So, you know you want to get ahead in radio? Well done – you know far more than I did a few years ago!
When I started creating podcasts and working for my university radio station, I have to admit that I was terrified of the mic. I was also guilty of over-editing my work – cutting out every little imperfection and generally going mad with the scissors in a broadcasting sense. Thankfully, I often had a studio all to myself and relatively few people witnessed this madness…
It’s three years on and I’m about to start a masters in Broadcast Journalism. Like many young journalists, I am keeping my options open. At the moment I am not sure if presenting is for me or whether I’ll thrive in a production role. For the purpose of this post: I am an aspiring broadcaster.
(Funnily enough, when I was interviewed for Wannabe Hacks, I was asked what “the dream” is i.e. what my dream professional role would be. I wasn’t prepared for that question and mumbled something about potentially maybe perhaps kinda being a radio producer in future. With hindsight, that wasn’t really exciting enough. The dream? Taking over from Kirsty Young on Desert Island Discs. Watch this space…)
So, without further ado, the advice outlined below is based on my own experience of student radio and my own efforts to accumulate work experience:
- Work on your broadcasting voice.
Now, this may sound a bit naff – but, in my view, this is really important. Firstly – slow down. Try to practice with a dictaphone or, better still, in an empty pre-record studio. Secondly – enunciate. This comes naturally to some people; however, most of us will find that we need to focus on one or two points in order to improve our radio voice.
- Make a demo.
If you want to be a presenter, a demo is essential. I would even go so far as to say that if you want to be a producer, a demo is essential. Ensure that your best content appears at the beginning and try to keep it under four minutes. Three minutes is the optimum length. This should be a compilation of your very best work. Begin with a teaser from a particularly good show you presented/produced or a short and snappy trailer showcasing your voice. Don’t be afraid to show a broad range of varied content. For example, if you worked on an outside broadcast include some clips from that alongside a segment from an in-studio interview. Use this as an opportunity to show what you can do.
- Edit that demo.
Take what you have just created and dissect it. Be brutal. Is there any rambling you could get rid of? Is a particular clip really necessary? Is the demo, as a whole, really showing off what I can do? Get rid of long pauses. Think of pauses as white space on your CV. A little bit goes a long way, so make sure there are clearly designated breaks between the items on your demo.
(I decided to take my own advice as I was finalising this post last night and edited my own presenter/producer demo. It is by no means perfect and still needs a little bit of work; however, if you are interested you can listen to it here.)
- Contact the right person regarding work experience.
Avoid writing ‘To Whom It May Concern:’ at the beginning of your letter/email. You may think that this covers all bases; however, it looks lazy. If the radio station’s website is completely unintelligible and you cannot find the email address you need, phone the station and ask who to contact about work experience. An email can easily get lost in a busy inbox whereas a phone call is a direct line to the information you need. If you are posting copies of your demo on a CD or attaching .mp3 files to an email, ensure that you include a track list complete with all timings.
- Look out for mentoring schemes and training days.
Now, you may think that you do not have enough experience to be a mentee. Download the application, read the criteria, and – if you fit the criteria – make your case. Last year, Sound Women opened up their mentoring scheme and offered thirty lucky women already working in radio the chance to get ahead with the help of an experienced mentor. It is worth looking out for schemes like this – they may not be relevant to you right now; however, in future when you have a little bit more experience under your belt the help of experienced mentors will be an invaluable asset.
- Attend lectures, panels, and events.
This isn’t always possible and will depend on where you are based. Most of the groups offering mentoring schemes and training will be present at various events and panels. I attended a BECTU panel last year and this particular event was streamed online. Follow as many relevant organisations as you can on Twitter and you will get word of any upcoming panels, discussions, and events. If you are at a student station and you know that your station is a member of The Student Radio Association, sign up to their newsletter for advice, opportunities, and industry news. Also: check out The Pips, The Radio Academy, and Radio Today.
And finally – here is some general advice for those of you who are starting university this year or returning after the summer and itching to get started in radio:
- Find your university radio station’s stall at freshers’ week or attend an open studio.
Student radio attracts all types and there are so many jobs available for students to do. For example: before I started working in student radio, I did not realise that marketing and ‘station sound’ is such a big part of it all. If the idea of sitting at a microphone blabbing away fills you with dread but you think you could help a student radio station find or reinvent its identity, then I’d urge to get in touch with your station and get involved. You might surprise yourself!
- Get involved.
Try your hand at everything. You might find that you start at a student station wanting to be a producer and, by the time you graduate, you may have completely changed your mind and have decided that you now want to pursue a career as a presenter. Or vice versa. Student radio gives you the opportunity to mess around and, as cheesy as it sounds, find your voice. For example, when I began working with my student station in my second year, I created programmes on everything from travel to creative writing. If you have ideas for new show formats, try them out. Create a pilot and send it to your editor. Use your initiative.
- Befriend your section editor/station manager.
Everyone involved in student radio is doing so alongside a demanding workload for an often unrelated degree. Speaking as a former arts editor: If you help us out, we will remember!
Do you have any advice to add? Is there anything we have missed out? Are you looking to get ahead in radio? Share your experiences with us. Comment below or tweet us @wannabehacks.
Image courtesy of OCV PHOTO.
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After finishing my stint in student media, I couldn’t help but look