Behind the Scenes of a Radio Broadcast

It all started with an email back at the end of November. The producer of religious broadcasts on BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Radio Foyle got in touch asking if St. Finnian’s would broadcast its morning service on Sunday 14th January.

I was hesitant, to be honest. My last experience of one of these, some years ago, was pretty challenging. There were a lot of edits to do as they tried to get our script up to scratch with regards to timings and content, and the nervous tension that goes with the knowledge that the service goes out live so any mistakes or slips are there for all to hear.

I’m not exactly sure of the listening figures, but I’m led to understand that tens of thousands tune into the Sunday morning service on the radio which comes just after the 10 am news. That’s quite an audience for a church that aspires to go beyond walls. I started thinking and praying for all who might tune in, from people in hospitals and nursing homes, to people driving, to people working away in their kitchen, maybe as a carer, or preparing a Sunday lunch for family and friends. What a special opportunity.

I was told it would be likely our broadcast would begin around 10.03 am and end around 10.43 am, when another programme would be introduced on the back of the broadcast.

Since the global pandemic, there was no longer a Saturday evening rehearsal, so everything would just happen live.

In the email correspondence before Christmas, I was asked to submit a script 4 days before the broadcast. We began to plan the service with the assistance of our director of music, Mark, and my colleague, Andy. I asked Gillian, our diocesan lay reader if she would read the bible readings. We wanted to have different voices, some congregational responses, and to give a flavour of what happens here on a Sunday morning for those tuning in.

I looked up the Bible readings and prepared an address. I got in touch with a colleague who had done a broadcast recently to see if he could share any helpful tips. He suggested bringing some extra resources and prayers, and encouraging the choir and organist to have another hymn up their sleeves for timing reasons.

In the week before the broadcast, I asked my colleague, Andy, to come to the church with me. As he was leading the service, we timed the pieces of liturgy he would be reading. We timed the Bible readings. He timed me delivering the sermon and the prayers, which I prepared just a couple of days before the broadcast. We scripted a two line welcome to try to give people a sense of where we were.

On the day itself, the outside broadcast unit came to the church around 8 am. They did some cabling and set up equipment before our early service which changed its time to 8.30 am. It was great to still our hearts and minds before God as we celebrated Holy Communion with the early congregation.

After that first service, they finished setting up the cables. We went through the running order with our own technology team, who were streaming the service. The outside broadcast sound engineers took sound levels from all the places where people would be speaking or singing or making responses.

I had to wait in front of the microphone for a couple of minutes before getting the cue from the producer that we were now live. It was an anxious moment and it was nice to catch the eye of my son down the back who winked, in the way that he does, and it made me feel all would be ok.

After the service, a number of people got in touch. Some were parishioners who had listened at home. Others were people I had known many years ago. One woman got in touch as I had prayed for those who were grieving. She had lost her son 16 years ago and I had led his funeral service, and hearing my voice had brought back many memories.

This is the special thing that happens when we are given the opportunity to share our worship with others. There are also the moments of absolute panic, when the producer comes in during your sermon and hands you a piece of paper saying, “You need to speak a bit quicker,” or, “Could you add in an extra prayer?!”

I was glad of my colleague’s advice.

Could I ask you, please, to hold in prayer the Carlisle family, as they prepare for Peter’s funeral in the Antrim/Newtownabbey Crematorium on Thursday at 12 noon? We remember Peter’s daughter Tamala, his mum, Barbara, and sister Heather, and the extended family circle. We ask God to surround them with His comfort and help in this time of sad loss.

Look forward to speaking again soon.

Much love to everyone,


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