The student jock takes his place in the booth area next to three other people across the “board”. Before talking to his colleagues, he tapped on his microphone, making sure that they’re not yet working. They started discussing which topic seems interesting to talk about on-air. Once they have settled, they then assigned someone to be in charge of promotions and another person to serve as the anchor. The anchor sets the volume slider for each microphone at equal levels. He takes a deep breath before looking at everyone, waiting for their approval. He clears his throat, pushes the “On” button, and the radio show commences.
A typical scene before a radio show starts would probably look like that; for Magis Radio, at least. Magis Radio is a student-run internet radio of the Ateneo de Manila University under the spearheading of the Association of Communication Majors (ACOMM). It is the brain child of Rica Fajardo, the former ACOMM Vice President. The program is only on its soft launch, trying to train its members prior to their major launch which they plan to have early next school year. I decided to hold my participant observation exercise within Magis Radio because a few of my friends and acquaintances are student jocks for major radio companies in the country. I wanted to experience how a radio show actually works and how it is different from the regular shows on television or the internet. My friends Bits and Carebear volunteered to be my key informants for the activity, who themselves are DJs and have been appearing, so to speak, in numerous radio shows already which makes their demonstration of the essentials of being a DJ quite reliable.
I walked into the booth area expecting a pool of people who will unconsciously intimidate me. Fortuitously, they were all very genial and accommodating. I arrived in the middle of a briefing session so they decided to include me to save time. During the briefing, I was made familiar to a few technical terms which are completely necessary for anyone who operates the equipment. The board can be likened to a control center because it basically controls everything: on- or off-air button, microphones, and volume. The act of using the board is called ‘boarding’. The anchor is a person who leads a show and is in charge of all the technical settings for the other DJs as well. To avoid miscommunication, he is the sole person who can ‘board’ during a show whenever there is a multiple-DJ show on-air although the presence of an anchor depends on what show they are having. After the briefing, we were all set to go on-air, well they were, at least. I was still a bit iffy because that would be the first time I will be experiencing radio in its most raw form.
Before going on-air, they let me try to host The Playlist. For that particular show, an anchor by himself is enough. As an anchor, I had to make sure that there will be no dead air in between songs. Dead air, as Bits and Gab (one of the student DJs) have told me, is considered a mortal sin for radio. From time to time, I can improvise spiels to introduce the next song or to entertain a request from a listener. So, what I actually did was to talk to the listeners for about two minutes and introduced the first song I will play. Before the end of the first song, I had to think of a spiel to introduce the next song and to welcome listeners who have just tuned in. I found it quite odd to hear how your voice will sound like on radio. It was relatively easy, but I think I wasn’t used to doing it yet that I stuttered at the end of my sentence. For those unwanted instances, having a co-host would come in handy since you have someone else who may salo whatever you left hanging. In cases like mine, though, what people normally do is to laugh it off and just carry on.
The show for that particular day and time was Magis Mic. It basically focuses on random things and anything which was headlined for the past days. When we had gone on-air, Gab was our anchor and he started off the show by introducing Bits and me (I had a DJ name by the way, DJ Mashu) and by telling people that I will be around for a project. After that, he initiated a conversation by telling us about what a good time is for him. Bits had her share of story-telling after that before I got mine. It felt quite unnatural, at least for me, since I am conscious that people geographically remote are listening to me. Bits and Gab really know their way around being a DJ and were very nonchalant about talking on the radio. We talked for almost seven minutes so Gab decided to end the conversation and played a song right after. I was commended for being able to relate my story to what they have already told because apparently, other things radio shows aim for are spontaneity and chemistry between the DJs. Kudos to me, then!
The whole experience with Magis Radio or radio shows in general can be likened to meeting an entirely unknown person. You want to open a conversation and as much as possible, you do not want any awkward silence or dead air in between. At the same time, you want to maintain the fluidity of the conversation but in your head, you begin to think of possible topics or question you want to ask that person next. The main difference though is proximity: you have your whole body to aid you in your conversation with a person but on a radio, your words literally say it all. Whenever you commit a mistake, you have to make up for it merely with words. A major advantage of being on a radio, on the other hand, is the absence of people itself. Without people looking at you, you do not feel as conscious as when there are. The radio is a really foreign entity for me and something positive I see about my experience is it taps on a different aspect in people. Having witnessed and experienced the nitty-gritty of radio shows makes me want more of it: from the moment we went on-air until we uttered, “Magis Radio, now signing off.”
