In partnership with BBC and Radiocentre, we hosted this month’s masterclass in BBC’s historic radio theatre – home to some of the most iconic broadcasts of the last 90 years. Rooted in its rich creative history, we welcomed the next generation of talent from our community in the creative industries to gain wisdom from radio broadcast professionals at the top of the game. The panellists took a deep dive into what it takes to ‘make it’ in radio, the various routes in, plus career lows and highs so far. Our chair was the famous Radio 1 DJ Melvin Odoom, he instantly set the tone for great informal discussion and humour, as he opened with: “You lot must really love radio because it’s blazing outside!”.
Panellists included: Melvin Odoom (chair & radio DJ / presenter, BBC Radio 1), Creative Access alum Naomi Julien (social media assistant, Kiss FM), Faron McKenzie (head of station, BBC Radio 1Xtra), Shivani Sharma (producer, LBC Radio), Robbie Wojciechowski (assistant producer, BBC audio science).
Career lessons learnt
You don’t get into these roles or reach the heights our panellists have without learning a lot along the way. For 1Xtra exec Faron McKenzie, resilience is key: “You get confronted with things to see if you can really push through and to push through those blocks is real passion.” This sentiment was shared by Kiss FM’s Naomi Julien and LBC’s Shivani Sharma who both discussed the ways their flexibility and open-mindedness has been rewarded at work. Naomi said problem-solving and being flexible was integral to working in social media, where things can abruptly change and she has to adapt quickly.
LBC’s Shivani told the audience that trying things outside of her first passion – journalism- led her to production and she encouraged the audience to be open to new opportunities. BBC Audio Science’s Robbie, reflected on his younger days spent in a youth club in Brixton, where he discovered a space that was incredibly creative, and emphasised being around people that enhance your passions. Melvin’s story was a lesson of perseverance, as he started at the BBC as an assistant with Rickie Haywood-Williams but wanted to be on air: “No one wanted to hear our voices”. After not giving up and winning a competition to be a radio presenter, he got signed with Kiss and the rest is history.
Careers have gone in unplanned directions, there’ve been setbacks, and there’s also a lot of ‘stuff’ that comes with being human in a fast-paced, creative industry like radio broadcasting.
For Faron, music was the passion that brought him here, and by no means was a job like this going to fall in his lap. He described his early experiences; humble beginnings that included washing pots in a BBC building in Birmingham, listening to pirate radio,
– and his innate curiosity for music, having grown up attending church with his gran and reading the inlays of CDs and records. Faron conveyed that the reality that these challenges were also experiences that contributed to his success.
Shivani spoke about the challenges of not getting the job she wanted and being turned down for the BBC journalism trainee scheme as a graduate. She gave the comforting advice: “Don’t trust anyone who just lands their dream job straight away”. LBC wasn’t part of her plan, but it ended up being the right place for her. Naomi similarly explored various career paths, originally wanting to be an audio producer. It was in the middle of a job interview that she realised she wanted to create content.
Being a neurodivergent radio producer
Robbie spoke of his challenges in radio through the lens of neurodivergence, and this was really helpful insight that we want to avoid paraphrasing, so here it is: “I have autism and ADHD, and every day there’s a curveball. Learning to be confident in who you are and speaking up for yourself has taken me years and there’s been tricky moments, lots of bosses that didn’t understand me. I changed jobs ten times [Robbie was an ex-journalist at NME]. Learn where your heads at, and speak your mind and your truth. The BBC is uncomfortable to work sometimes, with the structure and the hierarchy, but peer networks and support can help along with being confident. It’s not linear.”
One piece of advice for their younger selves
Faron: Just keep going! Blend resilience with creativity. Don’t leave your identity at the door because being unique is how you generate amazing content..
Naomi: Throw yourself into it, no matter what. Get involved and speak to everyone.
Shivani: Keep a record of everything you’re doing, any experience, any freelance work. You don’t realise you’re getting so much experience. You can then make a diary or a showreel.
Melvin: Sometimes you’ll fly and sometimes no one cares about the short black guy from Radio 1. Manage your brand. So, change your mindset on networking. Don’t see it as a fail if you didn’t tick a box and talk to someone. You leave an impression when you are yourself.
Robbie: Document the culture around you. Archive what you’re involved in. Having questions and working them out with your friends is best, you don’t need an expert guest!
Getting into radio – “just do it”
If you’re wondering how to get your foot in the door, Faron says its simple: “you’ve got the tool in your pocket to create content”. All the panellists agreed that with a smart phone and some friends wanting to tackle a question or a topic, you can create your own content. They advised keeping your LinkedIn fresh e.g. fill it up withrecent recommendation from people you’ve worked with;, buildyour brand on social media; and be analytical about what you like about others’ content so you can apply itto your own. Teaching yourself the technical parts (YouTube is your best friend here) and learning how to become a good listener will also set you apart. Melvin advised bringing authenticity and purpose to it: “Radio is such an intimate form, if you are faking it, they will know. You can hear people smile on the radio! My rule is it doesn’t have to be right, it just has to be funny. I’m gonna have a beginning, middle and end.”
Best and worst days: the radio version
The panellists were intimate and honest with this audience question. There have been many challenges for these professionals and most had met problems that they couldn’t solve from answers in a book. For Melvin, it was the day of George Floyd’s death. He is someone whose purpose is rooted in making people laugh and he said ever so sensitively: “It’s my job to talk, and I didn’t know what to say”, but he still went live. For Robbie, he talked candidly about experiencing a panic attack at work whilst with a guest on the podcast, and how he navigated that as a producer.
Melvin summed up the best of that radio can bring when he said, “There are no normal days in this industry, I could be buying antiques with Gemma Collins one day or covered in custard at the CBBC the next.”
It was a wonderful evening and we want to thank everyone involved. Melvin also wanted it to be said that to all the people who are the future of radio in the Creative Access: “When you’re a boss in a radio, please employ me!”
Listen to the recording: