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

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