101 Top Tips for getting into radio ... & presentation techniques

I wish someone had told me that when I started out

BBC local radio broadcast desk

Got any advice?

This is a living page of advice from radio people around the world.  It's funny how the tips are universal and appear to be relevant whether you are broadcasting in Southend or South America.

If you have something to add, or want to take issue with some of the contributions ... well,  please email  gerald@geraldmain.com  and I'll make sure to reflect your opinion.  My thanks to everyone who has contributed to this page.

My top tip?  It's only rock 'n' roll, no one dies!

Getting Into Radio

  1. Listen to lots of radio ... local, national, international, different formats, public, commercial ... just listen.
  2. Become critical ... what do you like, why do you like it, why does a station do things the way they do ... think about radio.
  3. Take the plunge!  There are loads of brilliant community, hospital and student radio stations.  They all survive thanks to volunteers,  so they should welcome you with open arms.  Remember, there are lots of stations to choose from so if one station isn't welcoming ... move on!
  4. Don't live in a radio bubble.  Radio should always full of interesting people, saying interesting things in an interesting way.  If you're not aware of the wider world (not just news and current affairs) you will be less attractive to an employer.
  5. Think twice before studying Media Studies at college or university.  It has a poor image amongst some employers who simply don't understand  what it is.  Study something you are good at and will enjoy. (PS: I'm told the Uni of Salford run a very good Media Studies course and are all very nice people!)
  6. If you want to be a radio journalist or a producer or presenter of news and current affairs, having a journalism qualification is almost essential. Do your research and make sure any course has a good track record of getting their students both work experience and jobs at the end of the course.  Look out for those courses that are  NCTJ accredited which are recognised by the industry.
  7. Keep an eye out for vacancies online.  If you want to get into the BBC, take a look at their excellent careers website and register on the BBC Career's Hub.
  8. If finding an opening or work experience is proving tougher than you thought, consider some media career coaching (see below).
  9. Radio is a creative industry and your approach for work experience, casual work or freelancing should be creative. You need to stand out from the dozens of others who send in their CVs looking for work.
  10. People who are "around" get offered work.
  11. If you are offered a foot in the door think very carefully before saying "no." Opportunity doesn't come knocking too often.  Seize with both hands!
  12. "Slashing the Odds" is a presentation Gerald gives at colleges and universities.  It's a 90 minute interactive session aimed at increasing your chances of getting a job (and work experience) in the media. Contact Gerald@GeraldMain.com for more info.
  13. Know what to expect on work experience and be as useful as possible.  Be prepared to actually do the job and bring in ideas. (Barry Caffrey - BBC Multi Media Broadcast Journalist) MORE TIPS BELOW

Radio Presentation skills

  1. Know your audience.  Who are you broadcasting to? If you don't know that how do you know what will be of interest to them?
  2. Slow Down.  99% of new presenters speak too fast ... and a lot of experienced ones as well!  Try writing "Slow Down" on a post it note and sticking it somewhere prominent on the desk.
  3. "Tell the truth, make it matter and don't be boring."  This is the essence of radio consultant, Valerie Geller's, approach to radio. Beg, steal, borrow or even buy her books! See her in action here.
  4. Reset often.  Never assume listeners joined the programme at the start and know what's going on.  Even if you've been running a feature for a year, there will be some new listener who has never heard it before and would appreciate an explanation.
  5. Radio should be fun.  There's no place for miserable gits on-air! Gerald's pet moan of the moment .... there are too many presenters on speech based radio who sound like they've had a recent bereavement in the family.   If you're not enjoying it talk to the boss, change your role or preferably leave ... but please don't take it out on the listeners!
  6. Whatever your level, training will always improve your performance.  Gerald Main ( and there are others out there!) offers a full range of training for professional, community, prison and student radio stations.
  7. Whatever the station, never rubbish the music.  If it's a bad track,  take it up with the management after the show.
  8. Give yourself time to prepare in the studio ahead of any show.
  9. Warm the voice before going on-air.  Singing or talking aloud on the way to the studio is a good trick.
  10. Have somewhere ( notebook, phone, tablet) where you can keep a note things to talk about on the radio. That thing you jotted down last week might make a brilliant link or phone-in topic tomorrow.
  11. Be a team player.  No one likes presenters who are self centred pains in the backside who don't care about anyone else.  Offer to make the tea from time to time and always say thank you to your team at the end of a show ... even a bad one!
  12. Listen back to your show on a regular basis.  If the boss isn't giving you feedback, request it.  Better still, whatever your level, get a professional broadcaster to listen and give you honest, but always supportive feedback.  Contact Gerald Main for details of how you can receive professional feedback on your show.
  13. In music radio, let the music speak for itself". You may have facts/figs/insights, but not in every link! (Adam Glynn - Canadian Broadcaster - formerly with TrafficLink in UK) MORE TIPS BELOW.

