Advice for Those Starting Out in the Industry

I recently spent a day with broadcast students who are about to graduate from one of several Ontario colleges and who will be looking to land their first job. Over 300 students descended on the Corus facility at Dockside on Monday, March 2nd for the 15th annual Career Day, which is a forum to meet with professionals in their field to talk candidly and ask questions. This allows them a level of access they would not normally have.

 

There were 40 broadcast professionals who came to answer questions and offer advice to these young broadcasters. It was impressive to meet some of the stars of tomorrow, to learn about their journey and to hear how passionate they are about this business. Kudos to the Ontario Association of Broadcasters for putting this on event each year and a shout out to the sponsors who enable this event to happen at no cost to individual students. You can learn more about the OAB Career Day at OAB.ca

This year’s panel discussion, entitled “Big Dreams, Small Steps” included Alan Carter, News Anchor, Global News; Josie Dye, Morning Show Co-host, INDIE 88; Jamie Johnston, Morning Show Co-host, Rogers Sudbury; Rishma Govani, Senior Communications & Public Affairs Manager, Global News; and Paul Thomas, Program & Music Director, MZ Media.

Next came the Q&A sessions and there were about 20 round tables which accommodated about 10 students at a time, with each table specializing in one aspect of radio or television. Students had 30 minutes to talk to industry professionals and ask as many questions as time allowed. After 30 minutes they moved to another table and met other broadcasters who specialized in another area. I had the pleasure of sharing a table with the very talented Shemar Moore, Producer of the Roz & Mocha show on Kiss 92.5, and Jenn McKay who does the morning show at Cool 100 in Bellville. This was one of two “on air” tables, and I was invited because I coach on air talent across Canada which includes lots of young people who are in their first full time job. Over several hours, I think we got to speak to most of the students who attended, and here are some of the most common questions we were asked, along with our answers;

How do I get my first high paying job at a Toronto radio station? Yes, we were asked that question! While Sham had managed to do just that a few years ago, our advice was to look at a smaller market and work your way up. More on that later. Sham, by the way, went to Kiss in Toronto to interview for a promotions job. He was a fan of the station, knew all the personalities and it was the station he listened to most. After the interview he was leaving the building and noticed Dave Blizzard who was the night jock at the time. Sham seized the opportunity and introduced himself to Dave and told him how much he loved listening to his night show. That led to the offer of an unpaid internship which Sham took, over the paying job that he had originally interviewed for, because he knew he wanted to be on the air. Sham told us that Dave treated him well and Sham worked hard which, in time, led to him getting some breaks on the air with Dave. That lead to solo overnights, weekends and more. Today he produces the morning show and appears on Rogers TV. There are others who have also managed to get their start on a Toronto radio station, so it is not impossible. Often it starts with working as part of the station street team. If you work hard and impress people, that may lead to a full-time position. By the way, this is the time of the year that lots of radio station in Toronto and beyond are looking for street team members for this summer.

Please don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against trying to land your first job in Toronto, but Toronto is an expensive city in every aspect, including transport, food and accommodation and starting wages in Toronto for a young broadcaster usually do not cover these expenses. This is also the most competitive market in the country where the stakes are high, so it may not be the market to start out in making the inevitable mistakes that many young broadcasters make. The other benefit of starting out in a smaller market is you will get to learn lots, do things in a smaller market that you won’t get to do in a larger market.

How do you go about landing your first job? We each had a different answer to this question, but my advice was as follows: Get a map of Canada and circle the 5 small cities/towns that have radio stations that you are prepared to move to and work in for 24 months. Next, listen to these stations online and find out as much as you can about them. Check out their websites and social media feeds, and also, find the name and contact details of the Program Director and General Manager. Next, find out as much as you can about the town or city and why you might enjoy living there. Establish the cost of rental accommodation, the cost of living and the benefits that town offers. Send a letter to the PD and GM, making sure you spell their names correctly, and tell them what you like about their radio station and why you want to come and work for them. Include your resume in the letter.

If you do not hear back in 2 weeks, then pick up the phone and call them to introduce yourself, and tell them again why you want to start your career at their station. This may lead to a telephone interview and/or they may ask you to come to the station for an interview. Sure, it might cost you a return airfare or train ticket or the cost of your gas if you have a vehicle, but that is a small cost to get you in front of a potential employer, so you can impress them in person and hopefully land that first job.

