Getting a job in regional radio: text only

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You might’ve heard, Melbourne is a pretty great place to live. This means a few things: outstanding art and culture, a superb community radio scene and more sports than you can poke a stick at. But because Melbourne is so good, jobs are really competitive, meaning young people wanting to crack into the media industry might need to move away to land their first big gig. We asked a couple of ex-SYNners who’ve made the move to a regional area to share with us some of their tips and tricks for landing a job in a regional area. We spoke to Alice Walker, Tim Hammond, Jess Pantou, Eddie Williams & Alex Darling.
 

  1. What was the first month like?

Alice
A steep learning curve! I’d performed the same job before at ABC Ballarat, but coming into a whole new state, with different politicians, organisations, places and history and suddenly being responsible for a daily program meant I needed to pick up a lot as quickly as possible. I still have so much to learn! I’ve been focusing on the job, giving myself time to settle in before pursuing other interests. It’s also been hard suddenly being without my network of friends, family, and acquaintances, but that’s always the case when you move somewhere new.

Tim
Like no other. It’s the most intense, exciting, scary kind of point I think of the job. Everything kind of calms down after the first month but you’re spending so much time learning what you need to do and what’s expected in a commercial station rather than volunteering and it kind of blows your mind and I think I know for me, a little bit arrogantly, that I knew a lot more than I actually did. Being at SYN for so long I was like ‘I know everything, I press mics on, mics off, I know how to make sound effects, we’re fine,’ but there’s so many more small things that you kind of have to take on board. It’s intense, it is very, very intense. I know I was told and I’m telling everyone: in regional you will break at some point, it’s very hard to go through and not crack it and break down. There’s so much expectation and what you know you can do and what you think you should be able to be doing just all pile in. It’s gonna be so intense but oh my God so, so worth it.

Jess
My first month was probably the hardest month. I’d never lived out of home before, so moving 500km away from everyone I knew into a town of the 12 people that I worked with at the station was pretty hard. But also just a whirlwind of information. I think I learnt more in that first month here in my regional station in Mount Gambier than I probably did in a couple of years of uni. it was hectic. We learnt lots of stuff, they were feeding us lots of information, I had airchecks regularly, it was full on. But looking back now it was probably the best. I feel like I really grew a lot in that month. In short: intense, but awesome.

Eddie
It was a pretty steep learning curve. Talkback stations in big cities often have four producers, plus a presenter and a panel-op, but in Canberra, it’s just one producer and the presenter, so you get thrown in the deep end. I spent my first week working with a really experienced host who was about to leave the station, and after that I worked with a brand new host who hadn’t really done talkback before. It was kind of “the blind leading the blind” for a few weeks, while we tried to figure out what on earth we were doing, and how we wanted the show to sound. Smaller regional stations don’t always have a lot of time and resources to give you training, so you have to learn on the job.

Alex
The first month was OK – 4am starts are still tough, but I feel very comfortable in my role as a radio journalist now, and of course the skills I learnt at SYN meant I picked up the technical side of the role very quickly.

The most difficult bit in the first month was making friends and learning to live independently – unlike in your job, you don’t get help in that area. I still only have a few friends after two months, so I’d advise if you get a regional job (particularly if the hours are reasonable) find the groups that represent your special interests in the town you’re put up in, and build those connections, that’ll take a lot of weight off your shoulders moving to a new town.


2. What is the best thing about going regional?

Alice
The variety. You are able to do so many different things as part of your job – producing, social media, interviews, editing. At metro stations, many people can be in charge of the one program, and as a beginner you may have a very limited role. At regional stations, from the outset you can learn to do many different things, and once you get in the swing you can focus on areas that you’re most interested in. Regional media is also a lot more community-focused, which means building networks can be very rewarding. The market isn’t saturated, so your local stories are important and appreciated.

Tim
The best thing about going regional is the contacts and the people you meet there. Once you get to a bigger market it’s a lot harder to find a family within a station. I found in Bunbury particularly it was a humongous group of friends because everyone was orphaned from different states and you all just clump around each other and grow. But the people you meet there are fantastic.

Jess
Probably one of the best things about going regional is the people. The people in the office and also the people in the town. One of my favourite things is having people walk up to me in the middle of the street, just like ‘hey Jess I love that thing you did last Monday you had me in tears it was so funny,’ that sort of thing where you get that contact with your audience is awesome. But also I love that we get to do so much stuff out here in regional, it’s not just announcing, I’m also doing promotions and we put together some of our own ads. You wear a lot of hats which is also the cool thing about going regional – you learn a lot of different jobs in the one place.

