Just wanted to pass this link on! The radio school is an academy based in Kent offering training courses for producers and presenters. Courses are taught by former BBC and national commercial presenters.
Link to an excellent article by Rod Lucas, founder of the radio school, on working in radio;
This guy has seen and done pretty much everything in the industry, so if you’re looking to learn a thing or two, he wouldn’t be a bad place to start.
Now you’ve got your shiny new demo put together, you need to think about who you’re going to send it to. While I’ve stressed previously the importance of making contacts, the reality is that to maximize your chances of success, you’ll want to use a mixture of word-of-mouth contacts and sending out demos speculatively. There are some places where you can find radio jobs advertised in the normal way, and there are plenty of online directories where you can find all sorts of stations you can contact. Here’s a list of some of the top resources on the web for budding presenters and producers:
1. Media UK http://www.mediauk.com/
Media job listings, plus a great directory of UK commercial, student and community stations. Also has great articles and advice.
2. BBC Jobs https://jobs.bbc.co.uk/fe/tpl_bbc01.asp
Jobs, work placements, training schemes and more.
3. Gumtree http://www.gumtree.com/
Check in the ‘media jobs’ section – there are often some interesting courses or jobs advertised.
4. Grapevine Jobs http://www.grapevinejobs.com/home.asp
An excellent site for general media jobs including film and tv roles. I like this site because you often see radio jobs that you often wouldn’t even think to look for, like production companies making in-flight audio content for airlines, post production studios, or voiceover work, all of which are great to have on your CV.
5. Radio Talent http://www.radiotalent.co.uk/
A great site to sell yourself to potential employers. Create a profile online, specify what skills and experience you have, and radio stations can browse the site and make contact with you. Also has a job listings section.
Will post more links in future, but there should be more than enough here for you to get a feel for what’s out there. Good luck!
In part 2, I discussed how using your contacts is a great way of finding opportunities for paid work in presenting or producing. So what do you do when you hear about a radio job that’s become available? It’s time to record a demo and start sending it out.
Common Demo Mistakes
I wanted to address this first, because a lot of people feel like they have to ‘reinvent the wheel’ when it comes to their demo to be in with a chance of getting a job – I can understand this; radio stations do receive a lot of demo cds or files, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with wanting to make yourself stand out from the crowd. However, from experience of being the person who receives these demos, and having listened to hundreds, there are common basic mistakes people make that massively their hinder their chances of being brought in for an audition. You have to think of your demo as the audio equivalent of your CV. You wouldn’t send your CV to an employer printed on luminous yellow paper covered in spelling mistakes would you? You make sure the basics are right first and then think about little ways you can make yourself stand out.
The top mistakes to avoid with your demo are as follows:
1. Length – I mentionned in part two that the life of a radio station manager or programme controller is a busy one – they don’t have time to sit through a ninety-minute mix CD, or even fast forward through it to your links. Trust me, if there’s nothing that grabs you in the first couple of minutes, this CD will go in the bin. You need to make your demo punchy, easy to listen to, and give the person listening to it a good idea of your presenting style. There is no formal set length for a radio demo, and different people may tell you different things. In my experience, between two and four minutes is a good bet.
2. Being ‘Wacky’ – Again, in an attempt to stand some presenters resort to shock tactics – using crass language, talking about controversial subjects or attempting ‘random’ humour. As I mentioned, there’s nothing wrong whatsoever with differentiating yourself, but you have to do it in the right way and sending out the wacky demo will get you more no’s than yes’s. Think about the person you’re sending the demo to, and what they need – the chances are, they want someone with solid technical skills who can come in and start presenting without too much training or coaching, has good music knowledge and can be relied on to do a good job. A demo featuring a rant about hamsters doesn’t tell them anything about your music knowledge or how you build a rapport with listeners – it just tells them you’ll need plenty of training, probably won’t stick to scripts or schedules and potentially say something libellous on air, which is the last thing a commercial station needs.
