What I learned about radio broadcasting and podcast careers

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The biggest growth seems to be ‘behind the scenes’ – producing content”. Anne Forde, Careers Consultant here at the CS, dives into some top tips from a recent panel we held

Audio broadcasting and especially podcasts are having a boom period over the recent years so we were listening intently to our guest panellists and Cambridge alumni Chris Berrow and Phil Sansom on their top tips at the Careers Service Creative Careers festival.

Let’s do some introductions first:

Chris is a producer and presenter mainly on live radio. He helps to produce the Naked Scientists “5 Live Science” show, and he’s the driving force behind their offering “Naked Gaming”. You can also hear him presenting on BBC Radio 4, he has worked for Radio 3 and local stations, including BBC RadioEssex. Chris studied Music at Cambridge.

Phil is a freelance podcast producer working with production companies including Tortoise Media and Fresh Air Production. For two years he was a producer for the Naked Scientists on BBC Radio 5 Live and BBC Radio Cambridgeshire. Phil studied Zoology at Cambridge and did a MA in documentary broadcasting at the University of the West of England (UWE).

Don’t know where to start? Find a topic that interests you and make some content based on that.

Let’s hear their tops tips…three, two, one…

You need to have things under your belt

Like all ‘wannabee’ creative careers, employers will expect you have examples of your work to show them, so start creating your audio content now. Bedroom podcasting with zero specialist equipment is just fine to achieve that. The University’s own student radio CamFM is the perfect platform to get producing and presenting. It doesn’t matter that it’s homemade but it does matter that you’ve shown commitment.

Start with what you are interested in

Don’t know where to start? Find a topic that interests you and make some content based on that. Later in your audio career, you will probably have to be flexible on what you work on but now you can make that radio show or podcast that you’d like to listen to. Chris said that he listened obsessively to the radio all his life. Get inspired by the work of others!

Media qualification or not?

Phil enjoyed his broadcasting MA in Bristol and had some great assignments but says doing a master’s isn’t necessary. One course which came recommended by both panellists was the National Council for the Training of Journalist (https://www.nctj.com/want-to-be-a-journalist) who offer a 9-month course that’s good value and well regarded. It’s particularly useful if you are looking for a staff job (as opposed to freelance) or an investigative audio journalism career.

The path from uni to pro takes effort

There won’t be employers queuing up to meet you post-graduation, or for research staff after your contract, but do your homework and find them. Chris contacted all the regional BBC offices. BBCEssex got back and you know what helped? Chris knew the county well and was prepared to travel.

When approaching prospective producers, don’t email with: “Hello! I like sports and if you pay me I’ll move to Salford [the home of BBC Sport]”, try something along the lines of “I’m doing a lot of sports broadcasting (and have recordings to send them) and I’m interested in moving to a professional capacity after uni, what is the freelance situation at the moment? It’s an area that I’d really like to get into it.” Remember if you were a busy media professional, what email would you likely to respond to? (hint: from someone who sounds realistic and might be useful to you in the future).

Jobs available and the impact of the pandemic

Phil explained that a lot of staff positions were axed with the pandemic. He is now a full-time freelancer and successful at it. If you do want a staff job, there seems to be a need for people at sport desks. You don’t need to be an expert on sport but be willing to get stuck in. Podcasting is booming but more likely to be a freelance option. The biggest growth seems to be ‘behind the scenes’ – producing content. There is a need for more podcasts editors and radio producers (entry level). Experience with free software like Audacity will be appreciated and self-taught is the way to go.

Presenter vs producer

If you do want to present, fear not, there is movement from producing to presenters, just don’t expect it from day one. Your hobby broadcasting and podcasting will allow you to get experience in both. If you only want behind the scenes, that’s fine too.

The art of freelancing

Number one rule: Be organised and you will get better at that. Chris has a diary with 5 colours to track the commitments in the various organisations he works for. Phil advises track all of your time. Pitching and idea generation is unpaid so you need to account what time you sink into it.

The best bits

Selling his ideas was Phil least favourite bit but getting a podcast just right made up for that. That subtle audio edit which makes the magic happen. Chris finds the discipline of precision—every second counts–for live broadcasting demanding but it’s worth it. When he gets a performance that working it’s brilliant to know you are reaching out. One highlight was knowing that a FM station he was working in was broadcasting live in people’s car radios.

Phil and Chris’ ‘to go’ resources
  • UK audionetwork – newsgroup – often looking for producers and editors
  • Radiolab
  • Podnews – newsletter had some jobs on it https://podnews.net/
Production software:
  • Audacity – free editing software https://www.audacityteam.org/
  • Reaper – free trial 60 days (but at the end the trial actually doesn’t end). https://www.reaper.fm Brilliant tutorial on You Tube about editing by Brendan Baker https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BpOXcM0UGxo
  • Transom.org – repository about making podcasts. Best resource on the internet on it. https://transom.org/
Podcast hosting platforms:
  • Podbean and Buzzsprout as two options for podcast hosting platforms small charges)
  • Megaphone (create a series…like YT) sends to Spotify iTunes, free
Radio stations:
  • CamFM
  • Resonance FM
  • Cam105

Want to hear the nitty gritty tech details and stories on their experiences? Listen here for the full session.

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