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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 planeand we’ve dragged our listeners through the baron wasteland that is my love life.
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.
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.
About: Shawn Cleaver
Shawn is 22, born and raised in Auckland, New Zealand. He worked as On-Air nationwide for MediaWorks More FM 7pm-12am, alongside Joe Cotton
Shawn also sings in pubs and restaurants for extra $$ on the weekends with his guitar. He recently quit his job to backpack around the world.
You can read the original story on his website here and follow Shawn’s adventures around the world.