Why 24 months? In the first 12 months you are experiencing everything in that market for the first time. This includes the station events, and major events that happen in the city or area and it may be very different from what you have experienced in the city where you grew up. In the second year, you know what is going on and have already experienced all four seasons and all the events that happen in this market. This means you can now speak from experience and you can really be of value to your employer. All along, you will be growing your skills and over time you may figure out what you really want to do as a career.

What happens next? If you spend 24 months in a small market learning lots and improving your skills, then you should be ready to move to a bigger market. Update your resume and audio and start looking for that next opportunity. Go through the same process of learning about the market and the stations in that market you really want to work for. Contact the station and tell them why you want to work there and keep an eye out for jobs advertised in similar sized markets. Once you land in that larger market you will find the competition is greater, the bar will be set higher, and more will be expected of you, but you will have the skills and knowledge to be successful in that larger market. It may take you two or three more moves before you land in the major market of your dreams, but you are young, so you have the time, plus along the way you may have figured out who you are, what your strengths are, and perhaps have found your “voice.”

What about audio? Put your best material first and make the audio demo less than 3 minutes long. If you want to include links to other audio that’s fine but remember, this initial audio will determine if you make the next stage of the employment process. Most PD’s will decide in the first 60 seconds if it is worth investing more time listening to the demo. Also, if possible, make the demo specific to the format of the station you are applying to. If you are applying to a country station, starting the demo by back announcing a Celine Dion song will not help you. Where possible, demonstrate that you know and love the format. Make it easy for the PD to hear your audio via Sound Cloud or other platforms and check that the links work. If the PD likes what he or she hears then they will look at you closer. If you have a podcast or you work a regular air shift on a radio station, include that information, as chances are, the PD will listen in and see how you really sound. They get that you always put the best breaks on a demo, but not every break will be that good.

What should I not do? This was a great question and the most common answer I heard was,  “Don’t ever say to someone who has been working in the broadcast business for many years that they are doing it wrong and it was not the way you were taught at broadcast school.” The reality is that the way you were taught might in fact be a better way. But the smarter question to ask is, “Tell me why you do it this way?” Telling someone who has worked in the business for 25 years that they are doing it all wrong is not a great way to endear yourself to them.

Other Advice: Do not walk into your first job thinking you know it all. Yes, you need to be confident, but remember that you were born with two eyes, two ears and one mouth, so perhaps listen and watch more than you speak in the first few months. Some students who are so eager to impress will talk way too much and not listen. Do not go into your first job thinking you know it all.

Get your Driver’s License: This was a great suggestion from Jenn McKay who commented that so many students applying to radio stations do not have their driver’s license. Chances are, your first job might be a street team or summer cruiser position. You need a driver’s license for this.

Social Media: Be sure to check your social media pages and clean them up. You are a brand and your brand should not be a turnoff for the radio station you are hoping to work for. While it might be fun to have photos of you drunk out of your mind and doing stupid stuff posted on Facebook, it might be the one thing that causes that potential employer to deep six your application.

Say “Yes”: There will be lots of opportunities to do a little extra around the radio station. If you have done your job and you have time left in the day ask others what you can do to help. Be the person who volunteers to get involved in station and community events. It’s a great way to experience new and different things and it shows you are eager to get involved.

Get involved: When you first move to a new strange town it can be very easy to fall into the trap of hanging around with only your work colleagues. It’s great to do that, but you should also challenge yourself to get involved in activities outside the radio station. Perhaps take up a new sport or get involved with a service organisation. This is a great way to meet new people and experience new things.

Develop your networking skills: This came up time and time again as we talked to students. Get business cards, follow up and be sure to send a thank you note to anyone who you have met who might be able to get you that first job. It was also mentioned that students should try and get into as many radio stations as possible and take the tour. There may not be a job going at one radio station, but if you impress someone, they might mention your name to someone in another market who has an opening. The radio and television businesses is a tight knit community and most people know lots of others in the industry. Canada Music Week is coming up and they will be looking for volunteers. If that is not an option for you, how about going to the event and trying to meet as many broadcasters as possible. If you can afford the ticket, then get to as many sessions as possible so you can learn lots and meet other broadcasters.

I came away so impressed by some of these young broadcasters and I cannot wait to meet them in jobs and coming up through the ranks in the coming years. If you have questions or suggestions to add to this list to make it even better please reach me at chris@byrnesmedia.com or call 905-332-1331 and let’s talk.