Saturday, 30 July 2011

I want to work in radio Part 3 - Marsha's advice

When I wrote I want to work in radio, quite a few people got in touch, which was nice. 

I got an email from my dear, and talented friend Marsha (above), which contained a whole better load of advice in it than my initial post.

So here is Marsha's take on the whole thing. She wrote it when she worked at Xfm in London. It was initially posted up by CMUonline in 2009. Go Marsha:

"First of all, here's the bad news: because of changes in the law, a lot of stations' shows have become networked. 

"Often, there are only three shows that actually come from the local town (Breakfast, Drive and Weekend Breakfast) with all the rest coming from London. 

"The BBC are going to be carrying out similar cuts in staff across the next two years. What it means is fewer jobs and more people (now out of work and often over-qualified) competing for them. 

"It's a very tough business to get into just now. However, someone's got to get employed, right?

"Next comes the reality check: We DJs don't usually pick the music ourselves. Actually, on Xfm, between 10pm-2am the presenters do, but this is extremely rare on commercial radio. 

"On my show, I have three choices an hour (which I have to pick from an appropriate pool) and the rest are prescribed by the Head of Music. 

"People always think I must hate this - actually, covering Xposure (where it's 100% free plays) is insanely hard work, so I don't, and I don't think choosing all the music yourself is what should happen, but if you do, be aware that it probably won't happen for you.

"It's also an incredibly insecure industry. We're all freelance (which means if you take a day off or have to miss work through illness, you don't get paid), and could get the sack at any time. 

"I know these days that's true of many industries, but I think in radio it's particularly brutal - there's usually no notice period. You just get a phonecall informing you that the last show you did was the last and please clear your desk. 

"So you often spend most of your time feeling worried you're about to be let go. In my previous job, I found out my show was being cut when I switched on the radio to hear the presenter before me telling the listeners that it was my last show. That's actually more warning than most presenters get.

"Also, the hours suck. I have worked every Christmas Day, Easter Sunday and Bank Holiday since I started. For three years I woke up at 3am every Saturday and Sunday. Which meant I could never go out with my friends without one of us having to be up for work the following day. 

"Your employers generally don't care about you. You are often treated badly, and any years of good service means nothing. 

"Outside of the BBC, there are very few off-air staff. If you're lucky there will be a producer on Breakfast, on the bigger stations one on drive, but otherwise you're on your own, doing everything (including research, editing etc) on your own.

"However, in spite of all of this, I still think it's the best job in the entire world. That's why I've been doing it for so long. 

"Assuming I haven't put you off, here's what you have to do...

"Broadcast/media courses are good, but, unless you specifically want to be a journalist, they are by no means essential. Much, much, much more important than this is experience. 

"As such, if you're going to uni or college, make whether the course has a student radio station affiliated to it a very serious consideration. 

"Get involved in hospital radio (look online for stations). 

"Look into community radio as well (look online for stations). If you want to be a presenter, you need as much on air experience as possible. Then start trying to get as much work experience in professional stations as you can.

"Your best bet is to tap up small local stations. Have a look on the internet at what smaller stations run in your area, call them up and ask who's in charge of work experience, write to that person telling them specific things you like about the station (if you're not familiar with it, get familiar with it, listen or listen online), outlining your experience etc.

"You can approach presenters direct too. Tell them you want to do work experience on their particular show, tell them what it is about that show you like. I get requests like yours all the time. If I think you're just some chancer I'm not interested. 

"If I think you are a genuine fan of the show or someone who's bothered to make the effort to (a) find out which show I do and (b) listen to it, I might be interested.

"Then, if you hear nothing, pester them once every couple of weeks with a "just wanted to check you got my email" type email. 

"Do this by hitting reply all to your original email (so they can scroll down and remember who you are). In fact ALWAYS do that when emailing someone more than once (though you only have to ever do it for one email - they don't need to read through four 'just checking you got this' emails before they get to the original one you sent).

"Also, apply to as many stations as you can, regardless of whether you like that particular station or not. You need to just get loads of experience under your belt. 

"Although it's better to do more at fewer stations than do less at more stations. When a job comes up, they're more likely to give it to the person who has already done a lot at that station than someone who's just been there one day.