Getting Into Radio MORE TOP TIPS

14  Be prepared to do the not so "glamorous" jobs (if they actually exist!). (Joe Box - Community Radio and determined to get his break into the BBC)

15  If you've got contacts in the business, don't be a wally, use them!  It's not cheating or being underhand - it's plain common sense.  The media is all about making contacts and connections. That said, don't over do it.   "I was speaking to the DG, the Controller of BBC TV and the Head of Radio who all suggested I popped by your office for a chat about improving your station's on-air diversity ..." is arrogant, manipulative  and will put people's back up! (True Story!)

16  Find a mentor to help you.  If there's someone you really admire or heads the department you wish to work for ...drop them an email asking if they would consider being your mentor? It's very flattering to be asked and 95% of radio people want to help.

17  Just do it!  We live in an age when most mobile phones double as great recording devices and editing software like Audacity is free.  There is nothing stopping you making features or recording interviews which you can offer to radio stations.  Hey presto, you are offering more than the guy who just sends his or her CV to the station.

18  Spot the opportunity.  In the summer many stations run roadshows  and promotions which need people to hand out goodies.  The BBC is always looking for students to help with election coverage.  In the winter, stations often have a string of weather watchers reporting on snowfall and traffic problems. All of the above are openings to get your foot in the door.

19 Realise that there is a career ladder, and it has a lot of tea making, standing in the rain and clipboard holding on it. (Helen Blaby - BBC Northampton)

20  Once you have found the job that's right for you - enjoy it, but accept there will come a day when it ends.  A new owner, boss or format will come along and make changes.  Either accept the situation, re-invent yourself (and perhaps your act) or move on.  The Radio Gods never guarantee you a gig for life!

21  You're never too old or young to get involved in  radio.  Sweeping generalisation ahead! The older you are, the more experiences you have had and what you bring to the airwaves is all the richer for it.  (There is of course a moment in everyone's on-air life when you start to lose it.  The voice, the brain, the timing ... may all start to go.  You need a very special radio friend to tell you when the time has come to hang up your headphones.)

22  Christmas and Bank Holidays are great times to get your foot in the door.  There are usually lots of shifts available and few volunteers.  Why not send that left-over Christmas card to the station's boss with your offer to work unsociable shifts.

23 Find out where the real hiring power sits in any station.  The person who completes the rota may be an admin worker rather than the manager or the editor.  It will be different people for different roles, but identifying the right person on a station will save you time and increase the chances of getting work.

24  Be around.  If you've been given the odd shift but the work has dried up, that's the time to "be around." Drop into the station for any excuse just so your face can be seen.  It's amazing how often your appearance will generate offers of work,  "Hi, I was just going to call you about covering a show next week ...."

25  Don't lose your enthusiasm!  You may not be doing the show you would ideally like to do and perhaps you're not on the station you would like to be ... but what you are doing right now is what you will be judged on next time you apply for a job.

26  When you are celebrating your 103rd birthday (go with me on this....) don't you dare mutter, "If only I had taken that next step .... and not been so afraid ... I might have made it in radio."  The time to take that step is now. 

