There are a couple of station programmers who do a thing I like a lot. It’s not that they’re talking to me (though I admit it’s always good to catch up). I like it because they call for a chat about talent. Who’s sounding good? Who’s coming through the ranks? Any students they should be picking up on early?
That interest in new talent is what really drives the industry forward. Of course the ‘A’ team inhabit daytime and there are other players hoping to break through. But in my opinion working with brand new talent and trying to mould it so that it can shine is one of the best parts of the job.
That started for me in the late 80s when I moved sideways from Audio at BBC Scotland into a producing a programme called ‘Bite the Wax’. (The founding producer, Quentin Cooper, reckoned the title was three-quarters of the mandarin for ‘Coca Cola’.)
Now BTW and it’s successor, Earshot, were both meant to be speech-heavy programmes aimed at younger audiences. They were meant to get an audience and they had to reach a standard. But they had another purpose – give new talent a place to start. Over a few years both programmes gave an early platform to countless people whose names I’ve long forgotten. But there was a hard core of people who either used the programme to get noticed or even to take fist steps into feature making. I’m avoiding a long list of names – they know who they are.
After going over to the ‘other side’ I found myself getting further and further away from the ‘finding new talent’ part of the job. And the more time I spent away from it the less fun I had.
Talent is the key to radio, and to most media. You can have the best content in the world, but if your presenters don’t cut it, neither will your audience figures.
In the past few years, being ‘talent’ has been difficult. As owners tried to squeeze every cost out of their business there has been ever more programme sharing, networking and voice-tracking. That squeezed out lots of people,, including a lot of on-air staff. But cutting is a ‘one-time’ saving. There comes a time when you’re as efficient as you can be.
Then the best way to improve the bottom line is to produce genuinely compelling content – and for that you need talent.
The big groups have schemes where people can be identified and brought into the system. This (often paid for) activity has replaced the old school way of getting in that involved answering phones and doing menial tasks. All of this in the hope of getting a shot at the mic. These processes are an excellent way of doing short courses and ‘testing your vocation’. Schemes and academies like this are great and get people into stations.
But there is another way.
Next week my new group of HNC students pitches up to West College Scotland. The course is a way of getting a minimum of 432 hours of radio training and access to events and competitions. I love doing this as it gets me back to the best part of the gig – finding and shaping new talent. For some it’s about upskilling and for others its about beginning the process of polishing a diamond in the rough.
And for a couple of programme directors who are looking for talent that has committed to a year of training in an environment where the the core business and passion is about the new starts and not a broader set of priorities, it’s about getting a heads-up before their opposition do.