In the first part of our ‘Getting Into’ series we explore the best ways to begin a career in radio. Read on for tips from some of the UK’s most renowned radio personalities from Absolute Radio’s Dave Berry to Radio 1’s Maya Jama.
1. Clara Amfo
Clara Amfo is best known as the live lounge presenter on BBC Radio 1. She began her career in radio interning for three months at Kiss FM. Once there she set about making herself indispensable and would continually ask her boss about speaking on air. Eventually she found a way in after impressing the team with a pre-recorded boxing day show. She would work long days completing her office job then prerecord the following day’s morning show.
Clara explains to The Fader ‘All the while, I had my eyes on 1Xtra. During my last 18 months at Kiss, I was [recording] demos, and I got offered the weekend breakfast show on 1Xtra in September 2013. For me, that was a really big turning point – getting offered that job gave me a lot of confidence.’
During her early days at 1Xtra she found herself covering Trevor Nelson and presenting the chart show. Eventually she would move to the BBC Radio 1 mid morning show, which includes the live lounge.
Clara’s biggest learning curve was realising that she needed to make her point in bite-size radio friendly chunks. She spends a lot of time honing her craft by listening to different radio stations including more speech oriented shows.
2. Scott Mills
Scott Mills is a well known titan of British broadcasting having worked at BBC Radio 1 for 20 years. He was the youngest permanent radio host on commercial radio when presenting for his local Southampton station Power FM aged 16. Scott was offered his role having inundated the station with demos. He then moved around the country with his work living in Bristol, Manchester and eventually London where he followed his Key 103 boss to the newly founded Heart FM.
Once in London Scott inundated Radio 1 with demos continually writing to them and ringing them. Eventually he landed the early morning show, which he stayed in for five years. After this time he switched to 4pm – 7pm.
His advice to aspiring DJ’s would be to remember the distinction between keen and cocky. He feels that the key to his own success has been remaining open to learning more.
Scott told Creative Skillset ‘If you’re getting into radio and you’re a student do not underestimate the power of student radio. That’s where people from radio 1 look now for new people, even more so than when I was doing hospital radio or student radio so make an effort, turn up for your show and take it seriously because that is now – I would say – the number one ground for finding new talent.’
3. Maya Jama
Maya Jama is Scott Mills’ Friday Chart Show co-presenter and presents the Greatest Hits Show on Saturdays. Maya grew up particularly appreciating Davina McCall’s fun presenting style and was inspired by seeing herself more reflected on screen by new presenters. As she explains to The Fader ‘I saw Jameela Jamil and Miquita Oliver, and I was like, They look like me! That made [a presenting career] more obtainable in my mind.’
Maya was approached by Rinse FM after they’d seen some of her online presenting and socials posts. In her early days as a presenter she spent much of her time recording for herself to master a style. She progressed to the drive time slot on Rinse FM before moving to Radio 1. Maya cautions against taking a ‘no’ too hard. ‘It could be that you weren’t ready, or that there’s something even better waiting, and you just need to pick up a bit more experience. Don’t feel like a no is the end.’
4. Dave Berry
During over a decade on radio, Dave Berry has presented breakfast shows on both Capital and Xfm. He now presents the Absolute Radio breakfast show. He began his working life aged 17 as a tailor where his bosses encouraged him to attend showbiz auditions. He scored his first presenting gig with Nickelodeon alongside Simon Amstel.
Dave’s advice is to share your work as much as possible. He explains to Look that you should ‘enter it into competitions and send it to agents, producers, and programme controllers. I have had the great honour of hosting The Student Radio Awards for the past four years and the determination and talent on show is wonderful. These people have got themselves in front of the radio world and Global, the BBC and many other companies besides are listening.’
5. Greg James
BBC Radio 1 breakfast host Greg James has been fascinated by radio since childhood. A self-confessed nerd, he began helping at a local hospital radio station aged 14 before working at his student radio station during university. He won a best male presenter award at the 2005 student radio awards soon presenting for commercial stations.
In 2007 Greg joined BBC Radio 1 where he started off covering shows before landing his own early breakfast show. Since then he has presented regularly across TV and Radio for the BBC.
Greg told the BBC Radio 1 academy ‘you absolutely should know everything about the industry you want to get into and you can’t blag this stuff. You know, I’m very proud to say that I am passionate about radio and I love how my show sounds. (…) I really think you should be obsessed with whatever you want to do; read up on it all and don’t expect that you’ll just waltz into a job.’
