The second big tic indulged in by too many Public Radio hosts is the word “well” or the phrase “well and…” This throw-away word is often employed to “segue” (transition) from one topic to another during an interview or discussion. Such an almost subverbal conversational signal comes in handy during the kind of fast moving discussion live radio demands, and I have no problem with its appropriate use. But in some cases the word has become almost a medium of its own in which the conversation takes place. Some hosts use this word to begin virtually every declarative statement they make on air. Curiously this is often combined with “getting a sense”. Where you find one you usually find the other.
Robin Young, dulcet-voiced host of WBUR’s nationally syndicated “Here and Now,” is one of the champion well and sense-sayers, but she is dwarfed by the true Michael Jordan of the technique, New Hampshire Public Radio’s Laura Knoy. Ms. Knoy begins virtually every episode of her often terrific 5 day a week show “The Exchange” by trying to get a sense from each of her subjects. I once heard her carefully ask “just give us a sense” four times in a row to her four guests, strongly implying she actually chooses to do this. (Robin Young owned up to the practice via email and indicated she considered it a bad habit.) Laura also manages to leave Robin in the dust well-wise. Just today she began her interview with a combination of the two, “Well and Jamie I’ll start with you. Give us a sense of…”, for triple bonus points.