Many’s the time I’ve received a message either through this here website, or a Tweet/Facebook message – sometimes even a personal email finds its way to me via a 3rd party – asking for advice on how to ‘make it’ in the radio industry.
Giving an answer feels almost fraudulent from my personal perspective, as my route into broadcasting was about as conventional as a Hawkwind B-side. But let me try and answer as best I can, all the same.
1) Luck plays a pretty huge part in getting breaks in any line of work/industry. Right place/right time is no mere cliché – on occasion, things fall into your path that seem pre-destined/pre-ordained but they weren’t really. You just happened to be that person in the right spot to benefit from a change in policy or a need for something specific. I can’t begin to tell you how often this has happened to me in many senses, not just a working environment.
2) Once the ‘luck’ comes your way, then that is where the hard work and the knuckling down kicks in. If you are afforded an opportunity to work in sports media, be prepared to drive many miles, see many paltry late-night service station food offerings and get cold in places on your body that you never knew existed-all in the name of furthering your knowledge and gaining the trust of employers. No one likes a moaner – all reporters/commentators get tired now and again and might wish under their breath that they were in front of a warm fire with an equally warm partner rather than sitting at the back of the Main Stand with a lukewarm cuppa and a Double Decker Duo to see them through the next 5 hours without time for a toilet break. Despite that, there’s always an underlying appreciation from 99% of my colleagues that this is one hell of a good line of work, where positives far outweigh negatives. That said, one or two do moan about their lot rather too much. In my experience, they tend not to last.
3) Is further education a pre-requisite for gaining employment in sports media? Again, it would be disingenuous of me to suggest ‘100% yes’ based on my lack of degree or a City & Guilds in ‘ISDN maintenance and microphone holding’. Thinking back to my 6th form college days in Solihull, I was a radio presenter on the college station CBL, run by music teacher Roy Hayton. Such was the success of it that Radio 4 Schools presented a show from the college one morning in early 1987 and I got to host it alongside a young and not-too-world-weary-at-that-point Terry Christian.
It was a proud moment for me, and in the aftermath of the broadcast I wrote a letter to the Radio 4 producer in charge of that show to ask her advice as many of you do now to me. Her reply was curt and to the point – get a degree or you’ve got no chance, essentially. I had no intention at that point of spending 3 years at University, and such a stark appraisal of my poor chances as a mere ‘A-level’ graduate was galling and most off-putting, to the extent that I shelved any grand plans to be the next Les Ross in Brum…I’d decided I was going to be a rock star anyway. That worked out well over the ensuing decade... Ahem.
4) I will say that there are several top class college courses designed specifically for media studies and broadcast training that have yielded many graduates who now have great positions at places like Sky, BBC and talkSPORT. My pal Mitch Pryce, himself a veteran of matchday production with ITV and many others for example, runs a course in Stafford that has a phenomenal record in turning out men and women who go straight into production, technical or even broadcasting positions as a direct result of the qualifications they earn through Mitch’s all-encompassing curriculum. I’m sure there are others like Mitch elsewhere in the UK – perhaps it’s worth checking those possibilities out.
5) Hospital Radio and community stations are always an option for budding broadcasters and technical staff, but I have little experience of how they’re run and how they bring in staff to fill various positions when required.
6) Work experience at radio stations (whether local or national) is notoriously tough to get. There’s always a queue ‘a mile long’ whenever I casually ask about talkSPORT opportunities in that sphere.
7) Be nice – this applies of course to ANY career and any line of work. Being difficult, unwilling to muck in or deliberately seeking to step on others may reward you in some ways, but not that will help you whatsoever in the medium to long term. Never lose sight of the fact that you are NOT indispensable to any organisation and, as far as possible, do as you are asked. If your workload seems unreasonable, then gently ask the question of those above you, rather than bitch about it to others in the press room – this industry is getting smaller and smaller, with everybody owning everybody else in many cases, and a bad attitude will haunt you further on up the road.
8) Be honest with yourself too – are you as ‘natural’ a broadcaster as you think, if that’s your desired path? talkSPORT’s ‘People’s Pundit’ competition last season had many fine entrants, several of whom could have justifiably won, but other entrants who seemed convinced of their own ability did fall rather short. Maybe those individuals might however be better suited to production positions within sports media away from the microphone. Again, as with seeking employment in any industry, it’s all about playing to your strengths.
Hope that little lot helps those who ask ‘how did you get into radio?’ as an answer from me about mates writing letters, silly voices, a week off work that couldn’t have been timed better, being sick at 1500ft and so on must bore the pants off those unlucky enough to hear me go on about it ;)
Good luck to you if this is what you seek!