6. Andrew Castle
Andrew Castle presents on talk radio show LBC (Leading Britain’s Conversation) from 7am – 10am on weekends. He was a professional tennis player in the 1980s making the move to commentating for various sporting events in 1992 when he joined the Sky team. In 2000 he moved away from a sports focus presenting from the GMTV sofa on ITV for a decade. He is also part of the BBC tennis reporting team.
Andrew explains of his route into commentating to The Resident ‘At the 1991 German Open in Berlin there were two commentators that I knew, and they asked me to come up. [One said] “You’ve always been lippy”, so I went up, did one set and had a blast.’
7. Richard Bacon
Richard Bacon is perhaps still most famous for being fired from Blue Peter but he began his passion for presenting with an unpaid role at his local radio station. Following his high profile children’s TV sacking, Richard presented the Big Breakfast for Channel 4 and had numerous other TV presenting roles before returning to his radio roots with Capital, Xfm and most notably BBC Radio 5 live. He now lives in LA where he presents a regular news program on the Fox network.
Richard tells The Guardian ‘to be nerdy about a profession means you love it. I started in radio and just developed a huge affection for it. As a teenager I found it so exciting, and even now there’s something about the sight of a radio studio. It’s something to do with the fact that it’s live, it’s raw, it’s messy and that just does it for me.’
8. Annie Mac
Annie Mac presents on radio 1 from 7pm – 9pm on week days, the station’s flagship dance show. Like many radio personalities, Annie began in student radio. Following an English literature degree she completed a postgraduate radio degree and began working for London student radio station SBN. She has always balanced her radio work with DJing in clubs, both skills blending perfectly.
A bout of work experience at the record label who signed her brother’s band lead to a full-time job as a radio plugger. She then worked for an online radio station before joining the BBC as Steve Lamacq’s broadcast assistant. Whilst working behind the scenes at the BBC she continued presenting on student radio. Once this was discovered by her BBC team she began recording jingles and was eventually given her own show aged 26.
Annie emphasised the importance of learning from those around you to Resident Advisor ‘Before I became a DJ myself I worked for three people. Steve Lamacq, Colin Murray and then Zane Lowe and I learnt a lot from each one. Steve is a really professional journalist. He’s very particular and thorough and factual. He has a really deep knowledge and love of his music. Colin is kinda jokey and into features and the more creative side of radio. Because Zane is a musician he’s much more musical about things. (…) I was properly grateful for that time behind the scenes. It gave me a real appreciation of how a radio show works.’
9. Charlie Sloth
Very loud and very fond of the effects buttons, BBC Radio 1 & 1Xtra DJ Charlie Sloth is a lesson in awe inspiring determination. When he was hired by the BBC one of his first missions was to find current Hip-Hop DJ Tim Westwood, shake his hand and tell him he was ‘coming for [his] job’. He informed his bosses that he intended on acquiring Westwood’s show in five years, but managed it in three.
Charlie presents ‘The 8th’, a late night show on week days and ‘The Rap Show’ on a Saturday night. He is arguably best known for the ‘Fire in the Booth’ free style rap feature, which has been graced by the likes of Devlin, Bugzy Malone and Drake. It has recently been announced that Charlie is leaving the BBC for new adventures. Charlie began presenting for pirate radio stations aged 14 and – like Annie Mac – is also a DJ and producer. It was when he made the switch to vlogging that he caught the attention of the BBC.
On his passion for radio Charlie told NME ‘Radio is more important than it was 10 years ago. (…) People need to know what’s hot, why it’s hot, and where they can find it. Do you trust Spotify or Apple Music enough when they say what’s hot? Have they not got an agenda? Radio’s always gonna be important, it’ll always have a stronghold.’
10. Vick Hope
Strictly Come Dancing 2018 contestant Vick Hope is a breakfast DJ for Capital. She started work with the ambition of becoming a foreign correspondent having learnt Portuguese, Spanish and French at Cambridge University. A chance meeting with an MTV staff member at a party lead to a screen test. She went on to a series of roles both in front of and behind the camera at MTV and ITN productions.
Vick explained to 1883 Magazine ‘It was important to me to understand every side of the television industry, and about how a show is put together and edited. It gives you a deeper insight into the process and a strong skill set in a highly competitive industry. (…) I think lerning to create your own material is an amazing skill to have, being multi skilled in such a competitive industry will get you far.’