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How to be a Caller on Talk of the Nation
Tips on what to tell the NPR screeners to get on the air

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General tips
Audio quality
Content quality
Caller quality
On hold?
Overseas calls

Every weekday, the phones at NPRís Talk of the Nation ring virtually nonstop for two hours. As they answer the calls to screen them, the show's producers have only a few seconds to decide whether to accept a call or to let it go. If you follow these guidelines, youíll have a much better chance of getting on the air. Callers make or break Talk of the Nation, and thatís why the call screeners are so careful about who is allowed to participate in our discussions.

General Tips

The vast majority of Talk of the Nation listeners never pick up the phone to call. So the first thing you need to understand is that you, as a caller, have a role to play on the program -- to help make the show worthwhile for the listeners. The role, simply put, is as a contributor. And our job, as the programís producers, is to choose the best contributions to put on the air -- just as we judge which guests to have on the show every day.

The best way to get on the air is to contribute in a meaningful way to the conversation, offering a viewpoint or story that other people will want to hear.

Audio Quality

If we canít hear you, you wonít get on the air, no matter how interesting your comment. Most of the calls we canít hear are from people in their cars. So if youíre in your car and you want to call in, pull over. Not only will it allow a more consistent (and therefore more likely to be higher quality) connection, but youíre also less likely to hit someone on the highway.

Wherever youíre calling from, be prepared to turn off your radio as soon as the screener answers the phone. We broadcast on a 10-second delay, so if you have the radio blaring in the background, we wonít be able to hear you.

Content Quality

As mentioned above, you have a role to play on this program, and much of the way weíll judge your potential conversation is by what you have to say. Here are some specific tips:

  • Try listening to the program from the beginning so youíll know whether your comment or question has already been on the air.

  • At the top of the program, the host will frame the questions for listeners. Pay close attention to those questions. These are not the only kinds of calls we will entertain that hour, but it will give you a good idea of the direction we think the show should go.

  • Tell us a story. The best callers are people who speak from experience; the worst callers are those who just want to express an opinion. The best opinions are the ones that are grounded in personal experience. However, make sure that your story has a point: Donít just tell a story; use your story to make a point.

  • Donít call until you hear the host read the phone number. Sometimes we want calls early -- and weíll put the phone number in the billboard (before the newscast) or at the very top of the introduction. Other times we want the conversation to develop before we take calls, so weíll wait awhile before asking for callers.

  • Think about what you want to say before you dial the number. Focus your thoughts so you will be brief and articulate with the producer who is screening the calls.

Caller Quality

We like to think of our program as a friendly, civil discussion about the issues of the day and other things the nation is talking about. Itís like a dinner-party conversation.

We donít want screamers. We donít want people who are strident. We want nice, friendly people who have something interesting to share. If you put on a smile when you pick up the phone, youíre much more likely to get on the air.

After You Get Past the Screener

If you pass muster with the screener, you will be put on hold. You should listen to the show through the phone. Keep your radio off because of the delay. (If you try listening on the radio instead of the phone, when the host introduces you, youíll miss it.)

While youíre on hold, listen closely to the conversation and use the time to focus your thoughts and make them part of the program. Again, donít forget: You have a role to play!

Finally, when the host introduces you, you will hear your name and the place youíre calling from. You also will hear a brief burst of static, which is the phoner system adjusting the line. Donít say, ďCan you hear me?Ē Weíll be able to hear you. Just say hello and start talking.

Overseas Callers

Call the international phone number, which will be given out on the air. We will then take your number and call you back. We donít expect you to pay overseas-call rates for waiting on hold!