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How to Be a Caller on Talk of the Nation

Every weekday, the phones at NPR's Talk of the Nation -- (800) 989-8255 -- 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, you'll have a much better chance of getting on the air.

The vast majority of our listeners never call in. 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 program's 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.

Just getting through on one of the seven phone lines into the Talk of the Nation studio does not ensure you will get on the air. To do that, you'll need to offer a contribution that other people will want to hear.

Audio Quality
If we can't hear you, you won't get on the air, no matter how interesting your comment. Most of the calls we can't hear are from people in their cars. So if you're in your car and you want to call in, pulling over will allow a connection that's more consistent and likely to be higher audio quality.

Wherever you're 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 won't be able to hear you.

Content Quality
Talk of the Nation producers look for callers who are well-prepared to make thoughtful, articulate contributions to the show. To improve your chances of being chosen for the show, follow these tips:

1.  Try to listen to the program from the beginning so you'll know whether your comment or question has already been on the air.

2.  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.

3.  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: Don't just tell a story; use your story to make a point.

4.  Don't call until you hear the host read the phone number. Sometimes we want calls early; in that case, we'll give the phone number before the newscast or at the beginning of the show introduction. Other times we want the conversation to develop before we take calls, so we'll wait awhile before asking for callers.
5.  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. It's like a dinner-party conversation. We don't want screamers. We don't 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, you're much more likely to get on the air.

Show Time
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, you'll miss it.)

While you're on hold, listen closely to the conversation and use the time to focus your thoughts and make them part of the program. Again, don't forget: You have a role to play!

Finally, when the host introduces you, you will hear your name and the place you're calling from. You also will hear a brief burst of static, which is the phoner system adjusting the line. Don't say, "Can you hear me?" We'll 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, so you don't pay overseas-call rates to wait on hold.