Archive for the ‘Student’ Category

The Nice Guys of Radio

A Winning Quiz Team [or some of it]

A Winning Quiz Team (or some of it)

So, yesterday I got back from the Student Radio Conference in Nottingham – the event proved to be a really enjoyable weekend, with some fantastic sessions – aside from this I probably had the best time I’ve had at a conference since Southampton in 2006 (probably aided by the removal of the stress of organisation from more recent years).

I also had the opportunity to talk to some really interesting, funny and genuinely nice people (not to mention winning the annual pub quiz with Sarah Ghost, Matt Hurst, Martin Steers, Will Jackson & Paul Jackson (who aren’t related).

It’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming that radio (particularly at a senior level) is a cut-throat business so it was really nice to be reminded that amongst the shouty bosses and demanding talent are some really nice guys. Whilst I’m sure the following is by no means a complete list of everyone from the industry I chatted to, and certainly does not deliberately exclude anyone – I thought I’d just mention a few names who’d reminded me of the fantastic industry radio is to work in – and also how much of a community the industry can feel like when it comes together.

  • David Lloyd – Orion Media.
  • Lloydie – Trent FM
  • Kevin Hughes – Capital (Who is also the best quizmaster a student radio conference has ever had – Leeds 2009)
  • Paul Jackson & Mike Cass – Global (Who stuck around for the SRA Quiz and the party which followed, chatting to students and getting involved, in a way senior types generally don’t)
  • Neil Sloan – BBC
  • Chris North – Wise Buddah
  • Mark Crossley – Absolute Radio
  • Tim Howlett – Heart 106.2

and finally Bruce Mitchell, Kiss’ Head of Digital – who we bumped into in the Chicken Shop on the way back from the club on the way back, and chatted to in the hotel bar for an hour or so after we got back, despite the fact he had a 6.30 train the following morning (hope you made it Bruce!).

I also talked to some fantastic students – who prove there’s still a huge passion for all areas of radio and some who’ve definitely got the talent and the confidence to go a long way in the industry.

Hopefully I’ll get myself along to next years conference in one capacity or anther – as I had a fantastic time this year, and it’d be great to do it all over again!

Here’s a little streetview of the conference venue if you happen to be interested…

Working for free…

Sunscreen

Sunscreen

So, the guardian have yesterday published the shock news that nearly half of people starting work in a media job begin by working for free, I’m not entirely sure why either the newspaper or Skillset who produced the research are surprised at this. My first experience within a professional radio company was unpaid (two weeks work experience with global radio) and almost everyone I know who’ve gone on from student radio to working in the industry have done so through similar circumstances. I was extremely grateful for the opportunity to work in a professional environment with equipment far superior to that I got to play with in student radio.

The thing I don’t understand is what Skillset think is wrong with this, no employer is going to recruit someone without the skills or experience they’re looking for – or at least some obvious sign of the dedication or foundations needed to achieve these skills. All employers are the same in this case, there’s a good chance you’ll have to do some work-experience to get to the level employers are looking for. In a past life when I was destined to become a Chemical Engineer, I wasn’t paid as I gained some of the skills needed to work in this industry – in fact I was paying for the privilege. This is called a degree, and I don’t see the papers suggesting these are exploiting innocent students by charging an obscene amount of money for what amounts to subsidising the research of aging academics, whilst occasionally being rambled at by said academics or worse still cheap post-docs who struggle with the concept of the English language (let alone thermodynamics). As is often said, there’s no set route into media – some go down the degree route, others from voluntary/community radio, others purely through work experience type roles – all of these have a part to play.

Further to this, the idea that to gain the experience to work in an industry you’ll end up working for free somewhere along the line is hardly unique to media – my girlfriend has just landed a short term contract working as an ecologist, about 10 months after graduating from a biology degree. She found it hard to even get an interview for a paid position before peppering her CV with internships and work-experience. It’s a vicious circle, when the job market is competitive every employer is looking for some experience of a similar job – but until you’ve had a job you wont have that experience – work experience offers a chance to do that.

As for the idea that the best people might not find themselves working in the industry because they don’t get the ‘foot in the door’ – I shall misquote Thomas Edison and say that Creativity is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration – in any job you’re going to need to work hard and be willing to take on a number of things, possibly with quite long hours (commercial radio is well known for this) – the dedication to make contacts and get placements etc. should confirm you’re likely to put this kind of effort in for an employer.

Incidentally – if you are interested in getting experience within the radio industry, The Student Radio Association has a vary nice opportunities page (wot I wrote) featuring paid and unpaid positions, and also a couple of sites it’s worth a nose around if your interested in structured work experience such as that offered by the BBC.

Having said all of the above, one further piece of advice – don’t let yourself be exploited by being too willing to work for free. At some point you’re going to want to convert this unpaid work into an actual job, right – and the longer you work for free – the more likely you are to be taken for granted. Don’t stay anywhere too long, participate in structred schemes where possible and make sure you’re getting something out of it; making contacts, learning skills or whatever. Once you’re in a position that you can do whatever it is your doing blindfolded – the role is no longer any use to you as experience – at this point you need to start asking if there’s any paid work going within the station – if there’s not, stick it on your CV (along wit ha nice bullet-point list of the skills learned) and either get applying for jobs, or move on to do work experience somwhere else – allowing you to further increase that skills list, and making you an even tastier prospect for a potential employer.

