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Careers in radio

Tune in to the skills you need to work in radio, and find a job on your wavelength.

Whether it’s listening to Nick Grimshaw waking up the nation or local issues being debated on community radio late at night, over 47 million people listen to the radio in the UK. Plus, digital stations and online streaming mean people are turning to their computers as much as turning the FM dial for their radio now. This means lots of opportunities but also lots of competition if you want to get into the three main areas of radio.

  • Presenting

DJs are the first thing most people think of when talking about radio, but presenting your own show isn’t the only way to get your voice heard. Radio also needs broadcast journalists who might produce news and documentaries for different stations, and announcers for traffic bulletins. A confident speaking voice, great communication skills and being prepared to work antisocial hours under pressure are essential for these roles, but DJs might also have specialist knowledge of music, and journalists need to be up to speed on current affairs.

Plus, you’ll need more than just the gift of the gab. Although some presenters have production staff to support them, they’ll also have at least basic technical skills to work microphones and other equipment, and maybe produce and edit their own shows.

  • Producing

Presenters would just be talking to themselves if production staff weren’t getting their programmes out for people to hear. Producers not only operate some of the broadcast, recording and editing equipment, but also plan out radio shows, which might involve finding guests to interview and deciding which records to play – called ‘playlisting’ – through to creating jingles and looking after budgets. This means they have to be both technical and creative as well as highly organised multi-taskers. Some stations might also employ broadcast assistants to help producers with administration tasks and broadcast engineers to look after the equipment, but most producers will be able to do some of these things. Many producers move on to become programme controllers, who decide on which programmes should be produced across an entire station.

  • Management and marketing

Great radio isn’t just made in a studio. Radio stations also need managers to run them, who might oversee a team that also includes accountants, secretaries and other office staff. And since a large part of a manager’s job is to get people to listen to the station, they’ll also rely on marketing staff to spread to promote the station through things like social media and arranging competitions and sponsorship deals. On a commercial station, marketing staff and managers will also work closely with an advertising department who sell airtime to advertisers to keep the money coming in. These roles all require great organisational skills, and the ability to work to tight budgets and deadlines.

How do I get into radio?

All production staff and most presenters have technical skills. You can pick these up by doing an apprenticeship in creative, digital and media, or a vocational media course such as a foundation degree in radio production. 

You don’t have to have a specific media qualification to work in radio however. If you’re more interested in management or marketing, a degree in business studies or marketing will give you skills you need. Some presenters might have a degree in an arts subject like music or English literature, and broadcast engineers have studied an engineering qualification.

But you will definitely need experience, which you can get by getting involved with student radio at your college or university, or by volunteering with a hospital or community radio station in your local area. This will normally be unpaid, but the reward will be practical skills and contacts to put on your CV when you apply to bigger stations. Wannabe presenters and producers can also showcase their skills – and taste in music – by producing their own demo tapes and podcasts using free software like Audacity. You can then upload these onto your own blog or a website like Podomatic, so prospective employers can really hear what you can do.

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