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Lee Barber. Presenter. Lincs FM Group & Broadcast Journalism Tutor
Radio has never been more difficult to be a part of. Big media corporations are swallowing up smaller groups and local radio stations, networking makes up a lot of daily programming and it can feel like sometimes the only way to get behind a professional mic is by going on Love Island or being ‘some kind’ of celebrity.
The easiest thing to do is to look at the above and say to yourself “well, that goal is unattainable, so I’m calling it a day” - and you know what, I’ve spoken to many people that have already done that.
It’s no longer about working harder, it’s about working smarter.
Ask yourself these questions. What can you offer that no one else can? How are you different? Have you got an idea that will work perfectly with a certain target audience? This is the time to truly stand out.
Here are a few helpful tips I’ve collected over the years.
You’ll have heard this all before I’m sure, but it really is important! I’ve never met a presenter/producer who’s not creative. They are willing to try new things across ALL media platforms. Just because you want to be on the radio doesn’t mean you only have to be creative in a studio. We live in a world where it’s so easy to get hold of editing software/apps, most people have got decent phones, and it’s pretty simple to essentially turn yourself into a content creating machine across social media. Treat yourself as a brand. Build yourself. Develop yourself. Create online content that can be transferred onto radio.
Don’t stop learning
When you’re young it’s easy to become very assured of your ability. You may already think you’re the finished product and ready to take on the big radio markets. Chances are you’re not. I was watching an episode of “Inside the Actors Studio” recently and Bradley Cooper said to one of the students “I just want to get better”. This is the award winning actor and director Bradley Cooper!
Some people assume that when individuals reach a high standard in an industry, they stop learning. That’s not true. Just think of this, if you believe you’re good now, you will only continue to get better if you keep learning. For example, listen to Chris Evans on Virgin Radio. Isn’t he fabulous!? There’s a reason why he’s been the premium U.K. radio host for 20-25 years, it’s because he got better when everyone else stopped developing.
Please, please LISTEN TO RADIO!
I try and listen to 5 radio stations a day. A breakfast show for the features and content, a mid morning show for the short links between songs/adverts, speech stations for the subject passion, community/student stations for the creativity, and if I’m up, late night shows for the difference in audience and approach to features and programming.
Doing this has made me a better radio presenter. I’ve learnt what works at what times of the day by understanding how and why professionals (who are much better than me AT THE MOMENT- link to previous point) do it themselves.
Make notes on your phone if you like a feature. If there was something on a station that sounded relatable to your audience, re-write it for your show or presenter(s). I’ve stolen a few ideas from stations in different parts of the country. Do I feel guilty when people in the office say “hey I liked that bit about the dog who thought he was a giraffe last week” - Not at all. I took the time out to research my content, and chances are they probably stole it from someone else anyway!
Listen to Yourself
It’s vital that you hear what your audience hears. You will always been your biggest critic. I think that’s good! If you think that a link sounded OK, chances are the listener thought it was great.
Here’s my top tip for listening to yourself. Don’t sit on you own in a dark room with a speaker. Nobody listens to radio like that. People listen on the bus, in the car, whilst washing the dishes, maybe even painting a fence! Try and listen to your shows the way a listener would. Put yourself in their position. I guarantee it will help understand your listenership a lot better.
Ask for Advice
Kind of going back to the second point about learning, but if you’re going to give your demo to your mum, dad and nan to have a listen to, expect them to say that you’re the greatest person ever, “you’ll be on Radio 1 soon” and that “the industry better watch out”. Their job is to say that. When you entered the world, all your family signed a secret contract that states that “they will not say you are rubbish at radio because that would upset you.”
You need advice from people doing the job. People who get paid to hire and develop people like you. It’s tough getting honest feedback in the beginning, but If they do get back to you, it’s because they’ve been in that position themselves at some point.
I found some of my old demos last week from when I was about 18 years old - my word! What an horrendous compilation of links! I was more disgusted in my parents who had allowed me to think I was any good!
BBC Radio 1, and many of their sister stations, understand that talent doesn’t always come from people doing student and community radio. The amount of podcasts that are out there now is astonishing. I saw an advert for a podcast last week that discussed headstones. It was called “On Mi Head, Stone” with a picture of a footballer heading a coffin. Genius.
Don’t just limit yourself to radio, extend those skills in presenting and audio production into things such as podcasting. What a brilliant way to demonstrate your passion for a subject, creativity, producing abilities and all round “you the brand”. It’s never been so easy to manufacture content and get it out there for people to listen to.
Alongside working in radio, I’m also a Broadcast Journalism Teacher. Nine of my students have a podcast. They are 16-18 years old. They will stand out to any future employer.
Connect and Be Nice
The reason I can write these tips as someone who works in commercial radio is because I met someone by chance, they got a new job in Yorkshire near where I live and they asked me in for a chat.
I keep hold of contacts. Emails that I’ve sent demos to, people I’ve met in the past are still in my virtual ‘address book’. The reason is because you don’t know their future role. How do you know that the broadcast assistant who you had a quick chat with in the office won’t be the station editor in 10 years? That freelance journalist may be the Head of News in 12 months. Like you, everyone is on their own journey with their own battles to fight. They want to get better, they want to progress. Whether it’s in person or on social media, talk to people, offer your services, be nice, be memorable!
Hopefully some of these tips will resonate with you.
Good luck. You can do this!