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


  1. Upon seeing this I realise it's time for a shave. Thanks for taking the time to have a chat!

    And if anyone from LBC does see this, I'm quite a fan of that too. Regularly listen to it during the day, even had a text read out once.

  2. Hello Mr. Wallis. Good luck to Andy/Simon, I hope he makes it, he's 23 and has time to give a shot, that's all you can do. I was in bands when younger, never made it, came within a whisker (smaller than Andy/Simons) of being signed but it didn't happen. Fun was had trying though, how can it not be when it's something you love.

    Right look out, here comes my other hobby horse. BBC Introducing might be a place to look to. You say you think the BBC may be shrinking. Or is it just going on a diet? Leaner and fitter. Look at the accounts and you see the BBC had a £500m surplus last year. Did you read the Meyers report? OR hear him speaking on the Gruaniad Media podcast? He wa very clear in his belief that the BBC can make 20% savings from middle management and above. His point that it is not managers jobs to protect their own positions a quite clear one. I am not in a position to say that Meyers knows it all or either that he is a fool but the truth is somewhere in between.

    BBC Local Radio has much more to offer than just journalism, or a least it should have. The specialist music programmes aren't all for me but they are there for those that love their folk, jazz country etc... BBC Introducing and their like are a cracking idea. Possibly one not made enough of. The possibility raised in previous months that Local Radio could somehow be used to re-distribute 5Live during off-peak was one of monumental stupidity on the part of Mr. Thompson and whoever else was pushing it. Some of the specialist programmes have been running for 3 or four decades, BBC Introducing gives opportunities for young local bands to be heard and all be it slimmer opportunities for people like Andy/Simon. Of course it won't pay a living wage but isn't it about more than that?

    It's about someone with a bit of heart and imagination got hold of the reigns of BBC LR because whoever it was that decided I've had to listen to Hungry Eyes for the last six or seven years, is of the same mindset as the one who muted the 5Live idea.

    Love you, love your show.

    Best regards.