Please note that this guide is a work in progress. I will update and add to it from time to time.
It is probably the most often asked question a radio person gets, “How do you get into the business?”.
It is understandable. It looks like a fun job and anybody with even half a fun side would want to get in.
Now before I answer the question, I feel it pertinent to be the guy who warns folks about the pitfalls of working in radio. So here they are.
If it is sponsored it usually isn’t yours! It belongs to your on air persona… Be prepared not to have it till the day you die…
THE DANGERS OF WORKING IN BROADCASTING
- It isn’t a full time employment gig. At least, it rarely is. Most radio people are employed on a freelance basis with annual contracts. A few are lucky enough to have contracts that extend over a few years and even then it is relatively easy to be let go. It is the nature of the industry.
- Because it isn’t a proper full time employment situation you basically work for yourself and contract your wonderful personality out. Whatever the station pays will be it. After tax you’ll have to pay for your own retirement and medical aid etc from whatever you have left after tax. So factor it in when the management of the station make you an offer. Don’t be sloppy and fail to negotiate. If they make an offer, negotiate.
- Free goodies are the devil’s candy. If you get to be an on air personality, you will get free goodies from a variety of sources. Ranging from music to magazines to cars and holidays. Clubs want to give you free drinks etc. The opposite sex will want to engage you in ways you never imagined. Not because you are so hot but because you are “famous”. This happens whether you are on student radio or commercial radio. People act stranger than fiction around people who work on radio and television.
- The broadcasting world is another universe. People in it are often enough the most quirky of creative types out there. They do strange things. Be prepared. It is a fun world to be part of but don’t lose yourself too much. Stay grounded. Find a solid way of doing this.
- The ride will end. And for most it ends on a last tearful show when the bus stops and they have to get off and find something else to do. And by something else I mean (more often than not) something outside of broadcasting. It is a horrifically fickle business and at some point the joyride ends. And it can end before you even hit 30. Be prepared. My advice to new talent, pay off your own car as soon as possible and if you can, get a home paid off too. As with motorcycles, prepare for the slide, not the ride. You want to be in it as long as you can game it, but when it tosses you, it can toss you hard and fast, unless you are prepared. When the ride ends, so do the free stuff. Abruptly and without much ceremony or fanfare. I’ve seen people cry when it ends. It isn’t pretty.
- Never ever do something your public image shouldn’t allow. If you are a sidekick on a prominent show, etc make a decision. Do I want to be a serious presenter with my own show, or do I want to be the serious sidekick. Because they are different roles with different career outcomes. There are many other roles, but these two are core to any show. Rarely will a sidekick get an anchor presenter job at the same station. It happens. But rarely. You will be made to wear a “chicken suit” at some point. The Chicken Suit is a metaphor. You will know when you are asked. Say no if it isn’t your speed. Just say no! Unless you can own it! Then do stuff like that. Doing things in radio you don’t feel comfortable doing will eat your soul alive!
- Very few people working in the business will be your real friends. Have friends outside the industry too. Keep yourself grounded to reality. That said, some of the most amazing people you can ever meet, can ONLY be met inside the broadcasting industry.
- In short it is a great, fun industry but it is also very very dangerous to you and your long-term prosperity.
- Nobody is bigger than their platform… You are only as cool and relevant as your format makes you… For example… what are former breakfast jocks on any high profile station doing today? Go and have a look… Only as big as your current platform allows… Make peace with that. Very few go on to retain their profile when moving out of prime time…
If you wear the “chicken suit” once, you better be willing to own it forever!
HOW DO YOU GET IN?
The things you need to master before you apply:
- General knowledge. It will be tested. Current affairs. Especially local news and entertainment.
- Speak easy. You need to be able to offer the listener something called the gift of the gab. You should be able to have a fun, informative discussion with anybody anytime.
- Make sure you have support! This is the most important element you need in place when you strike out for radio glory. A monstrously generous support structure. A fail-safe if you will. A safety net. Somebody, maybe family, who will plug the financial holes whilst you spend time going for gold. You will have to be available and willing to give up a steady job with benefits to pursue radio and you most likely have bills that will need paying whilst you find radio work, or worse, do low paying work while working your way up…
The best way to start out in radio is via community radio. Commercial stations tend to fish for talent there. What is wonderful about community radio is that there is a wealth of knowledge to be tapped into. Many former commercially successful radio talent, be it presenters, producers etc, go back to community radio at some point. The list is endless.
Steps to follow:
- Ask the receptionist that will most likely answer the phone when the next contract period is. You want to send in a demo about 6 months before then and again a month or two before…
- Most stations have their contract discussions around the middle of the year… Timing is important. 😀 Luck is you best friend, but be smart….
- Call the station and ask for the program manager’s contact information. Email will be good. If you can arrange a meeting, even better!
- Send through a demo on CD. Directly to the Program Manager. Hand deliver it if possible.
- Follow up. Request feedback once a week or so until you get a reply.
A demo on CD is best, but emailed MP3 is known to work too…
What should be in the demo?
- You announcing some music
- You talking about current affairs
- Never put full songs on. Only use the beginning and last few seconds of a song to simulate announcing and back announcing the songs.
- Keep it short. No longer than 2 or 3 minutes. If the station wants you to give more, they will ask you to come and do an audition in person.
- Label it clearly. Name, Surname, Contact number and Email address.
- Some things you might want to include:
- Sport headlines
- News story
- Competition link
- Chat to a listener on the phone
- General link
- Link for a promotion
- Delivering a joke
- Reading a script
- Q card
- Promoting a programme or event.
Make multiple copies. Send it to all the stations you might like working for….
Best of luck to you and may all your radio dreams come true!