Keep your demo simple and clean. Plenty of good, information packed links is all you need. If you’re applying to something edgier like a specialist rock, urban or indie station, then feel free to spice your links up a bit, but don’t overdo it.
Make it sound like you’re already a presenter on the station you’re applying to and they’ll be more likely to want to meet you.
3. Set your levels properly – It’s unbelievable that some people do this, but some people send demos that are inaudible. Just as you wouldn’t send a CV in black ink printed on black paper, make sure your demo has been correctly recorded and burnt on to a CD before you send it. I would receive demos where the presenter’s voice was drowned out by the music, others where somehow it played at the wrong speed, and others where the links were coming out distorted or crackling. Some of these presenters probably had real potential, but I had no way of knowing as I couldn’t hear their demos properly and had to throw them away. Don’t waste all of your hard work by trusting the employer will figure out how to sort your audio out – not being able to simply press play and hear the demo is a terrible mistake, and will make you look like a complete amateur – so check your CD or files first before you send.
4. Innacuracies – The equivalent of putting glaring spelling mistakes on your CV, make sure the information in your links is correct. I’ve heard people give out incorrect names of songs, get bands names wrong or even put in links that have gone wrong – radio stations don’t want to hire presenters that are going to keep getting things wrong – it makes the station look bad. Get a friend to listen to the demo and point out any errors you may have missed. If you’re unsure of anything, google it – don’t try to guess or blag it.
So what should I include in the demo?
A demo shouldn’t be complicated. It should be a an easy way for a station to hear plenty of links and get a good idea of your personality. If you make it reasonably punchy, with up-to-date music and informative links, you’ll give yourself a massive advantage over a lot of the other demos that a station will receive. If possible, use links from live shows, as it’s difficult to re-create the energy in your voice if recording off the air or at home for example (I’ll cover putting together a home studio set-up in a future post). If you don’t know what to talk about in your links, buy a newspaper or a copy of the nme, then talk about what’s currently going on in the world or in music – this is what commercial presenters do! Show enthusiasm.
Sending Your Demo
It’s normally a good idea to try and speak to someone at the station first before you send in the demo. It’ll normally be the station manager or programme controller. You’ll find out whether they are currently on the lookout for new presenters (even if they aren’t, ask if you can send through your demo anyway – they may give you feedback or keep it on file if they like it), plus it’ll also give them an idea of what your voice sounds like and your personality. If they like what they hear, they’ll be more likely to listen to your demo when they receive it. If you can’t get through to anyone, at least get the name of the person and then address the demo to them. You may wish to send through a covering letter and CV as well – this isn’t essential but sometimes it is useful to see what other radio experience a person has – things you never thought would be of interest to an employer may just be what someone is looking for.
Remember that sending out demos is really a numbers game; Not all demos get listened to, and a lot of the time you won’t hear anything back from a station after you’ve sent one, but don’t give up. Be persistent, concentrate on getting the basics right, sell yourself and be positive, and the opportunities will come. Good luck!
More on radio demos at mediauk: http://www.mediauk.com/article/18/how-to-send-a-radio-demo-tape
In part one, I discussed the opportunities out there for getting some experience and basic training under your belt. So what happens when you want to take the step up from voluntary or unpaid experience and start looking for paid radio work?
Radio, as well as other sectors in the media like press and television, are very much about contacts. The phrase ‘it’s not what you know, but who you know’ is important here.
From the outside, at first glance it appears like the radio industry consists of a lot of brown-nosing and people giving jobs to their friends. I’m not going to deny that to an extent this goes on – it does. A lot of people do get jobs despite limited talent because they know someone a at station who has some influence and is able to get them in the door. However, that’s only a small percentage, and most stations are keen to only hire people based on talent and ability, and give everyone an equal and fair chance to prove themselves. Making contacts does not mean ‘selling out’ or having to be something you’re not.
