Media Clinic: What’s the best way to start working in radio production?

THE other week, the allmediascotland Media Clinic posed a question for Scotland’s media community to help answer.

One question was posed and four answers were received.

The question was: What’s the best way to start working in radio, probably the production side rather than presenting or journalism (though I am open to that as well). Should I go to college or university or…? I am 19 years old and, except for a couple of temporary jobs, have been mostly unemployed since leaving school a year ago. I have five Highers.

The answers offered – for information purposes only and should not be regarded as binding or legal advice – are from (1) former Radio Clyde DJ, Colin Kelly, who now runs Colin Kelly Media, and (2) John Collins, who lectures in radio broadcasting at Reid Kerr College in Paisley, following a 25-year career on both sides of the microphone in both BBC and commercial radio in Scotland. He still pops up on the radio at Central FM on a Sunday morning.

The third answer is from the Scots producer on the Vanessa Feltz show on BBC Radio Two, Phil McGarvey.

The fourth, meanwhile, is from Courtnay McLeod, director of the Scottish Media Academy.

(1) I’ve worked in broadcasting for 16 years and began working at my local radio station as ‘the Saturday boy’ while still at school. I could have taken the plunge from there and not bothered with any further education. It was a close call but in the end I took the advice of my dad who encouraged me to think long-term and said, “There might not be radio in 30 years”.

I thought he’d gone insane at the time but, with hindsight, he was right. What might look like a career opportunity at the moment might not be the case in the future, since technology changes so fast.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that the goals and ambitions you have in your teens might have changed by the time you hit your 30s.

So, I went to university and – if you can afford it, have the required grades, and find a course you think you’ll like – then I would certainly recommend it. There have been times I wondered why I bothered, times I couldn’t see the point, but looking back now I am extremely glad I did. It’s about a commitment to lifelong learning, opening yourself up to new ideas and realising that, no matter how passionate you are about radio, there’s a hell of a lot more to life.

These days there is a wide range of excellent university and college courses that can help prepare you for a career in radio, journalism or other aspects of the media. Most of them have good industry links and some radio stations much prefer to take people in on work placements who are doing one of these courses. So, further study can really help get a foot in the door.

So can what you do in your spare time.

Much of the software used by broadcast radio stations can be downloaded for free over the internet and you can get used to it at home. Mention this on a CV or cover letter and set yourself apart.

Learn too to listen critically to a wide range of radio, from Real Radio to talkSPORT and the Today programme. How would you improve what you have just heard? Developing these skills will help you as a producer.

Radio stations are always interested in new talent and the fact you want to operate a mixing desk, edit interviews, write scripts or tee up guests sets you apart from the hordes who just want to present.

So get out there, make contacts, knock on doors, follow people on Twitter and LinkedIn, get the best education you can, keep an open mind, use your time wisely, have fun and good luck.

(2) The most important thing about getting your first job in radio is experience. Unfortunately, the hardest thing to get is experience – unless you’re willing to volunteer.

There are dozens of community radio stations up and down Scotland, and dozens more Hospital stations. All give you a chance to ‘test your vocation’ and learn a number of the skills you need to get on in the business.

While going on a college or university course isn’t any guarantee of a job, it’s a good way to develop those skills. Radio people are essentially multi-skilled. On the courses, you’ll learn not just how to operate the technology and edit audio – you’ll also learn how to research and produce content. These skills are useful right across the media. If you don’t quite have the group for uni, certainly go to the colleges. The HNC/D radio courses are very good and repare you for the next step.

Also, check out the radio broadcasters. Many offer their own training programmes, paid and unpaid.

Competition is fierce but get some skills and learn the art of badgering politely.

It’s the best career in the world.

(3)  University is a good way to get in to student radio. My degree – from Glasgow University – wasn’t related to radio and I don’t think I’ve ever been hired for a job because of my Highers or my uni education, but uni is a great life experience and getting involved with student radio and the student radio association can give you a wealth of radio contacts for life.

Of course, I know plenty of people who started in hospital and community radio in their teens and went straight in to radio without higher education.

The main thing is to knock on as many doors as you can. Offer to help out at local, community or hospital station, have ideas for on-air features and even make little reports, if you can.

Make sure you’re targeting the right people though – in the internet age, it’s very easy to find out the best person to approach, but there’s no harm in just picking up the phone and asking the receptionist.

In summary, if you choose to go to university, choose an institution with a student radio station. Or one that is close to a community or hospital radio station that might take you on.

And don’t forget to keep pestering.

(4) Different people find different routes into the industry so there isn’t a clear answer to this. Part of the opportunity, but also the challenge, is that there isn’t a set path into radio. If the crux of this question is, ‘Must I have a qualification to succeed in radio?’ then the answer is no, not always.

Scotland boasts a large number of colleges and universities offering excellent courses. For many people, these are ideal starting points and offer a stepping stone to a great career. However, the industry is full of people that only ‘studied’ radio production by doing it. And remember, ‘qualifications’ are never enough. Collecting modules and marks will only get you so far. For doors to open, you need more than a certificate.

Employers aren’t saying there aren’t enough graduates out there. What they are saying is that too often there is a lack of passion and creativity shown by people even with the ‘right qualification’.

So make yourself stand out. Get some relevant work experience (during which you need to do more than make cups of tea). Have an up-to-date contacts book – and keep in touch with people. Be armed with examples of your own creative ideas, evidence that shows you love radio, and demonstrate a knowledge of the radio station and its audience.

Our next question for the Media Clinic is: Do I need to learn shorthand to work in newspapers?

If you would like to suggest an answer – in the spirit of camaraderie – please do send it to us, here, for possible publication on October 23.