Eddie
You get to work in a small team which means there’s always a lot to do and a lot of opportunities to try things that aren’t necessarily part of your formal job. I found it really good for me personally to move out of home and to a new city and become a lot more independent. People might be surprised to know that Canberra is actually a really great place to live.

Alex
You get to see the other Australia – sure 90% of our population live in cities, but I’ve learnt that’s not because the country is unbearable. Regional areas, particularly those large enough to warrant radio/TV services, are like suburbs – communities of a few dozen thousand where everyone knows everyone, it’s easy to get around and there are views and air unspoilt by pollution and big buildings. You’ll also very quickly develop a sense of pride for your area, as you find out the things it does well compared to the rest of the country.

And if you work in radio, you’ll see it’s really the hub of the community, the hosts at my station are known and loved by everyone, local businesses depend on the service it provides for much of their traffic, and your incredibly well listened to if you’re on air (don’t let that scare you coming from a SYN-sized audience!)


3. What is one thing that you’d tell your past self if you were about to move regional?

Alice
Pack better… I’ve brought two suitcases over here but I’ve made it hard for my friends and family to find the extra things I’d like. I should have organised and labelled things!

Tim
Probably wouldn’t. There’s only so much you can tell yourself, you just need to get in there. I wouldn’t tell myself too much more about my move to regional apart from maybe pack a few more clothes. The move is fine, don’t worry, it’s all good.

Jess
Jessica. You need to get stuck into the community as soon as you get here. The best thing that I ever did was join the local netball team because I met so many people, I had seven instant friends and from them I met people and you meet more people within the community and it really connects you to the community so then I started joining other groups around the Limestone Coast and I wish I had done it earlier, I think it would’ve made settling into the place a lot more simple if I had’ve thrown myself in from the beginning


4. From your perspective what skills are wanted at the moment in your area of radio production?

Alice
Versatility. People who can do it all – producing, interviewing, social media, audio recording and editing, video. I can’t do everything but I want to work to be as rounded as possible. I produce daily local news-based programs, so editorial skills are important. And every producer needs to be organised, that’ll never go out of fashion.

Tim
What do you need? To get a job in radio production you just need to be passionate about it. It’s not a job that you can just jump in on and be like ‘oh yeah I kind of want to edit things, I kind of want to do promos.’ To do a good job of it, you need to want to do a job in it. You can’t go ‘I’ll do some production and do some announcing.’ Go from passion and a bit of knowledge, it’s not a job where you need to have done a TAFE course or you need to have done anything else. Just go in there, if you’re good you’re going to get picked up.

Jess
I’m going to assume what skills are wanted for a breakfast announcer in a regional market? I guess the biggest skills are being multifaceted and having skills in every area because like I said earlier, you’re not just a breakfast announcer. You’re also social media, we do our own videos, we do our own production at some points, we are it. So I guess having knowledge of every single area, not being an expert in every single area but knowing how to do everything to the best of your ability is what’s gonna get you noticed for a regional job.

Eddie
I think most radio stations are looking for people who are versatile, reliable and learn quickly. For example, I’m a producer, but it’s handy for me to have learnt how to panel in our studio, and to have had lots of on-air and news reading experience at SYN. In terms of talkback producers, I think it’s important to be confident in making and taking phone calls, to build up a good contact list, and to be able to think quickly and have original ideas.

Alex
Website production – I write articles you’d expect of a newspaper journalist in addition to my on-air work most days, and that’s because it’s where radio stations are getting more of their traffic and subsequently their revenue. The on-air hosts and sales people post content as well, so if you know how to navigate HTML and content management systems and can string a sentence together, you’ll make recruiters smile. 


5. What were the steps you took inside and outside of SYN to strengthen your application?

Alice
Inside SYN – I tried to get experience on as many programs as possible, and with as many forms and in as many roles as possible – as executive producer, as presenter on television and radio, as news reader, as TV crew member, as manager. But I also made sure not to spread myself too thin – to try to give as much as I could to these roles to get as much back as possible. I spoke to people about their experiences in the industry, to get advice and figure out how everything works. Outside SYN: I got involved with different community stations. I found whatever contacts I could in the industry, and followed up on them. I emailed people asking for experience or casual shifts, and met up to ask for advice – which led to experience at ABC Ballarat. Once there, I read all the training guides, and I applied for as many jobs as possible to get to know the interview process.