So what does it mean? How does knowing people help get you a job? To explain this, let’s look at the situation from the perspective of the stations themselves.
Where Radio Stations Get Their Staff From
I mentioned in my previous post that stations tend not to advertise (for presenting/production staff) through traditional channels like local or national papers, or mainstream job sites (go to the ‘radio’ section on the guardian jobs website and 90% of the jobs in this section are radio media sales jobs rather than presenting or producing). The reason for this is that most stations are run by relatively small teams of people. It will be the job of the program controller or station manager to hire new staff. By putting an ad on monster or even a specialist industry site such as media uk, they will simply be swamped with hundreds or even thousands of enquiries. The brutal truth is that the vast majority of the CVs or demos they receive will be crap. With all the other aspects of running the station to take care of, no manager would ever have the time to sit down and listen to every one of these demos or trawl through CVs to separate the wheat from the chaff.
But stations do need presenters and producers don’t they? People move on – presenters get jobs at other stations and suddenly there’s a gaping hole on the schedule that needs to be filled. This happened a lot at Virgin Megastores Radio, as it was one of the few stepping stones between ‘amateur’ stations such as student or hospital radio and commercial stations – some of the stations VMR presenters moved on to included XFM, Gaydar, Club Asia, Q radio, The Radio Music Shop and Coast FM. Whenever this happened, I needed to find a new presenter fast. There were two things I used to do.
1. Go through my demos file.
Another reason stations don’t advertise presenter vacancies? They don’t have to. We would constantly get a small but steady stream of demos coming through the post, or by email, or by people turning up and dropping off cds. However, it wasn’t the deluge you would get if you put out a national ad – so I did have time to listen to them all and get back to people with feedback. As such, even with a full team of presenters I would always put aside the demos that I liked and had the right sound for the station (More on demos in the next post), call them up and have a chat to see what they were up to, and then keep in touch with them – contact. As soon as a vacancy came up, I already knew who I was going to call.
2. Put the word out
The presenters in the demos pile aren’t always available – sometimes you call them when a vacancy becomes available, only to find they’ve been snapped up by another station since you last spoke. To cover all my bases, I would always let the other presenters know I was on the lookout for a new presenter for the team. Most of the DJs at the station were freelancers and did other bits of presenting or voice-over work at other stations, so came into contact with quite a few other radio freelancers. Therefore they were able pass on demos to me and recommend people they knew would be a good fit for the station and were available. The advantage here is that they were able to effectively do most of the ‘screening’ work for me, and only send me the demos of the people they knew would cut it. I would then go through these and decide if there was anyone I wanted to bring in for an audition (more on these in a future post).
These two steps were always good enough to find good new presenters. If I still didn’t have any demos I was happy with after these, only then would I consider putting out an ad. But I never had to.
You can’t underestimate the importance of this process in helping you get a foot in the door. I like to use an analogy of a long chain, with each presenter being a link. Your job is to make sure you are the next link in the chain. I took on six presenters during my time at vmr. Here’s a quick breakdown of where we got them:
Matt sent in demos and kept in touch with us for over a year.
Pete came to see us at the studio and dropped off a demo, which I kept on file
Shak Met Marsha, a VMR presenter at the time, and gave her his demo. Impressed, she passed it on and I brought him in for an audition.
Emma knew Shak and passed on her demo. I kept this on file for a few months until an opening became available, brought her in for an audition.
Chris was a friend of Emma’s – I let the presenters know I was looking for a weekend presenter and, knowing he had some experience presenting on digital radio – got him to record a demo and send it in. I brought him in for an audition.
Nick sent in a couple of demos which I initially rejected with some suggestions. He took these on board and sent in a really impressive 3rd demo. I knew one of our presenters was shortly due to leave, so brought him in for an audition.
So I guess that’s pretty much half personal contacts, half cold approaches/sending in demos. The key factor was the contact.