After giving all that advice I feel a bit like Quindon Tarver having read the excellent monologue for Baz Luhrmann’s Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen) – for that reason (and naturally completely off topic) I’ll leave you with the last Stanza of that monologue originally from a New York Times article by Mary Schmich (the full lyrics are here)…

Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of
fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the
ugly parts and recycling it for more than
it’s worth. But trust me on the sunscreen…

(Photo: Florian on Flickr)

Student Radio

URB Studio 2004 (ish)

URB Studio 2004 (ish)

So, this is a slightly odd post to start a blog with – as I’m beginning at the end, next Wednesday will see the end of my formal involvement in student radio after 6 years. I thought I’d use the opportunity to look back at that time (without being too self indulgent hopefully) and at why student radio is a really important part of both the radio industry and university life.

My student radio journey started in my freshers’ week in 2004 when I tuned my little bedside radio into 1449AM URB, and being a little bit of a radio anorak (something which has definitely developed in the last 6 years) and there were a few things I thought could be improved…

I signed up straight away, and within a couple of weeks I was producing music positioners and training to present a show. A few months later I was involved in upgrading all of the stations computer equipment and planning marketing for the next freshers’ week. Here lies the first thing which for my money is brilliant about student radio, anyone can get involved – and it provides the opportunity to experience every element of running a fully working radio station. In my 4 years at URB I had a shot at marketing, commercial production, engineering, broadcast it, presenting (with varying degrees of success), scheduling, management, creating features and even laying carpet in the studios as part of a major refurb. There’s not many places in the radio industry where you get a chance to be a genuine all rounder, playing a part in every area of the operation – and the opportunity to develop new skills and work with fantastic people along the way is one I’d really urge anyone to take if they get the chance.

As well as an opportunity to have a go at stuff I could never have done anywhere else, student radio (along with the other groups I was involved in through my university career) provided me with an escape from uni when the degree was becoming a bit stressful or I became fed up with housemates etc. Having watched a number of people who didn’t have this escape letting stress of coursework and revision get to them, or just going plain mad – I’d advise anyone starting out on a university degree to find something outside their course to do (even if Radio isn’t your thing; Dance, Sport, even dressing up as Lord of The Rings characters… it takes all sorts!). I once joked to a conference that the split between my degree and radio was about 70:30 – while that was possibly a slight exaggeration, the time spent in the studios certainly kept me sane (ish) and coupled with the above helped inform my eventual career choice…

As well as the benefits for the students involved Student Radio also has major benefits for Universities. Through my work with the Student Radio Association I’ve had the chance to listen to some of the impressive content student radio produces. I’ve heard some really cutting edge journalism, covering elections and other major events on campus, I’ve heard really entertaining and informative drama and documentaries squarely targeted at the student audience, and I’ve heard some of the most informed and passionate music programming I’ve come across outside the now sadly condemned 6 Music. Obviously alongside this there’s some unpleasant filler, and some absolute rubbish from people that just want to turn up and mess around – but that’s the world of voluntary radio, when you have the sort of diversity within student radio, some of it’s not going to make the grade (and more so if you were to chuck off everyone who was rubbish you’d deprive people of the opportunities discussed previously). I’ve always said student radio is unique in this way – drawing all of the people involved from the community it’s designed to serve, and constantly freshening up the teams involved (most people involved have 3/4 years of student radio before graduating) even so called ‘community radio’ is often (though not always) run by a committee of people for a community without considering getting any members of that community involved – these are the stations that usually fail.

As for the advantages of student radio for the radio industry, well – I’ll leave that for the industry:

Student radio not only provides a great service to its community of listeners, it is an absolute hotbed of future talent for our industry, both on and off air.

Not my words but those of Ashley Tabor – CEO of Global Radio, words which have been echoed by other senior figures in the radio industry including Andy Parfitt (Controller, Radio 1).

So in summary, Student Radio not only gave me a fantastic 6 years of participating in it, and eventually representing it – but it also provides an incredible experience and opportunity for anyone who gets involved, and gives universities a brilliant entertainment, news and music service and provides the radio industry with the creative and off air talent it badly needs if radio is to have any future.

Thanks to all the brilliant people I’ve got to know through student radio, and to all of those who’ve helped me in all my different roles over the years – it’s been great fun!

(I should add – I’m not going for any particular reason, apart from I feel I’ve done my bit in student radio, and it’s time to move over and let someone else get on with it!)

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Mark Farrington

Mark Farrington
Broadcast Engineer working in UK Commercial Radio, former Student Radio person (and Honorary Lifetime Member of the Student Radio Association) - I also play with bits and pieces of web stuff, cycle, take photos, cook food and enjoy a good pint of real ale.