A Cuppa Media: On radio with Sara Mohr-Pietsch

Written by Alex Veeneman

Radio, as an industry, is changing. New technologies are seeing the availability of programmes change and new audiences come through.

Radio, as an industry, is changing. New technologies are seeing the availability of programmes change and new audiences come through. Yet, at the core of the medium is the intimacy – you and the voice behind the microphone.

Sara Mohr-Pietsch knows this well. The BBC Radio 3 presenter has seen these changes first hand as radio thrives, and how a better listening experience can be created.

“In the time I’ve been at Radio 3, I’ve noticed a shift in the ways we can connect with our audience,” Mohr-Pietsch said in a telephone interview. “You are constantly thinking about your listeners, what do they want to hear? How can we communicate with them immediately? How can that connect to what they’re listening to?”

‘Exciting upsurge’

Mohr-Pietsch says she has noticed an increase in communication during live programmes, creating immediate feedback, and a conversation that can continue. This has also allowed young audiences to come into play, especially with the rise of social media, seeing an increased interest from younger listeners. Mohr-Pietsch says she tries with her presenting style not to speak to one audience.

Indeed, the interest from younger audiences has spread within classical music, particularly in contemporary classical music, from the presentation of new works to the presentation of classic works in new ways.

“There is an exciting upsurge in connecting with this music,” Mohr-Pietsch said. “They are connecting fresh. They are coming at it from lots of different angles.”

That excitement translates to the anticipation of the broadcast, something to look forward to listen to.

Belief in equality

As the interest and excitement sees new directions unfolding, so have the debates, most notably that of women in radio. Mohr-Pietsch says she loves the work that the organisation Sound Women have done for the cause, and identifies herself as a feminist. Yet, Mohr-Pietsch adds, she has never encountered a problem during her time at Radio 3.

“I have never felt anything other than a full member of the team at Radio 3,” Mohr-Pietsch said. “In terms of my craft, being a woman has never been an issue.”

Mohr-Pietsch got into radio late, she says. She never worked on student radio or studied media or journalism at university (she studied Music at the University of Cambridge and then received a Master’s in Musicology from the University of Edinburgh), but got to her first presenting gig, Radio 3’s Breakfast Show, through a talent competition held by the BBC. Mohr-Pietsch said Radio 3 put a lot of trust in her creative skills.

Mohr-Pietsch believes in equality for all, and says that the radio industry is continuing to ask these questions well and create a dialogue around it.

“In the broader culture, there is still a long way to go,” Mohr-Pietsch said. “Inquiry and dialogue is important. I want to live in full equality.”

For those who want to get into the industry, Mohr-Pietsch said that was passion was key.

“You need to think radio is the best thing ever and the best way to connect with people,” Mohr-Pietsch said. “If you get excited about what’s on and how you engage with audiences, that’s the first box you should tick.”

‘Addicted to what I do’

Mohr-Pietsch says that radio is changing, and it takes a lot of work to get into radio.

“There are a lot of people who get in because they contact the right person at the right time or someone picked up on something,” Mohr-Pietsch said.

Yet, Mohr-Pietsch says, you can’t fold your arms and sit down once you’re in radio. You need to think about your approach, as the sound of radio changes. Mohr-Pietsch adds to also be enterprising – with social media especially, it has become easier to put features up, including on Twitter and Soundcloud.

“I am constantly having to think about what I do and creatively explore how I talk and present and approach my work,” Mohr-Pietsch said.

Yet, at the core of radio, regardless of direction, is the relationship between the presenter and the audience – the intimacy.

“You have to grab people,” Mohr-Pietsch said. “You have to make something that people care about and what keeps them wanting more. As a presenter, you are giving them a voice they want to listen to, that are saying things that engage them. People will want things that will make them laugh, that intrigue them. That element of mystery and surprise in radio is important.”

Mohr-Pietsch says she loves what she does, and the intimacy of radio allows the medium to shine.

“There is no other medium which communicates so directly and intimately,” Mohr-Pietsch said. “I’m addicted to what I do. I always feel privileged that people are listening to me.”

Sara Mohr-Pietsch presents The Choir (Sunday 4pm) and Hear and Now (Saturday nights), in addition to live output on BBC Radio 3. Mohr-Pietsch also presents the Composers Room podcast, which you can download here.

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