BBC Radio Northampton badsges

Radio Presentation MORE TOP TIPS

14   You're never too young to start!

15  PREP ... Prepare, Rehearse, Edit & Perform. (Paul Morris - Presenter at Town 102 in Ipswich)

16  If you don't have anything meaningful for a link, keep it tight and don't waffle. (Adam Glynn) Similarly, if you've got nothing to say, say nothing!  Less is more - play the tune. (Matthew Price - BBC Jersey) Nigel Dyson, a former BBC station editor, proud Lancastrian and brilliant presenter puts it even more succinctly, "Cut  the gobs*ite!"

17  Think before you open your mouth. (Adam Glynn)

18 Talk TO people not AT people. (Helen Blaby - Presenter at BBC Northampton)

19  Don't try to be someone you're not.  Trying to be someone else is exhausting.  Your audience love you for who YOU are. (Helen Blaby)

20  "It's Only Rock 'n' Roll, nobody dies" applies to radio. Don't take it too seriously. (BBC Radio Grafton)

21  Your best show was never quite as good as you thought and your worst show wasn't as bad as you believed. This observation was made by  the great Radio 2 broadcaster, Ray Moore.

22 Don't eat food in studios and keep drinks away from the gear.  Tidying up your studio after your show so it's ready for the next presenter is just good manners.

23  Look after your engineer!  They are lovely people who know lots of stuff and care about the station every bit as much as you do!

24  Be to be a human. Nobody tunes in for the DJ3000 autobot. Talk to people. Be interested in the world. Tell stories. (Geoff McQueen - Lecturer in Radio Production, University of Salford)

25  Never forget, it is you at one end delivering to the milkman and he, at the other end, delivering to YOU. It is as simple as that. Always bear it in mind. You are both just 'doing your job' - Richard Spendlove MBE, BBC Local Radio / BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

26  Learn about microphones.  If you get too close and  speak directly into many mics they will "pop." Similarly, you'll need to work closer to some than others.  Getting the mic (or you) in the right position and then checking the levels are two of the most important things you should do ahead of a show.

27  You never know when your potential NEXT boss might be tuning in.  If you are not identing yourself and the station,  you are  making it more difficult for him or her to find you.

28  Be aware of your competition.  Listen to the opposition and honestly assess what they are doing.  If someone were driving through the patch, would they find you or the competition more inviting, more fun, more engaging ...

29  If your boss isn't giving you regular quality feedback (or you think their opinion is suspect!) invest in yourself and commission some high quality detailed professional  feedback. With Gerald, you will receive honest and supportive feedback with suggested action points to enhance your performance and improve your chances of making the next move in your radio career.  Fees start from £75  for review,  video link feedback and coaching notes. Contact Gerald for more details.

30 90% of radio presenters don't need an agent to get on or negotiate fees.  Many managers in local radio aren't used to dealing with agents and may even shy away from presenters who have representation.  That said,  a good agent is worth their weight in gold for both presenter and radio station management particularly the higher up radio food chain.

31  "That was Bill Snerd & The Pneumatic Drills ... and this is Take That," is the dullest way of introducing music.  There are dozens of different ways in and out of music and variety is the key to keeping it interesting. You may love a good voice-over, but bear in mind that old parody, "It's up to the vocal or Radio Local!"

32  The New York radio consultant, Valerie Geller,  has influenced a generation of talk radio presenters around the world.  Get a flavour of her work  here then buy one of her books!

33. One of the UK's top consultants, John Simons, shares his views here  on the attributes of great radio presenters.

34.  Don't shout! (thanks to radio producer and trainer Jeff Link for tweeting aboujt this ... ) When you're on air, if you think your voice sounds a bit quiet, check the mic level on pre-fade and if necessary turn up your cans ... but don't shout at the listener. As Jeff says, "It's not nice!"

35.  If you are lucky enough to have a programme assistant to answer calls, sort out techy stuff, fetch coffee, show in guests etc., you do not have to put them on-air.  It's become all too common, particularly  on BBC Local Radio,  for presenters to talk endlessly on-air  to their broadcast assistants and forget about the listener.  It's a sign of a lack of content and production.  Talking to a colleague fills time of course, but so does a good piece of music and I know which I would rather hear.

36.  The best interviewers are the best listeners.  Listening hard to what the interviewee is saying with quite naturally help you ask the next question ... and then the next.

