Radio is an exciting medium to work in – you have quite a lot of freedom to be creative compared to other areas, and it’s probably easier to cover a breaking news story well on radio than anywhere else.
The radio landscape is smaller than it used to be, as independent/commercial stations have merged and reduced their local content, including news, over the years. But it’s still a great industry to work in, with lots of different roles and routes to go down.
And of course a lot of the same working methods apply to podcasts too, which is a thriving part of the industry.
- Radio roles
- Station Manager/Managing Editor
- News Editor
- Programme producers
- Setting the programme up
- Outputting the programme
- Sports team
This isn’t an exhaustive list and is focussed on the way things work at BBC local radio stations. But arrangements are similar at national stations – whether BBC or LBC.
Station Manager/Managing Editor
At the BBC, there are lots of levels of management such as Head of North, Head of Local Radio, Head of England etc etc etc. but at a radio station level, this is where the buck stops. They’re in charge of staffing, strategic decisions and things like that, but aren’t generally involved in the day-to-day decisions about programme and bulletin content.
The News Editor will set the news agenda for the day, working with programme producers and the newsreader to decide which stories to focus on. This will be based on the national news agenda, what’s in the diary locally, what reporters have brought in, and breaking stories that occur overnight or through the day.
There are two main parts of a producer’s job – deciding what’s in the programme and setting the relevant guests up, and outputting the programme.
Setting the programme up
The producer will work with the News Editor and the programme presenter to decide what stories to cover and what treatment to give each story.
Treatment could be one interview with a guest, a discussion between a couple of guests, a reporter two-way, a clip sequence read by the presenter, a package, or a combination of these elements in different timeslots throughout the programme.
Then the producer needs to set these elements up. That means ringing potential guests, speaking to reporters, keeping track of what’s sorted and where the gaps are, editing audio, and writing cues and questions.
Outputting the programme
When the presenter’s in the studio, the producer sits in Ops – the operations room. Normally the presenter and producer can see each other through a glass wall, and can talk to each other using talkback.
The producer keeps the presenter on track, calls the guests up at the right time, takes phone calls from the public, keeps an eye on text messages and social media, and makes changes to the programme if necessary like fitting in some breaking news or looking out for national pieces that can be dropped into the programme. The producer might also suggest questions to the presenter as an interview is happening.
Sounds like a lot? In a busy programme it can be so there will often be a Broadcast Assistant in Ops as well. Getting some freelance work as a Broadcast Assistant is a great way to start your broadcasting career.
Being a presenter is a fun, exciting and challenging job. On paper, it sounds like a breeze – read the cues written by your producer, ask the questions written by your producer, play songs.
In reality, it’s so much more. You need to have a good understanding of everything you’re covering in the programme, as well as what’s going on in the wider world, be able to adlib/fill – sometimes for several minutes at a time, adapt instantly to unexpected changes, be a great interviewer, hold politicians to account, while also sounding warm and friendly and having a personality that draws the listeners in. And if you’re a breakfast presenter you need to do all this after waking up at 3 am.
Presenters don’t just show up five minutes before the programme and leave the second it finishes (well, most don’t). They will also be around for the editorial meeting with the producer and news editor, pre-record items, set guests up, and take part in the debrief after the programme.
“What do you do for the rest of the hour, when you’re not reading the news?”
That question never gets old.
The newsreader writes the news, looks out for new stories and updates, edits audio clips, fact checks, writes voice pieces for reporters, sets up and conducts interviews for the next day (particularly if you’re working in commercial radio), and liaises with the News Editor and programme producers.
The stories in the bulletins come from lots of different places, including:
- police – the newsreader has to keep an eye on the local police force’s website, social media, emails etc.
- other emergency services – checking their websites and social media every hour
- press releases sent to the email inbox
- social media – a Twitter list of all your local organisations is a must
- the radio station output – clipping interviews as soon as they’ve been on air
- listeners calling or texting in information
- national news services, such as Press Association, the Local Democracy Reporters, BBC wires
When a newsreader starts their shift, they’ll look at what’s been left for them overnight, which may include copy, cues and clips set aside for the morning (not everything has to go on air immediately), check for important emails, look at what’s coming up in the programme, and check all of the above. They’ll then start writing/rewriting and putting together their first bulletin.
As a general rule, consecutive bulletins won’t contain the same copy or audio (though they will generally cover the same top stories), and each piece of copy or audio clip will only be used twice during the day. Newsreaders keep rewriting and updating stories throughout the day.
The sports team at a radio station produces:
- several hours of live programming a week
- stories and clips on major stories for the newsroom
- sports bulletins (normally on the half-hour)
- social media content
A typical sports team at a BBC station could be two or three full-time staff but major “hub” stations like London, Manchester and Leeds have four or five.
Radio stations often have commentary contracts with sports clubs, covering every home and away game.
BBC Radio Leeds has football contracts with Leeds United, Huddersfield Town and Bradford City. Add to that commentary coverage of every West Yorkshire rugby league team, Yorkshire cricket and Yorkshire Carnegie and you have an enormous operation providing hundreds of hours of live coverage a year.
There are press conferences to attend for every major club and you need to keep in daily personal contact with managers if you can.
There are admin tasks as well, sorting out passes for these matches and hiring expert pundits.
Covering live sport involves a lot of travelling around the country, and even the world.
Digital and Social Producer
Most radio stations now have at least one person focused on social media content.
They will chase their own stories to create videos for Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, as well as taking clips from on-air output.
Like all reporters, they’ll look out for story ideas on social media, finding potential sources and case studies.
They will also try to get conversations going on social media, getting more people engaged with the radio station and the stories of the day.