What insights were gained from participation compared to just observing?
Mere observation usually leads to an underestimation of the activity being observed. Being an outsider observing from afar, the observer gets something from what he is seeing, but what he sees is just the tip of the iceberg. There is still so much to experience and consider about the act being observed. For instance, while I was just observing how the DJs in Magis Radio were operating and actually conducting the show, I thought that everything will be relatively easy once I step in and experience it. However, once I was asked to try hosting The Playlist, it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. The fact that it was my first time to host a show may have an effect on how I felt while doing it, but I think there is something vital missing when one is just observing an activity.
While I was observing, I was made familiar with the how-to’s and all the other technical aspects of the job but the actual experience fully encompasses the act because I had an idea as to how the DJs feel and what runs in their minds during the show itself. For researchers, I think it is an imperative to consider every aspect of an activity being observed because it sets them, as the researchers or observers, and the subjects on the same page. From observation, an act may seem very simple and easy, just as how I viewed radio hosting while I was observing it. However, having experienced the real job made me realize that radio wasn’t as easy as just talking incessantly. Rather, it was a relatively daunting job to keep something seem really natural when in reality, it isn’t. One cannot also fully rely on his skills because certain unfortunate instances are inevitable such as stuttering or too much talking.
Lastly, I think participant observation gives the researcher a 360-degree view of the particular activity he wants to know. Being an observer gives a researcher a different mindset as compared to when he is actually performing the activity. A lot of activities need a lot of coordination in speech and motor as well as psychological aspects. Participant observation gives the researcher a more accurate, so to speak, account of an activity because he himself has experienced doing it firsthand, along with the numerous other factors which come into play.
What did having a key informant add to your understanding?
The key informant was of a really big help in my understanding especially because the act which I chose to observe and participate in was completely unfamiliar to me. I know a handful of people who have worked with radio companies but I haven’t really experienced it firsthand. The key informant serves as a door which welcomes you into their own realm. As for my key informant, she walked me through every aspect in the booth area, from the technical things I have to remember, the jargons they use until a few reminders I have to keep in mind when I’m doing the act itself. I guess the key informant gives you an idea as to how things really work, as was in my case. As an observer also, we tend to create our own stigma of things new to us depending on how we have experienced it from afar. Key informants are the people who have a full grasp of what they are doing so they give observers a different view on how they get things done and how it feels for them. Their views give you a broader horizon in terms of the things that you may consider in analyzing and understanding the act which they are good at or knowledgeable of.
What was learned from participant observation at this event that a questionnaire or interview about it might miss?
As I have mentioned in the earlier questions, observers tend to have their own stigma towards something new or something they haven’t experienced. The full experience of an activity is not fully grasped until one actually experiences it firsthand. Although questionnaires and interviews provide more direct and structured answers, it doesn’t limit the judgment of a person to a particular context.
For example, an answer to questionnaires or interviews may be interpreted in the wrong way depending on how they are worded or how they relayed the information. Especially in questionnaires, the researcher is limited to what the participant has provided him as answers. The interpretation is left in the discretion of the researcher. Interviews are of the same case except that an interviewer may confirm his interpretation or understanding of a particular answer to the participant itself. Participant observation gave me the firsthand experience to the act of radio hosting itself. When my key informants told me that stuttering is inevitable, I initially thought that people who are adept in speaking may not have a problem with this. Having experienced it, however, I came to realize that no level of skill in speech would assure anyone to be an exception in stuttering or other problems.
Participant observation also allowed me to see how DJs normally behave in an environment natural to them. Had a questionnaire or interview been used, there is a big chance that the information people provide are not accurate compared to when an observer or researcher has actually seen them in their natural environment. In Psychology class, we have discussed possible complications or problems which one may possibly face in interviews such as inaccuracy in the information they are providing and the desire to impress the interviewer or the questionnaire giver.
For what purposes might a questionnaire or interview be better than participant observation?
An interview may be better than participant observation when the researcher needs hard facts and direct data from the participants. For example, if one needs to know a certain number or frequency of a certain act, it may be more practical for one to use questionnaires or interviews as compared to participant observation. An interview may also be better in cases where accuracy plays an important role because it gives the researcher a chance to confirm and validate his interpretations.
Word count: 1084
ALBAIRA, Matthew M. | 110103 | SA 21 Section P