Lost in transmission: the highs & lows of modern broadcasting

It’s frustrating turning on the radio. You hear young, lavishly paid announcers chuckle and joke their way to another paycheck, while you’re stuck at a real job. They meet the superstars. They make the big bucks. All for just talking shit and listening to music. Life’s unfair isn’t it?

Four years ago when I started radio school, this was what I thought I was getting into. Naïve, and bushy tailed, I embarked on a whirlwind journey to achieve my dream of talking for a living. As I leave to take a year to travel, I can reflect on the amazing highs, and brutal realities of working in radio today.

TIME

The most obvious downside to radio announcing are the batshit-crazy hours. I worked the night show for two years. From when I left for work late Sunday afternoon, until the follow Friday night, I wouldn’t see anyone but my co-workers. Flatmates, friends, family, all arrive from their normal jobs just as I leave for mine. I’d rush home to try have a normal conversation but would always find everyone asleep.

Yes, woe is me, please sponsor me through World Vision. It may sound dramatic but don’t underestimate the isolation this job brings. Things you take for granted like eating dinner with other people, or simply having a partner, forget about it. Plus this is just one aspect to deal with if you achieve the dream of chatting for money.

PRESSURE

Have a few yarns, make a little love and get down tonight right? Reckon it sounds pretty cruisy on the airwaves? Trust me those announcers are under a brickwork of pressure.

Firstly your boss is listening. Always. Especially when you do a shit break, just know and accept this. As well as their boss, this is the scary one you’ve only met a few times but know could wipe their ass with your career and not even evaluate before the flush. Oh, and your talent coach. Remember when they said to say it like that, but only when this happens once you’ve set it up that way? Yeah don’t be forgetting that now.

Also be aware that each show, thousands of dollars pass through as ad & promotion revenue, with sales teams clawing at the wall to make that happen. So make sure that THEIR client gets the optimum treatment. Don’t screw that up, there aren’t enough dead goats in the office to sacrifice to the bloodthirsty sales reps.

Alas never forget the omnipresent survey, tracking research and number crunching. If the Survey Gods are left unappeased, you’ll be out of a job quicker than you can say: “Thanks so much for getting in touch, you’re in the draw for a prize.” (Which is a lie, unless we’ve got your address you ain’t winning shit.)

But make sure you relax and have fun. Or you’re fired.

Actually, there’s a good chance you’re about to be fired anyway.

UNPREDICTABILITY

For every on-air job, there are 100 younger, cheaper, eager wee creatures plotting your demise to take your seat. So don’t get too worked up about trivial things like a raise, or a concrete contract, you’re just lucky to be there. Plus if your show gets great results, you’ll be safe right? Surely they can’t harm you if you actually do a killer job?

Wrong. Even if you attract more listeners to the station, if Big Brother thinks your show can be done cheaper with minimal impact on results, you really were lucky to be there. But your luck has expired. Don’t let the door dent your hopes and dreams on the way out.

There’s a saying about on-air employment: “Everyday on-air is a good day.” That couldn’t be more true regarding your mood as well, because even if you are having the worst day of your life, you better sort your shit out quick-smart.

TOO BAD, BE HAPPY

The listener doesn’t care if you are depressed, hungover, sick or in need of medical attention. They’ve got their own problems. Just tell me what song that was, say something funny, and then shut the fuck up.

I’ll never forget my co-host who found out on-air, that her friend at 37 had passed away. She soldiered on through, presenting mindless Kardashian news, pushed back the tears, and finished the show in one piece. It’s an unwavering commitment to the job that not only does, but has to go unnoticed.

My claim to fame was almost cutting my finger off on a can of beans, and bleeding all over the kitchen before a shift. I had a friend drive me into work, I recorded my shift and then went to hospital. Yes Ron, I need to sort out my priorities.

(Takes breath)

After reading though four years of pent up resentment, one may wonder why I bothered to stick with it. Truth is radio is a fun, dynamic and exciting industry, there’s just a lot going on behind the scenes. If you can handle the unpredictable, isolating, stressful jandal, you stand to reap the rewards of a truly unique career.

MEETING CELEBRITIES

Putting unimaginable things like “Interviewing Hozier” or “Chilling with Ed Sheeran” on my bucket-list just isn’t my style. I don’t want to disappoint myself. But low and behold I have met, interviewed, chatted and joked with some of my heroes, and have created memories that will last a lifetime.

I bought Hozier a pounamu, had a shot with Mumford & Sons, filmed an Ed Sheeran interview in his hotel room, taught Adam Lambert māori and flirted with Kimbra. Yes I am busy picking those names up off the floor but I make no apology because I truly savoured and appreciated every celeb I got to meet.