Tim
The way I got my job was I started contacting a few people. I wanted to be in production so I started emailing a few people at a few different metro stations in production just being like ‘hey my name’s Tim, I suck. I am outwardly and inwardly I know, terrible at production, but I know enough to know I can probably do it if someone tells me what I’m doing wrong.’ So I went ‘okay I’m bad how can I be better’ and if you approach people that way they’re so much more likely to help you out, it’s fantastic. All I did was email people going ‘I suck, you rock, how do you rock, do you mind if I ask you some questions?’ and then just follow that up. Then it was a case of talking to different people going ‘hey here’s what I’ve done, what have I done wrong.’ If they give you any advice make sure you reflect that in your next work. Do not come back with the same problem. Or if you do – make sure you acknowledge this so they know you’re not just talking to them for them to know you. It’s more you’re talking to them so you can get better.

Jess
I was working for SYN for three years. I did every show you could possibly do pretty much, mainly just trying to find what kind of style I wanted to do and then in my last couple of seasons there, i had a great team of people: Phoebe, Ben and our producer Ash and we were really solidly working on a show and we really liked what we were putting out so we pooled together all of our contacts that we’d had in the media. I’d gotten contacts off this person or that person, just started sending airchecks out like a mad woman probably every two weeks or so we’d package up our best bits, about 5-10 minutes of our best breaks for that fortnight and send it to whoever was willing to listen and then you take that feedback from that aircheck on board and try and bring them something different and say ‘I took your notes and here’s what I’ve got.’ But at the same time I also did the RTI which was at the time Melbourne Radio School. I did their 10 week course and it was awesome, it gave me some more contacts in the industry, bit more confidence in my abilities and then I signed up for the SCA bootcamp in February last year and that was my big leg up. Once I got in there I met the right people, they started following what I was doing and my work and I started getting offered Saturdays in Shepparton so I was driving up once a month and doing a four hour shift on a Saturday in Shepparton and this job came up in Mount Gambier and they’re like ‘hey do you want to come and give this a go’ and I did an aircheck at Fox FM and two weeks later, I moved here. So that was crazy. But the biggest thing you can do to strengthen your application is work on your airchecks and send them out to as many people as you possibly can and just wait. People are bound to get back to you eventually, pick the right people and really share contacts which was a big thing for me and still is, even though I’m in the industry now.

Alex
Ultimately, I just kept reading news on air. It meant when I finally got the opportunity, the SCA news department was satisfied I could go into the role straight away (I only got 2 days worth of training in Albury before I began). This included reading at SYN, JOY fm and Triple R.

I also got this job through a “Media careers bootcamp” which SCA uses instead of job applications to select for its future employees. After successfully applying for the camp on the SCA’s job board, I went to Albury for a weekend with many other SYN peeps for two days of exercises where they tested my strengths in reading, content producing and teamwork. From there I was shortlisted for the next Journalism job the company had, and here I am in Port Macquarie!

I think the advice there is keep checking the careers websites – recruitment processes are changing in the media industry, and people are beginning to realize a resume and cover letter are poor ways of selecting for the best person for the job. You’ll be well poised to take advantage of that if you stay in touch.


6. Who did you speak to before putting in an application?

Alice
So many people! I knew I wanted to work for the ABC, so I made as many contacts as possible. It started with one – a producer my sister knew. She led me to others, who led me to others. All of these people helped me with advice, or by letting me watch them work, or by introducing me to people. I also got feedback on each previous interview to make sure the next one was better.

Tim
All the people I’d been speaking to all along. Once you’ve got that contact, or base of friends or colleagues, within an industry, particularly the division you want to go into I was just like ‘hey I want to apply for this job. You’ve said I’m good enough for this job, but can I do it? Because you don’t want to go into a job that you can’t do. It’s not worth going into a role just for the role, you need to be able to do it and kick its butt.

Jess
I didn’t really put in an application for this job. I was more sort of poached for it. So I was already talking to Mickey Maher, the head of regional content at SCA after the SCA bootcamp and he was like ‘we’ve got this opportunity, would you like to come down?’ And there were several opportunities I was overlooked for and then this one seemed to fit right with the guy that was already here. Mickey Maher was a big contact at the time and he’s a good one to keep in mind.


