How to be a great presenter
Written by admin on August 2, 2018
People say it is very difficult to get a job on the radio, but they’re lying. Ignore their tales of painstakingly working their way up through hospital radio, community radio, ham radio; of badgering the local radio station in their native backwater just to be allowed to empty the bins, then one night Mr Graveyard Shift was too drunk to do his show so you stepped in instead and a radio star was born; of how after five/fifteen/fifty years at the coalface, they were finally offered a show on a station people actually listen to, during daylight hours… No. You can start a tiptop radio career in one easy step:
That’s all there is to it! Just ask Fearne Cotton, Graham Norton or Jameela Jamil. But if you’re not famous from telly, don’t worry: you still have a chance, as long as you’re a retired sportsman or Ronnie Wood.
Unfortunately I lacked the foresight to be Ronnie Wood. Furthermore, when I was a fresh graduate with just a Student Radio Award and a handful of radio-career dreams, I lacked the smarts, the ingenuity and the doggedness required to bash down doors in the radio industry. Over the years, a few gigs did trickle in – performing sketches on a late-night Radio 1 comedy show, writing jokes for the Now Show – but nothing that was building to a career. In the meantime, I supported myself with such unrelated jobs as scouting houses for 60 Minute Makeover, proofreading books about cricket, filtering out the more threatening post sent to BBC newsreaders, administering benefits, typing up novels for rich elderly people, teaching knitting and Latin, playing glockenspiel at festivals…
Then in January 2007, my friend Olly Mann and I started making a podcast, Answer Me This!, for no better reason than because we could. And although the show has reaped dividends way beyond what we imagined – two Radio Academy Awards, a spin-off book, and proper radio jobs (Olly is now a presenter on LBC 97.3; I’m on 5 Live’s Saturday Edition) – there remains no better reason to make a podcast than ‘because you can’.
If you have an idea, you don’t have to wait for someone to commission it, and you can execute it exactly how you want. If you want to be a presenter or a producer or a writer, you can try out all three, perhaps even simultaneously. You can practice and experiment with those roles without the pressure of your employer witnessing, and wasting their money on, your embarrassing learning curve. And if you’re serious about pursuing a career in audio, you really should demonstrate your enthusiasm for the medium by making some audio. Frankly there’s no excuse not to; it’s not expensive or difficult, because at its simplest you can record onto a smartphone, edit on free software, upload to a free hosting service. I had precisely zero knowledge or experience of any of these things when I started podcasting; indeed I barely knew what a podcast was. Seems I learnt the hard way.
Podcasting is a solitary business, so it doesn’t immediately lend itself to being that most vital tool for career-getting: making contacts. Yes, radio is one of the many industries that rewards the gregarious, and practically everybody I’ve met in radio has found jobs through people they know, or through people that the people they know. But even if, like me, you’re a shut-in making a podcast in the living room that you rarely leave, you can make a concerted effort to make contacts. Note the names of producers who have made shows you admire, and email or tweet them to ask if you can meet to discuss possible work prospects over a cup of tea (NB you should pay for the cup of tea if they agree).
Get in touch with other podcasters, and see if they’ll acquiesce to leaving their living rooms sometime. Join networks such as Sound Women, which provides regular opportunities for the like-minded to convene, hobnob, and support one another in navigating the murky world of radio. In general, people don’t mind being asked for help: at best, they’ll be so flattered they’re delighted to assist you in finding a toehold in the radio industry; and at worst, they… just won’t answer your email. This is not so terrible; nor is trying but failing to get very far. The terrible thing would be not to try at all. So quit stalling and get on with it. NOW.
Helen Zaltzman co-hosts the award-winning comedy podcast Answer Me This, and is speaking at Sound Women’s upcoming event: ‘Mapping the Industry – Ways into Audio Production’, on Friday January 31. More details here.