Employment in a Campus Radio

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Many colleges and universities have a student-run campus radio station, broadcasting its own output to the university audience within its limited service area. A good campus station can provide a great opportunity to learn how to handle broadcasting equipment, to develop microphone techniques and to discover just how hard it is to fill airtime with good, original material. Local radio stations are often willing to help by providing extra training and even by allowing students airtime.

The Radio Academy (the professional membership body for those working in or with an interest in radio) opens the airwaves of its annual festival radio station to 12 students of radio.

Case Study - Campus Radio

Joanna, a professional broadcaster, found campus radio a good training ground.

I was at a university that has its own radio station, run entirely by students on a fairly professional basis. It broadcasts to the campus, which is all on one site, and it's on the air from 8 am to 2 am non-stop, so there's plenty of opportunity to get involved.

In order to be allowed on the air, you have to supply the committee with a demo tape and if they think it's all right, you can have some time. It's not always very professional sounding; on the other hand, it's an excellent way of getting to know the ropes. Learning to operate the mixing desk, the gram decks and the cassettes will stand you in good stead if you go into local radio because a lot of things will be familiar to you.

I did two weekly programs, a top 40 show and a program called Grot Slot, where we played dreadful records and old sketches. But the real value of doing something like that is the technical practice you get. Campus radio exists as much for the people doing the broadcasting as it does for the listeners.

Local Radio

Many people feel that local radio is more approachable than national radio - but remember, local radio is indeed local and, whenever possible, employs people with local ties and local knowledge. Many people get a foot in the door by doing voluntary, temporary or part-time work for a local station; manning a switchboard on Sundays or replacing a receptionist who is on holiday can lead to other things.

Local radio stations, both BBC and ILR, are always on the lookout for new talent of all kinds. All station managers, however, receive a great many unsolicited demo tapes, so if you are thinking of sending one in, then you must keep it short: absolutely no more than 10 minutes. An all-rounder's tape could include:

  • News reading (two minutes; approximately 250 words)

  • A well-structured interview (approximately three minutes)

  • A sample of how you introduce music.

Local radio stations are permanently in need of material and are generally glad to be put on the track of local news and sports stories, news from schools and colleges, people to interview and places to visit.

There are often good opportunities for freelances who have another job, often full time, but who have a regular weekly slot to present, for example a gardening or cookery program, or one for a particular age or ethnic group. Make your ideas known to your local station; you may not be given your own program, but you could be invited to contribute to an existing one.

Some Tips from the Top

We asked some of the most respected figures in the television and radio industries to answer the following question: 'Based on your knowledge and experience, what is the most important piece of advice that you would give to someone who is just starting out on their career?' Here is a selection of their replies:

Jenny Abramsky, Controller, BBC Radio 5 Live: 'Take risks, be brave, work long hours and above all, be creative and innovative.'

John Whitson, Head of Youth and Entertainment Features, BBC: 'The most cynical bit of mixed metaphor career advice anyone gave me was "Find yourself a shark, then attach yourself to that shark, come hell or high water." They then added the useful coda, "But don't be afraid to jump sharks in mid-stream." That's fine if you are that land of person. But to be good at television, as opposed to being good at having a career in television, you need a different attitude.

'First, you have to believe the world is essentially a good place, where real talent rises and is rewarded beyond measure while imitation and laziness is found out and punished cruelly for the rest of eternity. Which it is.

'Secondly, you have to never, ever laugh at an idea, or anyone for having that idea. Ideas should be treated like cows in India. They may look daft on the outside, and even slobber at the mouth with stupidity and stubbornly stand in your way when you've got more important things to be getting on with, like writing Radio Times billings, but ideas are sacred. And the crazier and braver they are, the more seriously you should take them.'

Nick Ross, Broadcaster: 'Avoid clichés, forsake adjectives, be fair to views with which you disagree and consider how you would feel if you were being portrayed, reported or edited in the manner you propose.'

Sue Lawley, Broadcaster: 'I think the most important technique to develop when setting out on a career in television or radio is not to be afraid to ask questions. This applies whether you are in front or behind the microphone; if you don't understand the answer then ask again. If you haven't understood, the chances are others haven't either. If you want to get on, there is no room for false pride.

Vernon Lawrence, Managing Director, MAI Productions; former Controller of Network Entertainment and Drama, ITV: 'Anybody who actually gets into the industry today is exceedingly lucky; therefore they mustn't waste the opportunity. The way to make the best use of it is to watch and learn from everybody around them in an objective way, taking note of both their strengths and weaknesses; for, as you climb the tree in television, the only way to ever really learn is from your mistakes.
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