"Every single time you meet anyone in the radio industry, chase them up with a "nice to meet you" email (email addresses are either obvious or easy to find on google). Every time you get an excuse to email them after that (their station is in the paper with something positive, they got nominated for a Sony), drop them an unobtrusive, "just wanted to say well done. Since we last spoke, I've had some more experience doing xxx". 

"This is so that, when they need help with something, you'll be a name they think of and your contact details (put your number after your name on the email) will be easy to read. If you're still a student, go to as many student radio conferences as you can -

"If you're not, go onto and go to as many talks as you can. Make friends with your peers as well as your superiors - they'll be the ones in the future who'll be open to helping you because you were in the same boat at the same time.

"Tailor your cv. Put all the radio experience in one section at the top of your work experience.

"Doesn't matter which is paid/unpaid - the experience is most important. Two pages is acceptable length - no longer. 

"Don't bother with your postal address, age/martial status and don't waste space on writing the words "email" and "mobile" - it's obvious it's an email address and a mobile phone number. 

"Don't write CV at the top, just your name in big letters, with your email address and mobile number underneath. Make it easy to skim read. Get several friends to spell and grammar check it.

"And good luck."

If you want to see and hear Marsha talking about working in radio, she's on the Route into Radio website I mentioned in my last blog post. I hope you find it useful.

There's more:

I want to work in radio Part 1 - Simon
I want to work in radio Part 2 - Route into Radio

Thursday, 21 July 2011

I want to work in radio Part 2 - Route into Radio

I want to work in radio Part 1 is here - the link to I want to work in radio Part 3 is at the bottom of this post.

Now there's an exciting photo. It's my office - studio 1a at BBC Surrey.

Thank you for all the great responses to my blog post I want to work in radio, which included some very useful advice via email from a former Xfm presenter. I will try to put it up here at the weekend.

In the meantime, if you still want to work in radio, you could do worse than have a look at Route into Radio, a project my wife worked on whilst on secondment from Radio 1.

It's got video advice from Mark Kermode and Scott Mills, my dear colleagues Danny Pike and John Reynolds, plus many other luminaries.

The interviewees are divided into categories, so as well as presenting, you've got journalism, interactive, technical, sales and marketing, management and production.

Then you've got the stuff they are talking about also divided into categories - getting started, moving up the ladder, and day-to-day advice. The idea being you can cross-reference them against the job categories.

Have a look, and tell me what you think. My wife wasn't responsible for the bits you don't like.

There's more:

I want to work in radio Part 1 - Simon
I want to work in radio Part 3 - Marsha's advice

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Phone Hacking

On Wednesday 1 Sep 2010 I was pointed by The Guardian's front page to an article on the New York Times website about Andy Coulson, the former editor of the News of the World, which contained some pretty extraordinary allegations.

Mr Coulson, was, at that time, the Prime Minister's Director of Communications.

I thought it was a big story, yet not many other people seemed to think so. Certainly I remember being surprised at how little interest there was in making a big deal about it at network level.

I asked various people why they thought no other newspaper (apart from Private Eye which had been banging on about it for moths) or broadcast organisation thought the Guardian or New York Times story was that big a deal.

I was variously told that it was perhaps because it was an "old" story, or too "media" or "villagey" (shorthand for Westminster village, the little political bubble inhabited by lobby hacks, MPs and the rest) to be of interest to the public.

Yes, but.... I thought... these are serious allegations about someone at the very heart of government. It's in the public interest. I've seen lobby hacks getting in a froth about far duller stories - why not this one?

So I thought, well... I think this is a serious story. I am a journalist. I have a BBC radio show. Why don't I do something about it? So I did.

I wrote to every MP in Surrey asking them if they would let me know their thoughts about Andy Coulson's continued employment as David Cameron's Director of Communications. With the resources I had, it's all I could do.

Surely one of them would read the New York Times article and say "actually, this is new information, it does look a bit odd - perhaps Mr Cameron should have a think about this."

I suppose, in a way, I thought it would be mutually beneficial to give them the opportunity to come on air and say something. We could discuss it, they would sound reasonable, and I would get a line (and a local angle) on a story I thought was quite important.

I wrote to all 11 Surrey MPs via email.

Maybe some of them were worried about what the whips would think if they went on the record. Maybe some of them hoped it was a situation that would go away if everyone ignored it. Maybe they thought the sort of person the PM employs is none of their business. Maybe they thought it wasn't all that important what Mr Coulson may or may not have been up to as the editor of the News of the World. Who knows? Not one of them replied.