So don’t panic if you’ve just started out, or don’t know many other people in radio; you can make yourself a link in the chain just like Pete, Matt and Nick did by approaching stations directly. Rather than sending in a demo and waiting to hear back, why not phone up and try to have a quick chat with the programme controller first? It’s a great way to sell yourself as they can hear your voice. If there aren’t any presenter vacancies, ask if they have any advice, or see if they wouldn’t mind taking a listen to your anyway and giving some feedback – if they like it, they may keep it on file or offer you some running or unpaid work. Everyone who works in radio has been in your shoes at some point and most people are happy to offer some help or pointers.
The people that make it are the ones who are proactive and make things happen. If you are working in hospital, community or in-store radio and meet other presenters, ask about what other radio work they do – do they work on other stations? How did they get their job there? Is the station hiring at the moment? And don’t forget to return the favour should you hear of any opportunities for other people – the favour won’t be forgotten.
Basically be fearless, be prepared to be patient, get stuck in, and you’ll find those opportunities out there. In the next post, I’ll cover producing a competent demo to get you noticed. Good luck!
For someone starting out in radio, the industry can appear to be something of a closed shop at times – it’s rare to pick up a local or national newspaper and see ads for radio presenters for example – and it’s difficult to see a way to get in. The other problem is the classic one of needing experience before you can get a job, but not knowing how to get the experience if you can’t get the job.
The good news is, there are in fact plenty of ways to get into the radio industry, and plenty of things you can do to maximise your chances of success.
My first tip is get knowledge.
Your goal when starting out should be to absorb as much information and learn as much as you can. Any experience at all you can pick up is going to benefit you in the long term in your career. I started out doing student radio while at university, and this is something I would recommend to anyone at a school, college or uni that has it’s own station. By getting involved you can learn technical skills like how to use a mixing desk and set your microphone levels correctly, as well as developing your style as a presenter. It’s also just great fun to be able to play out music that you like – most student stations don’t have to many restrictions on playlists or genres of music so you can pretty much play what you like. If you’re nervous about presenting when you start, do a show with a friend – one of you can do the desk, the other can talk, then swap half way through for instance.
By the time I left uni in 2003, I’d been doing a show week for three years, plus had been involved in2 week-long RSL FM broadcasts that went out live to the whole city, done promotional events, learned about producing ads and more. So by the time you graduate, it’s possible to get quite a good chunk of experience under your belt to help get over the ‘no experience’ conundrum.
Another avenue for budding presenters to try is Hospital Radio – some of the best presenters I ever heard have started out doing the hospital side of things. Search online for stations near to you, then get involved. Like student radio, it’s an excellent way to learn your craft and get some valuable airtime under you belt before you look to take the next step.
Lastly, Local Radio stations are another excellent place to learn and find out about the radio industry. Admittedly you’re unlikely to get on the air, but call up and ask if they do work experience or take on runners. Most stations are run by relatively small team, and are usually happy for an extra pair of hands. Ask if you can sit in with one of the presenters, then ask that presenter how they got into radio, if they have any advice etc. If you get lucky they may show you how to use some of the studio equipment, or even get you to do something like editing. Basically just muck in and show enthusiasm, and the opportunities will come.
If any of these options don’t work for you or aren’t feasible for any reason, don’t let it stop you. Why not learn yourelf? there are plenty of short radio courses up around the country that will give you the basic skills to start presenting, or you can even purchase a basic mixer and microphone and start recording links and demos yourself. Podcasting has taken off in a big way the last few years and allows anyone, any time, anywhere, to become a radio DJ. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Go for it.
In part 2, I’ll be talking about next steps and the key to progressing – making contacts.
Well, here it is. This hopefully will prove to be a useful resource for anyone looking to break into the radio industry. My own radio career was relatively short, but I learned a lot and want to pass on some of the things I learned. I ran VMR, Virgin Megastores Radio for over 2 years until 2007. Below is me in the studio – not sure why I decided to ruin the photo by winking like an idiot, but there you go.