Page 5, 24th August 1979

24th August 1979
Page 5
Page 5, 24th August 1979 — Trying to be natural on the air

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Trying to be natural on the air

Anne Goodyear, at present studying at the Centre for Journalism Studies, University College, Cardiff, watches the somewhat tremulous first step of the clergy into the world of radio.

ST. M ICI IAEL's Theological College. Cardiff, suffered a radical change of use last week when it became a broadcasting studio housing clergymen of all denominations preparing for the coming of local radio to Cardiff.

Cardiff Broadcasting is not expected to start for at least a year, but when it does, the Anglicans. Catholics, Baptists, Evangelists and even the Salvation Army will be ready. (The Methodists have long been ensconced in BBC Wales).

Altogether 19 clergy attended the four-day course organised by the National Catholic Centre for Radio and Television, and presided over by its Director, Father Agnellus Andrew.

Since Father Agnellus set up the national centre at Hatch End, London. in 1955, its reputation has grown. It now offers training courses ranging from four days to It) weeks — on the tehniques of broadcasting and on general methods of communication — for instance the use of audio-visual aids.

Local radio has added a new dimension. The Cardiff course is only one of many. Glasgow, Torbay, Gloucester, Chelmsford, Northampton. and Motherwell will all be receiving Father Agnellus' advice.

It is advice worth having. The BBC regularly sends staff to Hatch End as does British Leyland, desperate to improve its image.

Four days is not long to dispel what one Anglican described as "a common bond of incompetence". but the task was tackled enthusiastically. The main problem, it seems, is how to reach an audience long apathetic to established religion. Clerical jargon is out. and denominational issues are for the most part avoided.

Much discussion followed one priest's attempt at a "Thought for the Day". He began by asking his altar server why the priest wore red vestments on Saint Josaphat's Day. Would the mere mention of "vestments" inhibit a staunchly Methodist Welsh audience.

The issue was resolved, by the altar boy's reply -"Did he play for Wales?"

But it was the interviewing which posed most problems. Priests chose the subjects on which they wished to be interviewed, but the common bond of rugby proved slightly superficial. Interviewer Tony Black struggled for questions: "Would you say. Father. that you were tight or loose? And so your advice would be to let it all hang loose?"

There were, of course, the naturals. One priest won great applause for his imitation of a goldlish — an attempt to show the exaggerated way people react when faced with deaf children.

After each session the interviews were played back for communal criticism, which proved characteristically charitable. "The self-criticism, however tended to be harder: I'm very conscious of one fault that I have — that I mumble ... I didn't speak clearly ... I didn't say what I wanted to ... I was getting nettled."

More than 20 million people listen to religious broadcasts each Sunday ("Jesus of' Narareth" had an audience of over 30 million on Palm Sunday). Yet only about five million people attend any sort of church service. Religious broadcasting, says Father Agnellus, is primarily a missionary work.

And with commercial companies willing to pay £22,500 for one minute's advertising at peak time, the Church cannot afford to scoff at the average of three and a half hours free exposure each week On the national networks. Local radio means even more coverage.

Local radio stations vary considerably in the time they allow. 1.1.3C Radio, I.ondon, has trebled the time available because of public demand.

Religious broadcasts can take many forms — talks, interviews, music. news, church services, or qui,ezes. But unless these programmes are professionally produced, and can compete with other programmes, they make little impact.

That is why Cardiff was important. The whole thing was made more exciting by the fact that for the first time ever, the radio station franchise has been given, not to a large commercial concern. but to a combination of community groups and investors. Their aim is to provide a radio service for all the community and one in which the community can participate.

If it is to be a success, everyone needs to become involved. As Father Agnellus said: "If it doesn't work — if it doesn't reflect the needs of the community, then the community has only itself to blame."

So, over the next few months, priests and ministers from the Cardiff area, and a further 18 members of the laity. will be trying to restrain their more obvious speech habits, buttoning or unbuttoning their jackets (camera angles can he cruel), and generally trying that hit harder — to be natural. MY husband got my mother talking the other day. He has it in his mind that she is a very representative middle-of-the-road Catholic, the likes of whom keeps Catholicism going, and he uses her as a kind of record of the thinking in the Church during her lifetime.

"Come, Granny Blake," he said, "how welcoming have the clergy been in the past when new ideas have come up?"

She thought, going back to the 1920's when she was first old enough to be interested. "I remember mostly unwillingness," she said. Our parish priest wouldn't let my brother form a Young Christian Workers group in the parish. He criticised the school for letting the teachers use Ronnie Knox's translation of the Bible instead of the Douai. It was a later set of clergy who didn't want the parish to collect funds by the covenant method, and we had a real tussle to get them to let us dialogue the Mass even though it was in Latin.

"I guess I've been unfortunate all the way along with priests with a dislike of any kind of liturgical reform, unhappiness about Vatican 11 changes, and slowness to face the people at Mass and give communion in the hand . . • these are the things that have come my way but of course there have been go-ahead priests and priests with vision or we shouldn't be where we are."

She paused and laughed. "What a lot of things your children's generation think normal that mine had to Fight over. And I wonder how many things my generation took for granted that our parents had to press for. What about frequent communion — as late as last century nuns had to ask for permission to receive it more than once a week, yet it makes sense to my generation to say that Holy Communion is not the reward for the good but the medicine for the bad. Lots of young people today have never followed Mass from behind the priest's back — and would feel queer if they had to."

"So life changes," my husband said, "and you don't think the Church can stand still even if priests try to dig in their toes and do as they have always done."

"It would be nice if they were in the vanguard of changes," said Granny Blake, "but I don't think their willingness or unwillingness makes all that difference. Do you remember when the High Priest and the Saducees wanted to kill Peter and the Apostles to stop them preaching the good news, and the Pharisee Gamaliel got up and told them to be careful and leave them alone. He said that if what Peter and his friends did was due to men, it would fail, hut if it was from God, no one would be able to overthrow them. That makes me think when something new comes up, you've got to ask the Holy Spirit to examine it with you.

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