When the summer holidays came about, I felt a bit lost. Suddenly I had left Leicester, where I had been with a household of friends for months, and was back in a small village in Suffolk. It’s a nice village, and Suffolk is a great place to be in the summer, but there’s no denying that it is a great deal quieter than city life. After a few weeks of lie-ins and meeting with friends, I found myself in need of something positive, involved and entertaining to do. I listened to the radio – more specifically Park Radio.
This radio station, although it had been about for several months, was beginning to become a very big part of my community. It did everything the major radio stations did- it had lots of hosts, invited guests and played good music. Alongside this, however, was a special community spirit that you just don’t get from national radio. The hosts talked about their own lives in Norfolk and Suffolk. Small events from the area were promoted. Guests from local towns visited and talked about their own lives. It seemed like such a small change to the usual concept, but it made a huge difference to the experience. So I arranged to meet the manager, and within a few days I was volunteering as a receptionist for the station.
My duties were simple. I answered the phone, took messages from listeners and greeted the show’s guests. I wasn’t exactly Terry Wogan, but I felt like I was part of something important. When I spoke to the radio hosts, I could tell they had a real passion for what they were doing. They each built a natural connection to the listeners, easily filling their three hour slot with good music and natural banter. Even though I knew a lot of work went into each show, it never really seemed as if this was just work for them. Everything they did was with pride, and I soon found pride in my own job there.
My morning was relatively uniform. I would arrive at 9.30am (harder than it sounds for a student) to find out the schedule for the show. Then, I would catch-up on any messages, open up the phone line, and wait for listeners to contact the show. A guest would arrive each hour, usually about 15 minutes before their interview, and I would offer them a drink. While there were times when I would have lots to do, there were times when things were quiet. And it was during these times that I got chatting to the guests and presenters at the station.
About 6 years ago, the word ‘sonder’ began circulating the internet. Although it is a very new word, like ‘selfie’, it represents a sensation that has existed for centuries. It originates from ‘The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows’, where it is defined as ‘the realisation that each random passer by is living a life as vivid and complex as your own’. We may come across hundreds of new people each with their own stories and experiences we might never learn. While there is often good reason for this, like stranger danger and the strains of everyday life, the fact remains that many of us live in closed circles of work friends, family friends and neighbours.
I soon began to experience sonder at the radio station. Be it nerves, excitement or genuine passion for their topic, I found that the visiting guests were keen to start a conversation with me in the reception. Although we began as complete strangers, we’d soon be chatting about our lives and interests in detail. Before their live radio broadcast interview, each guest was more than happy to have an informal interview with me in reception. Through this, I’ve met people I’ve probably walked past in the street, but would never think to speak to. Within about a week’s worth of volunteering, I had met an author, charity workers, a church warden and the mayor, each of whom had their own fascinating stories about their professions and lives. I quickly became enraptured in the experiences of these strangers. I wanted to hear more about the author’s inspirations, the charity worker’s career and the church warden’s faith. I almost didn’t want to let them into the studio so that I could keep talking to them, but I was also pleased for them to be able to share their passions with the rest of the community.
I surprised myself with how much I began to look forward to these short 15 minute discussions. Any morning where I saw the guest list, I was filled with questions I couldn’t wait to ask them. Soon, the early mornings didn’t feel so early and I became chattier and more excited at the prospect of meeting new people. Volunteering at a radio station became more than a summer hobby- it was an opportunity to become a bigger part of my local community, to learn more about other people and learn more about myself.