Reflection – ‘Local Radio is Fun’

Tom Reeves, Breakfast producer Mercia FM
Brody Swain, Breakfast presenter Touch FM

A Coventry Conversations session

How do you recognize that someone works in radio? They speak incredibly fast 🙂

I wonder if they were speaking that fast and excited because of all the early getting up… Probably they don’t sleep enough and get over-caffeinated? 🙂 Actually, from what I’ve read and heard from creative and highly productive people, it’s a very very good habit to get up early in the morning. That’s the time you feel the start of the day, it’s still quiet, you don’t have distractions like during daytime, and you can focus and be productive. Most of the Coventry Conversations presenters emphasised on the importance of getting up early in the morning – especially the ones who work in media.

Both Tom and Brody had just come to the session after their breakfast shows. It quickly became obvious they love what they do, and feel it’s important. The whole session felt really friendly and they were both speaking with passion about what they do, how they do it and why.

They spoke about the very basics of working in a radio station, especially Tom, being a producer. His job is to keep the work and team on track and organised, keep stuff as legal as possible, make sure all the content fits into the format and the time limit, organising technical stuff etc. He is the one that makes the important decisions when needed, and is also in charge of planning.

When working in a breakfast radio show, it’s part of your job to get up early (as early as 4:30 in the morning), keep track of what other divisions in the radio network are doing, and following the daily events. Since they both work in local radio stations, they need to know the life in the city, the people that make things happen, they need to follow news and events, and, basically, to try to live the life of their listeners. It’s crucial that you know your audience – it defines the music you would be playing, the language that you would be using, the shows you would be producing, the themes you would be covering – and, of course – the adverts you would have. It’s also very important to get listeners’ feedback – so that you know when you’re doing something wrong and be able to fix it on time. Especially when it comes to local radio, where people care about their city, they want to hear about what happens around them, have their say, and get involved. Another sensitive aspect in broadcasting a radio show is music – on one side, it’s a subjective, taste-based thing, and on the other, the music should fit the radio format and the target audience.

One of them mentioned they were curretly looking for an intern. When asked about what you need to be successful in a radio show, and what would make you stand out when applying for the job, both Tom and Brody agreed that you need to be able to work with people (to fit into the team), you need to have ideas, be dynamic, to understand the concept of the show and radio station, the brand, the target audience, actually – all that has to do with the radio – you should be aware. ‘You’ve got to be prepared to work hard,’ Tom added, and ‘you need to have the right attitude.’

When hiring, they are looking for people passionate about radio, who are multi-skilled, want to succeed and believe they can. Because, ‘It’s now harder to get in radio than before’ – first, there are less shows, and second – there are more people trying to get there. But, for example, if you have an opinion, you will probably be a good presenter.

Also, in this industry, people are often referred, so it’s all about who you know. Of course, even if you don’t have these connections, another way to get yourself there is to keep trying, be persistent, and show continuous interest. They don’t want to see standard cover letters – they want people who can stand out from the crowd. It’s good to make some initial research and write to them by name, make them laugh, show enthusiasm, and be proactive. For example, when asked how he kept his job, Tom answered: ‘I made myself indispencible. I knew everything’ – it’s useful to be an all-in-one person, and for the things you can’t do yet, to be willing to learn. A successful candidate will have good media skills:

  • edit
  • write scripts
  • video editing
  • MS Office tools
  • research
  • internet-savvy

A nice quote about being passionate in what you’re doing:

You only live once. Why have a job you don’t like?
Tom Reeves

The Number 1 rule they pointed out was: ‘Get to know what the audience thinks’. They gave a couple of examples of how different people are in their expectations towards radio and music. In a research Tom was part of some time ago, it turned out there is no single most important thing for people in a radio station. Some answered it was the music, others – the presenters, others – the shows, etc., but there was no answer to dominate them. What is more, when it comes to music, the ‘mass taste’ is different in different parts of the UK. In Wales, they tend to listen to more rock music; in London – it’s RnB, in Scotland – dance.

A very important thing radio producers need to understand is that each show, each station, has a feature that makes them unique – for some, it’s their localness, for others – the music, etc. It’s what makes the station attractive to the audience, and of course – to the advertisers. Because radio stations make their money from advertising, it’s more important to attract a niche audience that is interested in both the radio content and the ads, so the advertisers continue to buy ads and keep the radio alive. They told about a radio station who had lots and lots of listeners, but because they were all young people and couldn’t afford to buy what the adverts were selling, the advertisers started to leave and the radio was struggling. At the same time, a station with fewer, but more attractive audience, was in a much more stable position, and even with this small but quality listener base was doing fine.

When asked about the audience loyalty and dynamics, they pointed out the differences between the two radio stations and their morning listeners peaks:

  • Mercia – 8 am
  • Touch FM – 9 am.

Another thing I didn’t realise was that, because of the nature of breakfast shows, the audience changes every 20 minutes.

It’s vital for radio stations to know how the audience responds – so besides all the market and audience research they are doing, they are also seeking feedback in all kinds of ways – online, on the phone, from listeners emails, sms messages, etc. Because, if they are doing it wrong, two things happen: the people stop listening, and the brands stop advertising.

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