7. Any other killer pieces of advice that you’d like to pass on?

Alice
First, you need to get in front of people (find contacts, email, call, meet them). Then, you need to show them you’re capable. Don’t waste time. From Day 1, do your preparation. Come with ideas, and share them. Show initiative. When I got my first casual producing stint, I was told that was what had made all the difference. And my experience with SYN was instrumental to all this – I wouldn’t have got in the door without it. Getting in does take time – stick with it! And don’t be afraid to travel… you’re much more likely to pick up work if you’re flexible.

Tim
I don’t really have any killer tips. Probably at the end of the day the person who’s best for the job will get the job, but it doesn’t matter how good you are if no one knows who you are. So you need to go out and make contacts and it seems really annoying, you want to be recognised on your own merit but people do not have time. Reach out to someone and I’m sure they’ll get back to you.

Jess
I don’t feel like I’m on a level that this should be a question asked of me just yet, but all I can say is if you want to crack into the industry, just keep pushing. Eventually someone’s going to notice you – just keep doing the hard yards. Don’t expect everything to come easily for you because it’s not necessarily going to come straight to you. I was offered four jobs and they just fell through at the last minute before I got this one. It’s all about timing and putting together your best work. So every time you go on air at SYN, make sure you’re grabbing that log and you’re making your best bits and sending it out to as many people as possible because that’s what’s going to get you noticed.

Eddie
Don’t stress if you get a lot of rejections. I must have applied for more than a dozen jobs before 2CC hired me. Once you’re working somewhere, try to enjoy your job and your town. I think too many people are constantly looking for the next big job, instead of appreciating what they’re doing at the moment.


8. What would you say to someone from Regional Australia getting a job in Regional Australia?

Alice
Those from regional Australia already know the pros and cons of living in regional Australia! I’d say… find somewhere new. Explore a different part of Australia, and get to know our diverse country better. It may really surprise you – some things in regional areas seem to be the same everywhere, but some things are oh so very different. It’s beautiful.

Tim
For the people who want to get a job at a regional station who live regionally – it’s probably that much easier for you. You’ll just go to your local station and believe me, regional stations are so understaffed, if you can turn up and go ‘hi I want to learn, I’m keen,’ they will pick you up and if they think that you’re genuinely interested in helping out, you just need to do a few promo jobs helping out and they might get you into panel and it’s easy. For those people in a metro market moving out, it’s the same. It’s not easier, or harder, it’s just about building contacts.

Jess
Be willing to move I think is the biggest thing especially in a company like SCA, the idea of staying in your hometown is probably a little unrealistic. Some people do it – there’s a guy here in Mount Gambier who’s been on air for over 20 years at the same station and he grew up here, he was born and raised, but it doesn’t happen all that often so I think if you’re already in regional Australia and you want to get a job in regional Australia, be willing to move is all I can offer.

Eddie
Go for it! I know so many people from my own workplace who have built up their experience in regional radio, before moving into metro radio or TV.

Alex
Call up your local radio/TV station and tell them you’re interested – it works a lot more frequently than in urban areas just because they’re always short of staff, and the moment you show interest they get excited they might soon have another employee that knows the area they cover and will give them a lifetime’s worth of skilled work. All the interns that have come through this station come in enthusiastic to learn and contribute, and you can tell they weren’t just like this after they’d gotten their position.

You can hear an audio version of this blog post here.


Who’s who?

Alex Darling
Alex Darling joined SYN in 2013, and for the next two years rotated in roles on Panorama, News and Represent . For the last two months he’s worked as a Radio journalist covering news in Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour for radio stations part of the Southern Cross Austereo network in NSW.

Eddie Williams
Eddie Williams was at SYN from 2009 to 2014, and was involved in The Awkward Stage, Objection, SYN News, Panorama, Represent and a couple of seasonal shows. He moved to Canberra in April 2014 to work at a talkback radio station called 2CC, where he’s now the producer of Breakfast with Tim Shaw.

Jess Pantou
In her time at SYN, Jess was involved in a bunch of different flagship programs and her own seasonal program called Take That. She moved to Mount Gambier, South Australia in December 2015 to co-host Breakfast at 96.1 Star FM.

Alice Walker
Alice Walker was the Executive Producer of Art Smitten and SYN’s Radio Manager before moving across the country to Western Australia to join the team at ABC Great Southern.

Tim Hammond
During his time at SYN, Tim was involved in the Awkward Stage, Objection (now Amplify), Get Cereal, a few seasonal shows and 1700. He also worked as a trainer for accesses, the Awkward Stage and led school tours. Tim is now working at hit107 in Adelaide as a Breakfast Imaging/Audio Producer.

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