRadio WissenWhich radio stations, programs and talents inspire you?

“I’m a DRadio Wissen fan because of their unpretentious approach. They have young radio personalities who dare to speak very natural. As a language loving person I find it regrettable that so many radio people seem to be infected by Bürokratendeutsch (politically very correct, diplomatic language). News and features often sound authoritative and official. Radio presenters and reporters should get rid of it and just talk like they normally do.”



Educational content & musical variety

Sandra likes that DRadio Wissen “news includes topics which are not urgent, but interesting. They often do take time for one extra sentence that makes people understand things that they often didn’t elsewhere. When it comes to music radio, I enjoy listening to American jazz stations from New Orleans – both me and my husband are jazz fans. I also like initiatives such as Byte FM. The station plays music that I don’t hear anywhere else and they have variety: an hour of rock, followed by an hour of jazz, and so on.” | The cover of Donald Fagen's famous album The Nightfly shows a deejay doing the night shift on a radio stationThe law of formatics says that radio isn’t supposed to be done like this.

“I can imagine that you have to do it when you depend on commercials. But as a listener I find it very unpleasant. There’s almost nothing else out there, while especially at night you could play less usual music. People really listen and make a connection with their radio host. ‘Others are sleeping, but the both of us are still awake’ is the mutual feeling. Night time could be a chance for engaging music programs.”



Lack of interesting personalities

Sandra Müller also enjoys good interviews. She mentions her colleague Chrissie Weiss of Radio 7, winner of Der Deutsche Radiopreis (The German Radioaward) for the best interview of 2011. Weiss had a remarkable conversation with a man who has been a woman. “It was a sympathetic, authentic and friendly interview as you don’t hear it often. It’s a shame that there’s no real talk radio in Germany. Why doesn’t radio use more of these interesting personalities who tell great stories and let them do it? I think that’s a bit sad.” | Sandra Müller thinks that German radio has not many personalities because program directors and format radio made talent development impossible for a long time (photo: Thomas Giger)Are there many personalities in German radio at all?

She laughs and says after a short silence: “Yes, that is the right question. And I think the answer is no.”


Why is that?

Sandra sighs. “This stupid format radio has wiped out everything.”



Excessive formatics kill creativity

“Fifteen years ago I visited a station that was completely controlled by radio automation. The presenter was given 20 seconds of airtime after which his microphone was being muted automatically. He was so pressed into the format without being able to decide anything himself; he just had to fill the gap! Horrifying. It kills personality and takes radio’s soul. Some stations still determine in an ice cold way: you can only use these exact wordings and phrases. It’s hard to develop personality when all freedom is curtailed immediately.”



Top 3 radio do’s

These are the 3 main tips for young radio people according to Sandra Müller:


1. Listen: “Listen to the radio, have fun with it, and open your ears.”


2. Personalize: “Get close to the topic and people. Don’t be the official, serious radio reporter always. A reporter should first of all be a human being who likes good stories and engaging conversations. Good small talkers are good radio people.”


3. Experience: “In the early days you had to wait until you were employed at a station. Today, there are no excuses anymore. Everyone can broadcast from anywhere, using podcasts and web streams. So do it – gain experience; make radio.”



We’re often alone in the studio and talk to a wall. If we’re lucky, there is a window and if we’re really lucky, we see people out there that we can talk to. What do you do to reach the listener?

“I always have someone in my mind. I go to events that my audience visits, to learn what kind of people the listeners are. Especially at local stations, some presenters unfortunately do not have a high regard of their audience. I love my listeners and I like spending time with them, even if I work for a station that’s heard by 60-year old people who didn’t finish high school and live in a village. They’re almost the opposite of what defines my own surroundings. But I’m fascinated by their life experience and passion for what they do.” | Sandra Müller says it's important to get to know your listeners personally, and talk to them on the radio (photo: Thomas Giger)

Sandra Müller: “When I’m on the air, it looks like I’m talking to an imaginary, invisible friend” (photo: Thomas Giger)



Be yourself on-air

“Inside the studio I don’t necessarily think of an existing person, more of this particular type of human. I have conversations with him and I don’t talk different than in normal life. I do move around a lot and I make all kinds of gestures while I’m speaking. When people see me presenting, they sometimes laugh because when I’m on the air, it looks like I’m talking to an imaginary, invisible friend, hahaha.”



Also read part 2: Radio’s Credibility And Relevance At Stake?