37.  Prepping the first link of any show is so important.  Getting off to a flying start will give you confidence for the rest of the show ... start badly and your links will fall down like a row of dominoes.  Should you script it?  Yes, I would!

38.  While you might be happy to parade your whole life on social media or on-air .... how do your friends and family feel about that ... especially kids and partners.  What is the impact on them of what you're saying on the radio?

39.  Hosting a radio show is a bit like being a circus ringmaster.  You welcome the audience, introduce the acts, keep everyone informed about what's going on, make sure everything is entertaining ... and when things go wrong it's down to you to sort it out confidently and get the show back on track.

40.  Hey, what's the best bit of radio advice you've ever had? Let me add it to this list.  Email Gerald @geraldmain.com .

41.  Feedback shouldn't be a chore or an ordeal ... and if you're not getting feedback you are shortchanging yourself.  Gerald has devised a DIY feedback system ... email for more details.

42.  Here's a sure fire way to read scripts and cues and always put the emphasis in the right place.  First own the script ... without changing the meaning,  make changes to words you find difficult to say ... or simply ensure it makes sense.  Secondly, really understand the story or script and why it might be important.  Thirdly, say it out aloud (or at least say it aloud in your head). Finally ... read it on air.  The key point is always to understand what you are reading.

43.  "What is the listener getting from this right now?" was the question on a poster above the broadcast desk at one community station I visited.  It's such a good question it's worth putting on a post it note and sticking it somewhere prominent next time you're on-air.

44. My new internet radio provides a choice of 25000 stations.  If you are being dull, sound bored, ill prepared, technically a bit rubbish, excluding me from your conversation .... well, f*** you!  I've got 24,999 other places to go!

Coaching Testimonials

Coaching presenters results in better presenters.  Here's recent feedback:

 

"You literally changed my life"
  O - Essex

"Thanks for taking me from pro football to pro radio"
 G - East Anglia

“You have  a genuine skill in discovering and developing talent"
L - BBC HR Consultant

"Thanks for all your help mate - your book is bloody brilliant!"
J - London agent

"The 101 Tips ... Incredibly useful."
G - Lecturer at University of Salford

"Cheers for the tips, I'll be sure to use them. Will let you know how it goes."
S - University student - London 

"I feel really motivated - just the push I needed."
L - University student - Portsmouth

"This has really helped to clear my head and I've now started planning my next steps after university."
T - University student - Northampton

"I'm just emailing you to say thanks for the tips you’ve given me on getting into the industry. Using those methods have made me feel much more confident and professional, and with that I was able to secure a work placement at the BBC."

S - Hertfordshire

"You're the best tutor in  the business ... thank you."
L- BBC Radio Station Manager

more …

"Without your help I would never have made it!"
A - BBC radio presenter
 "Thanks for all your advice ... I'm taking the plunge and have arranged to meet the boss today."
J - Midlands
"I only went and got the job!  The mock interview we did yesterday was brilliant preparation for today. Can't thank you enough."
M - Tyne & Wear

"I was a bit lost at the end of my degree.  Our sessions really helped me focus on what I want and how to achieve my goals."

J - Cambridge
"Thank you Gerald.  It's thanks to your invaluable advice that I've been able to secure both the jobs I applied for!
P - Hampshire

"Thanks for all your advice ... I'm taking the plunge and have arranged to meet the boss today."
J - Midlands - December 2016

"I only went and got the job!  The mock interview we did yesterday was brilliant preparation for today. Can't thank you enough."
M - Tyne & Wear
"I was a bit lost at the end of my degree.  Our sessions really helped me focus on what I want and how to achieve my goals."
J - Cambridge
"It was great to meet you and genuinely……..I can’t tell you what a massive help you’ve been."
A - Leicester

"I wanted to thank you for all your constructive feedback and training earlier this year, it definitely helped me focus my mind and fend off the nerves ( BBC 5 Live)."
A M - Sussex

"Thanks for being the honest broker and bringing ******* to the station .  He's going to be a great addition to the team."
B - East Anglia 

"Tomorrow, my radio life changes forever. Whatever happens next, I've set out to do what I wanted to do and it's all down to you." (BBC Radio 1)
Essex