GETTING PAID TO TALK

Believe it or not, there are times when the stars align, you feel good about the work you’re doing, the pressure is under control, and you actually have a genuine laugh on the radio like you should be doing all the time. Some nights I leave thinking “I’m actually doing it, I’m getting paid to joke and have fun.”

As explained earlier this doesn’t just happen, this is the result of a lot of hard yards learning the audience, bringing out the best in your co-host and believing in yourself. But when it does and the bosses are full of praise it feels bloody good.

CREATIVE LICENSE

You talk five times an hour, for about two minutes, five hours a night, five nights a week. What happens in those four-ish hours a week are completely up to you. (As long as it fits your stations demographic of course.)

Yes this is also daunting, the struggle is very real to fill that time, (and thank the Survey Gods in heaven for Buzzfeed,) but if you see it as an opportunity to be creative it can be a great chance to express yourself.

We’ve taken our listeners on a multitude of different journeys. Like getting one of New Zealand’s iconic bands back together, making my poor  aviophobic co-host fly a plane and we’ve dragged our listeners through the baron wasteland that is my love life.

PEOPLE

Can you imagine how fun it would be to go to karaoke with a bunch of professional singers? (Maybe to just watch…) Or go round to a world-class chef’s house for dinner? That’s what it’s like just being around radio people all day, because we talk. Our commodity is our chat. We pay the bills with banter. Therefore there is never a dull moment in the radio office, and if you’re not cracking up laughing or deeply uncomfortable, you’re about to be.

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All things considered radio is not a job, it’s a lifestyle. Although it sounds desirable and simple when you listen, it takes a unique kind of person to handle the many distractions and pressures, while only presenting the best, consistently entertaining version of themselves day in and day out.

Although I am taking some time to see the world, I know without a doubt that I will return to radio. Now that I’m aware of what it takes to be successful I feel more prepared than ever to ace the next opportunity I get. My love for music and entertaining just eclipses any other fathomable job, all except actually singing on stage. Which I am also pursuing. But if I can’t manage to be the singer, I’ll sure as hell be the guy joking with them backstage.

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5 thoughts on “Lost in transmission: the highs & lows of modern broadcasting

  1. The letter i left my colleagues @ NZME.

    Dear friends and colleagues,

    My role has been disestablished, ending on the 30th of October, 2015. It is also my last date of work with NZME.

    You are the lovely people I have worked with the most and wanted to send an email to say bon voyage

    I can’t overstate how profoundly the radio industry has changed from the day I started in March 2013 to the corporate model that’s been adopted over the last year. An ethos of music, information and discovery has been replaced wholesale by a cynical manipulation of demographics and the blandest common denominator.

    Radio playlists are much shorter, with a handful of singles repeated incessantly until focus groups say quit.

    News and Entertainment have gone to bed with each other and spawned a world of make-believe, grammar illiterate media ponies that can’t function without trying to monetise everything they publish.

    Most DJs & journalists no longer choose music or information based on their expertise and no longer weave a narrative around records or news. This makes for more passive listening and reading, it shrinks the musical and information diet of most New Zealanders down to a handful of heavily produced, industrial-scale hits and a story about – how many different sets of lips Kim Kardashian has lost on a bus she has never been on. NZME is no longer for me.

    It’s been fun. I have learnt a lot and I have enjoyed the people I have worked with. My creative team are a group of heroes who rescue the prolapsed dollar on a daily basis. These people are talented so please never take them for granted. Applaud them, reward them.

    I believe NZME are heading in the right direction and I wish everyone all the best with their future.

    Regards
    Simon Claridge

    Like

    • Yeah Simon I can totally see what you are saying, I guess I got into radio before I knew any better so although I’m aware of infotainment and playlists, that’s kind of all I’ve known. Sounds like you really had a deep passion for the music and the integrity of the industry that may seem pretty different these days. Regardless thanks for sharing, all the best 🙂

      Like

  2. Pingback: “Oh I’m from Syria…” | Shawn Cleaver

  3. It’s perfect time to make some plans for the future and it is
    time to be happy. I’ve read this post and if I could I want to suggest
    you few interesting things or suggestions. Maybe you
    could write next articles referring to this article. I wish to read
    more things about it!

    Like

    • Hi Frank, thanks for the message. I’ve now been travelling for about five months, and find myself missing radio, missing my co-workers, and believe it or not missing the lifestyle. If you’d like to chat more about it, please send me an email, I’d be more than happy to chat about it! I most likely won’t write another article about it any time soon as I haven’t been working in radio for a few months – shawnfoxcleaver@yahoo.co.nz

      Cheers

      Like

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