But as I said, at the time, not many journalists seemed to think it was worth bothering about either.


Saturday, 9 July 2011

I want to work in radio Part 1 - Simon

Rather excitingly, this has turned into a three part series. Start here. Links to parts 1 and 2 are at the bottom of this post.

This is Andy, but let's call him Simon, because this blog post isn't really about Andy.

I met Simon earlier today. He wants to get into radio.

Simon is 23, more or less the same age I was when I was trying to find my first paid job in the media. Simon is a student, working in student radio at the University of Surrey.

Simon made the effort to find me on twitter, start a conversation, and eventually ask if we could hook up. Fine. He wants a job in radio, I work in radio.

Simon's student radio station is GU2, which is situated about 200m from BBC Surrey. In two years of working at BBC Surrey, Simon is only the second student to approach me with a view to getting on in the industry.

I set up a meeting with the first person after he contacted me on twitter, but he cancelled our meeting, because he "had a lot on" that day. I said that was cool - he could get back in contact to set another date. He didn't.

So Simon came to BBC Surrey and I gave him the tour. I asked if I could have a look round GU2 student radio.  It was exactly as I expected. Ten year old radio desks taped together with chewing gum and love.

We went for a drink. I asked him if he could have any job in radio, what it would be. The answer: Zane Lowe's.

I once wanted Steve Lamacq's job, so I could see where Simon was coming from.

When I wanted a job in radio, in 1996, the BBC was expanding at a hell of a lick, and commercial radio was in its pomp. It was easy - people were recruiting, and I wasn't an idiot. I was in a very lucky position.

Things have changed in the last 15 years. Very bright people who have been bitten by the radio bug can't get a job.

The BBC, as far as I am aware, is shrinking, not recruiting. Commercial radio is... I don't know where commercial radio is, as the only commercial stations I listen to are LBC and TalkSport. Wonderful success stories, but not ideal for someone who wants to be the next Zane Lowe.

So what to tell Simon?

Having come across the World's Most Jaded Radio Manager very early in my career, I resolved, from the very start, to be as positive as possible about my industry and what it has to offer.

Every person I have met since, every person who has shown a genuine interest in getting into radio, I have tried to help to get on in some small way.

It felt different with Simon. Here was someone who loved his music (which makes it difficult to forge a career in commercial radio), who had no interest in being a journalist (which makes it difficult to forge a career in BBC local radio), telling me that he was trying to get his demo together with a hope of getting a shot at 6 Music, or something.

Lovely, bright, intelligent guy, but what sort of career will he have if he doesn't become the next Zane Lowe, or Lauren Laverne, or Shaun Keaveny, or Marc Riley?

How many presenting jobs are there in radio for people who love music, which can actually pay a living wage?  50? 100?

So I told him. I told him he was more than welcome to come and shadow one of my shows. I told him I was on nodding terms with two reasonably powerful agents in music radio, and I would send an email on his behalf, if his demo was up to scratch. I told him that he was doing all the right things.

But that at the same time, I couldn't help thinking his sideline as a successful gig promoter and club DJ in Guildford would stand him in far better stead in the future. And so I told him he might be better off pursuing a career in that area.

Should I feel bad about that? Looking at it as a numbers game, has Simon got a hope of making a good living in radio?

I'm not an embittered hack - I love my job to bits, but I'm one of around 800 people in the UK who have a breakfast time radio show. There aren't that many of us.

I hope Simon doesn't listen to me. I hope I'm so out of touch with the way radio is recruiting that there's a massive future for someone like Simon. I love radio, and I want to see it popular, ground-breaking and successful, both commercially and within in the BBC, and I hope that Simon is one of those people who will make that happen.

But maybe I did the right thing. And when, at the age of 40, Simon is a successful club/festival promoter with money in his pocket, a decent pension and a once-a-week session show on BBC Wherever/Heart FM, he will look back at our meeting, and say something along the lines of "Wallis, fetch me some more scotch".

Until then, and in the interests of helping out... if you can use someone with quite a bit of presenting, producing and editing talent, someone who really loves his music, who has no interest in becoming a journalist, but who desperately wants a job in radio, give me a call. I'll pass Simon's details on to you. You already know what he looks like, and that he's really called Andy.

There's more:

I want to work in radio Part 2 - Route into Radio
I want to work in radio Part 3 - Marsha's advice